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‘The frequency agility of Lectrosonics has saved my bacon’: Inside the use of Lectrosonics on El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Lectrosonics was used to record most of the dialogue, as well as the ambient, accidental sounds

Production sound mixer Phillip Palmer

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie was launched globally on Netflix on October 11, for which the production sound mixer Phillip Palmer relied on Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless to record most of the dialogue and ambient sounds.

Palmer’s sound lab included three Venue 2 wideband modular receiver systems, eight SMV transmitters for body mics, four HMA plug-on transmitters for boom and plant mics, a couple of older UHs, and a couple of LT transmitters for sound department communication.

“Wideband tuning is important given the increasingly crowded spectrum we have to work with these days,” said Palmer, “so the Lectrosonics Venue 2 was an obvious choice. It’s a rackmount chassis that can hold up to six receiver modules, so you can mix and match tuning ranges based on what transmitters and frequency blocks you’re using.”

He continued: “People who are used to filming in New York or Los Angeles tell me, ‘It must be great to be out there in the wild west where you have free airwaves. In fact, there is so much RF in and near Albuquerque. There’s a lot of military, industry, and push-to-transmit sources like walkie-talkies. What might be wide open in the morning can have interference in the afternoon. The frequency agility that Lectrosonics provides has saved my bacon on many occasions.”

Palmer appreciates Lectrosonics’ long-range and sound quality most. “It’s so clean and dependable. Range is great and all, but if the signal doesn’t sound good, that doesn’t matter. I’m in the 100-milliwatt mode most of the time, and on occasion, like for car-to-car stuff, we’ll boost to a quarter-watt. But keeping your wattage lower allows you to stack as many wireless channels as you can in that crowded spectrum.”

The team recorded most of the dialogue in real-time to capture the actors’ best performances. “I put a bodypack on everyone unless the character wearing minimal clothing precludes it. Having a mic on all actors all the time always reduces the chances that someone’s speech is going to get buried in the environment. It also gives us separate tracks for editorial to work with in the event that actors overlap each other when speaking.”

The non-dialogue sounds — which the majority of productions would add using computer sound design and Foley – were recorded with Lectrosonics. In a scene where Jesse has broken into once-captor Todd’s apartment to find a stash of cash he knows is hidden there, Palmer described how “Aaron Paul absolutely rips that set apart. Then it switches to this overhead view of the floor plan, where you see multiple Jesses ransacking multiple rooms at once. That set was totally real—they built it like that, with a wide camera flown 60 feet in the air. Point being, we couldn’t be in the shot, so I had wireless microphones planted everywhere. Post enhanced things somewhat, but most of what you hear was recorded on set. Vince loves the real sounds.”

“We did the same thing with vehicles, such as the Chevy El Camino in the title,” Palmer continued. “We were able to get the sounds of all the real cars instead of having to go back and invent them.”

Like the original series, El Camino featured a number of locations in extreme environments. How did Palmer’s equipment take the heat? “I put this stuff through the wringer. Lectro’s gear has held up so well over the years that when I do retire a piece, it’s by selling it rather than putting it in mothballs.”

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is currently streaming on Netflix.