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Cleaning Up Dangerous Catch

BURBANK, CA—It’s almost 10 years since sound designer and mixer Bob Bronow was asked by television producer Thom Beers to work on “the crab show.

BURBANK, CA—It’s almost 10 years since sound designer and mixer Bob Bronow was asked by television producer Thom Beers to work on “the crab show.” Nine seasons and 140-plus episodes later, Bronow has collected two Primetime Emmy Awards and three CAS Awards for his work on Deadliest Catch, a reality TV series from Original Productions that follows the fortunes of the Alaskan king and snow crab fishing fleet in the icy Bering Sea.

Bronow had come on-board with Original Productions (which became a subsidiary of FremantleMedia in 2009) a couple of years earlier to mix Monster Garage, the company’s first big hit, helping the facility build out an audio post room in the process. The audio department has since expanded to four rooms, now operating as Max Post, as the program roster has expanded to also include shows such as Ax Men, 1000 Ways to Die and The Colony—all of which pass through Bronow’s mix room.

Space limitations on the typical crab boat mean that there is no room for a sound mixer. Plus, says Bronow, “It’s too dangerous, if you consider an icy deck pitching up and down in 30-foot seas and someone trying to hold a boom pole.”

Consequently, he must rely on the camera shotgun mics plus the lavs worn by the crew. It wasn’t until season four that Bronow got producers to change the stock Sony camera mics for Sennheiser MKH 416 shotguns. Now, he says, “If you’re pointing it at someone’s face, you’re going to get something that’s a lot more usable.”

Even so, dialogue is still his principal challenge: “These guys are telling the story; if you can’t hear it, you might as well just go home.”

Bronow’s go-to dialogue clean-up tool is iZotope’s RX software, which he’s used since version 1. “I downloaded the demo and within two hours, I had my own credit card out. I didn’t go to management; I didn’t care if nobody else wanted to buy it—I needed it! Now, all the bays are equipped with it.”

Although audio post turnaround is fast—usually two to three days per episode—he has recently started doing a dialogue pre-dub. “The dialogue and the dialnorms have become so important. I do one full automation pass, get it leveled and get all the noise reduction done. It’s been a really big help, because I’ve found a lot of things that I wasn’t able to find otherwise.”

Bronow typically uses the Avid Channel Strip before digging in with iZotope RX 3’s new Dialog Denoiser: “It’s great for ambient noise or too much high end or hiss. And what is really awesome is it’s adaptive, so as the noise changes, it changes.”

RX’s batch processing abilities help shave precious minutes off the mix. “It would just be way too cumbersome to do this all real-time. And by the end of that day, I usually have between 600 and 1,200 new files.”

The offline video edit will typically have closed captions in about a dozen spots: “My goal is, by the time we get to the layback, that they look at at least half of them and say, ‘We don’t need that text— I can hear that fine.’”

The job may require finding usable audio from a lav mic zipped up inside a fisherman’s rain gear, but invariably it involves background- noise removal. “Those huge diesel engines are going all the time; there’s never a time when you don’t have a 250 to 700 Hz hum going through everything. RX 3 saves my bacon all the time—between the Spectral Repair and the de-hummer, I’m able to clean a lot of that stuff out. Then, it’s getting rid of the wind in the mic, the over-modulation and all of the clipping.”

RX also allows Bronow to isolate natural sound elements and save them to a library. “There are times when a rogue wave rolls over the boat, and [the producer/camera people] may not have been on the deck, but all the deck cameras caught it. That’s when I dip into my collection of wave hits.”

Bronow also uses ambient natural sound to differentiate between the deck and the wheelhouse. “The outside is basically hell on earth. Then you get into the wheelhouse and it’s quiet, the captain’s wearing a t-shirt, he’s got music—so it’s very different.”

But with RX 3 capable of removing the harmonics of every hum, it’s easy to go too far, he says. “You’re going to start getting comb filtering. That’s where Spectral Repair comes in, because it doesn’t just notch things out. This is where the voodoo happens—it looks at the stuff around it and will replace that hum with what it interpolates should be there, were there no hum. And I’ll tell you, it works!”


Max Post