With five Primetime Emmy nominations and four CAS awards for sound mixing, Darryl L. Frank is a household name in production sound mixing in New Mexico — a state Breaking Bad elevated as a filming location. In fact, he worked on the blockbuster AMC show. Lately, Frank has been chasing actors on horseback in the acclaimed western series 1883, not to mention miking up Tom Hanks in the sci-fi drama Finch, which explores human-robot relations on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Instead of sixguns or lasers on his hip, Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless keeps the peace by ensuring flawless sound even under harsh production conditions. Frank’s rig includes Venue2 receivers, wideband SMWB transmitters and their dual-battery SMDWB siblings, SMV and SMQV high-output transmitters, and up to 30 R1-series IFB receivers depending on production needs. All frequencies are coordinated using Wireless Designer software.
On 1883, Frank served as second unit mixer along with Richard Bullock Jr. as first unit mixer. The first thing Frank’s cart had to stand up to was the environment. “We were outside most of the time, so working on this show was all about embracing the weather,” Frank comments. “Rain, heat, dust, 50-mile-per-hour winds, you name it. We shot a couple of days in Montana where I don’t think the winds ever dipped below 40 miles per hour. This made holding up booms impossible, and so increased the number of wireless channels we needed. There and in New Mexico, there were a lot of middle-of-nowhere places. At no time did I have an issue with any of the wireless.”
That durability also proved vital as the show’s protagonists forged westward through rivers and streams. “That was a possible horror story that turned into a success story,” recalls Frank. “On 1883 I showed up on a day’s notice because the previous mixer had quit abruptly. On my second day, they’re crossing a river on horseback and at the deepest point, the water is touching the saddles. I asked for whatever waterproof packs I presumed the production had rented, and their response was simply, ‘We have insurance. Let’s go for it.’ I put my packs in plastic baggies, we did the scene, and the actors came out just soaked. No gear failed and everything sounded great.
“Now, if something truly gets submerged it may indeed fail,” Frank continues, “but here’s the thing about Lectrosonics. They’re super quick about repairs. Sure, it may cost a couple hundred bucks to repair, but a lot of other companies would simply tell you to buy a whole new unit.”
The next hurdle was that westerns always mean horses, and despite their intelligence and bonds with their human riders, horses tend to ignore wireless range limitations. Fortunately, so did his Lectrosonics equipment. “The thing with any western is that you’re told the horse is going to run from point A to point B,” says Frank. “When you start rolling, of course that goes completely out the window. Plus, just about everything but the sound department is on wheels — process trailers, ATVs with cameras mounted on them, and so on. Meanwhile I’m standing at my cart. They would go until I couldn’t see them, but I could still hear them!”
Frank credits two factors for making sure equestrian-borne dialogue did not ride off into the sunset. The first of these was high output power — up to 100 milliwatts on the wideband transmitters and 250 from the SMV and SMQV units. The second? His ALP620 shark-fin antennas. “I use the 620s passively as my go-to range extenders,” he says. “I’ve never needed to run powered antennas, which I think sometimes causes problems in addition to solving them.”
Finch also had its share of outdoor filming, but the biggest challenge Frank recounts facing was setting up comms for a mega-star. “I knew right away we were going to need something special for Tom Hanks,” explains Frank. “He had heat and air conditioning built into his costume, so I knew he wouldn’t want to keep taking off his helmet if someone needed to talk to him. Plus, sometimes the conversation between, say, him and the director needed to be private without everyone on the IFB feed hearing it. I wound up using an IFBlue R1c for a separate channel just for Tom’s helmet. If anyone needed to talk to him, they could just transmit on that channel.”
On these and other productions, Frank emphasizes that results — meaning audio fidelity — count above all else. More importantly, those results need to be immediately understandable to colleagues who have neither the time nor the desire to talk deeply about sound. “On every show, you’re going to do something you haven’t done before and may never do again,” he points out. “You never know what gymnastics the director is going to need. Whenever that director asks me “Are we getting it?’ Lectrosonics gives me the confidence to say, ‘Do you like what you hear in your IFB? That’s what we’re getting!’”
One of Frank’s funnier moments of “getting it” involved the iconic pizza-throwing scene in Breaking Bad, captured with a boom mic outfitted with an HMa plug on transmitter. “[Director] Vince Gilligan really respected the idea of capturing sound design in-camera,” he recalls. “Car engines, guns cocking, you name it — there was almost no Foley on that show. So, when Walter White threw the pizza on the roof of his house, my job was to capture the flop when it landed. We had a truckload of pizzas for as many takes as we needed, and out comes Bryan Cranston and nails it on the first take. The sound was exactly what post needed, and the crew ate very well that day!”
Asked what distinguishes Lectrosonics as a brand in his view, Frank doesn’t need to pause to think. “It’s the customer service,” he says. “Now, I’m lucky to be in New Mexico about 15 minutes from their factory. But still, I can knock on their door, and a few minutes later I’m in a conference room with a piece of gear explaining what I need to do. I like their social media presence, too, because they post real information and solutions, not just promo stuff. And, they ask a lot of questions — not to second-guess the customer, but to improve their products. Lectrosonics is genuinely committed to making everything better.”