Sound Masterclass with Phil Bax and Greg Gettens

The sound masterclass was a two-hander, featuring sound recordist Phil Bax and Molinare’s head of broadcast factual sound, Greg Gettens.

Bax experienced the high life on BBC One documentary Supersized Earth, working on a ledge at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Gettens added “explosions and bullets whizzing around people’s heads” to BBC One’s D-Day the Last Heroes.

Lambert Productions MD Emma Wakefield led the conversation at the RTS Craft Skills Masterclasses. 

Explaining how television works with sound, Gettens said: “Phil records the sound on location, which is brought back [to a post-production house] and put into an edit suite [to produce] a rough sound track … We add music, effects and sound design, which is mixed to produce the final mix you hear on telly.” 

Pro Tools “is the industry standard – every single post house in the UK will have it.”

Personality and perseverance are the keys to his job: “A lot of the time I’m in a dark room for 10 hours a day, five days a week with other editors – they have to get on with you. It’s not all about sounds; a lot of it is about personality.Be one of those people who is always there, getting things sorted, so, [the job requires] perseverance.”

Gain experience, added Bax: “Anything at all is better than nothing – have something tangible rather than just talk [to show employers].”

Building relationships is important, too: “Over the last 15 or so years I’ve worked on all sorts of documentary projects, but with a small cohort of the same directors, production managers and camera people. If you work together once and get on well, you work together again – and you end up forming these teams that carry on.”

And, try anything: “I did a live broadcast in Germany [for MTV] … so I wrote to the BBC, saying ‘I’m an outside broadcast mixer.’ They put me on a gantry at a football match with a bit of rusty old equipment that didn’t work and a commentator who berated me all afternoon. I realised I didn’t want to do football matches, but use an opportunity rather than dismissing it outright – then you find out what you want to do.”

On working with directors, Bax suggested: “Ask lots of questions about what they’re expecting you to do and then use your experience to [identify] possible pitfalls.” Gettens added: “Listen to what the director wants to achieve and deliver it.”

On single sound/camera operators: “If you’ve got a person dedicated to each [part of the filming process], you’re going to get a better result,” said Bax. But, added Gettens: “We’re trying to get the best sound possible. So, if [you are] in a confined space with only room for one person with a camera and microphone, that’s what you have to work with. It’s easy for us to say you should have a sound man in every job  … but it just doesn’t work like that because of budget limitations.”

Docs v dramas: “In documentary, you’re trying to … get as close as possible to what it would sound like if you were there and try to enhance that; in drama, you’re trying to dramatise [a situation] so you can be more dynamic and exciting in the kind of sounds you can use. And there’s a difference in time: with documentary sound, you’ll get four or five days if you’re lucky; for a drama you get two weeks to do the dub and sound effects, then a further [week] mixing,” revealed Gettens.

The Craft Skills Sound Masterclass was an RTS afternoon event held at the IET Savoy Place London Wednesday 14th November, 2018 produced by Helen Scott. By Matthew Bell.


Masterclass Category: 
The sound masterclass was a two-hander, featuring sound recordist Phil Bax and Molinare’s head of broadcast factual sound, Greg Gettens.