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Philips in France: October 2015

Back in October, I was asked to join the lovely Spindle Productions crew on a 4 day shoot in France to produce two films for Philips, that have since been distributed online via The New York Times. The basis of the films was to explore COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a condition that severely inhibits a sufferer’s lung capacity.

We met Philippe Poncet, a COPD sufferer who is a dedicated cyclist. He told us his powerful story and why he continues to push himself, despite his condition. To highlight the severity of the disease, we also met professional cyclist Guillaume Bonnafond and challenged him to climb the Col du Galibier under the same conditions as a COPD sufferer. You can watch both of the two films below:


I was brought onto the project to not only record the interviews, but also as many SFX as possible to provide options and dynamics for the Director in the edit. The list of SFX required included things as the cranks of the bike, rubber on tarmac and of course, the cyclists’ breathing which was to be an integral part in telling the story.

My initial plan for the SFX recording was to use two radio mics with Sanken COS-11 lavaliers; having one mounted on the cyclists chest and the other at various points on the bike that I could reposition when I had the opportunity to re-rig. That way, I could capture all of the required sounds from the bike whilst it was in motion. Fairly straightforward, right?

Well, being aware that we were shooting a professional cyclist bombing it up a mountain at up to 25oom altitude, I knew there was going to be a fair bit of wind to contend with. Prior to the shoot, I did some research into lavalier wind protection and having only really used the Rycote Overcovers before (which are great for general use), I knew that I was going to need something more substantial to create a decent gap of still-air around the capsules of the COS-11’s. I had heard very good things about Bubblebee’s by Bubblebee Industries, so I picked up two of the black ones that would fit a COS-11 (with it’s windscreen). Initial tests were impressive and the mic fitted so snuggly inside that I felt confident that it would be my best chance at battling the intense wind I was bound to face. So when it came to rigging, I not only used the Bubblebee for the bike mic, but also tried to place it where the bike frame would break the wind and reduce the amount of wind the Bubblebee would have to contend with.

It also became obvious from initial conversations with the production team that there were going to be quite a few other obstacles to overcome. The main one being the fact that the team had booked a tracking vehicle to follow both cyclists up the mountain in order to give them the maneuverability they needed to get their shots during the one-take runs. Therefore, I had to make plans to potentially record from a significant distance as it was not guaranteed that there would be room for me to travel on the vehicle; meaning I’d have to travel in the safety support vehicle ahead/behind. This was major factor to consider when I was planning the set-up for the shoot as I needed to ensure that whatever the situation, I could record and not have to worry about frequency dropout from being too far from the transmitters on the bike/cyclist.

This is exactly what happened too. There was only enough room on the tracking vehicle for the drivers, the Director, the Focus Puller, the Stills Photographer and the AD, so I had to travel in the support vehicle. That’s where I’m so thankful that I had considered this in the planning and hired some Zaxcom TRX900LT’s so that I could constantly being recording on the transmitters. Therefore, when I dropped out of range in the support vehicle, I could be comfortable in the knowledge that I was getting what I needed on the transmitter recordings. I could then record in the bag when I was in range and slate each recording accordingly; it worked a treat!


MNA France 6-1

Re-rigging the bike mic whilst the camera department reposition. Photo Credit: Tristan Conor Holden

The other issue that the tracking vehicle raised was that the bike mic needed to be completely hidden from all angles as the Director wanted the opportunity to position the vehicle all around the cyclist. Thankfully, the black Bubblebee was masked by the black frame of the bike, enabling me to use black tape to hide the cable all the way up to the transmitter which I gaffered to the underside of the seat. Also, the vehicle constantly travelled fairly close to the cyclist, meaning there was engine rumble underneath a lot of the audio. So, wherever possible, I also recorded wild SFX of the bikes and breathing. I took the opportunity to do this whilst the camera department were preparing shots or shooting MOS, by asking one of the cyclists to ride the bike on a stand. That way I could try different angles and positions with my Sennheiser 416 shotgun to capture different areas of the bike, as well as directing the cyclist for different speeds and performances to provide options for syncing with the visuals.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the recordings and the final films. Though, if there’s one thing that this shoot has highlighted to me, it’s the need to plan, plan and plan. Oh, and then plan some more. If I hadn’t have asked the questions I did ask before the shoot and planned my kit and approach for every possible scenario, things could have turned out very differently.