Miking and Mixing ‘Maisel’
Capturing the sound of the Big Apple from half a century ago
NEW YORK—It used to be that one page of screenplay equaled one minute of screen time. Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, creators and showrunners of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which streams on Amazon Prime, leave that rule of thumb in the dust.
“Amy and Dan write episodes that are 70-some pages, sometimes 100 pages long. Imagine all those words crammed into a 50-minute show,” says Ron Bochar, Mrs. Maisel’s re-recording mixer. Bochar is co-owner of Manhattan audio post house c5, which handles all of the show’s ADR, Foley, editing and mixing work.
A FINE ART
Happily, he and Mathew Price, CAS, the show’s production sound mixer, have their routine down to a fine art. “Mat records great material both from a lavalier and a boom. I can’t work with one without the other; they both need to gel together,” says Bochar. “My dialogue editor, Sara [Stern], will do a lot of tweaky stuff knowing I’m going to need to hear all those consonants. It’s smartly done and it makes my life a lot better. We end up with lovely live performances, and a very wonderful live track that Mat’s recorded for me.”
Dialogue may be the “God track,” as Bochar calls it, but there’s a lot going on in the background, too. “When they hired me to do the pilot, Amy said she didn’t want it to ever sound like a standard TV show. There weren’t going to be a lot of quiet moments, but if anybody did take a pause, she wanted to make sure that it was filled. As long as we can still hear what she wants us to hear, she wants everything else to be busy and lively.”
“This is definitely the most challenging show I’ve ever mixed,” says Price, whose resume includes every episode of “The Sopranos.” It’s not just that the camera is constantly on the move, requiring carefully choreographed boom work; some episodes also involve a lot of talking characters. For some scenes, Price has had to bring in a second mixer to handle the extra tracks and radio mics, boosting his department to six people.
In the show, set in the 1950s and ’60s, Mrs. Maisel is an archetypal Upper West Side Manhattan housewife who discovers a talent for standup comedy. As she progresses from the seedy clubs of Greenwich Village to larger venues, such as Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Bochar “world-ized” the soundtrack to put listeners into those respective spaces.
“Between picking a sound for the mic that she’s speaking into, picking a reverb for the room, or sometimes multiple verbs, the whole point is to make Maisel feel as real as we can,” says Bochar. “We’re trying to be precise to the reality that we’re seeing.” There is no final dub, he adds: “The mix begins at the first edit,” a workflow followed by everyone on the sound team, which includes Foley mixer George A. Lara and ADR mixers David Boulton and Mike Fowler.
“A lot of the Apollo stuff sounded the way it did based on a lot of the [loop] group,” says Bochar. “We were able to position the group at various places within the Apollo, creatively, to give it depth and space. Your mind says, oh, this is big.” “I think spaces have a real psychological component when you’re viewing, even if it’s subtle and you don’t realize it,” says Price, who consequently likes to use both boom and lav mics wherever feasible. “I like to open it up as much as I can. It also gives Ron and Sara choices.”
A DEFINING EPISODE
Like the background sound effects, the group walla track can be dense. “There were the elderly groups taking their kids to the Apollo, which means you have two levels of group that have to work together,” says Bochar. “That episode [3.08: “A Jewish Girl Walks into the Apollo”] became the definition of what Mrs. Maisel is all about,” he says. “It had performance, smart social commentary, smart relationship issues, a lot of stuff that had to be balanced within the context of a normal Mrs. Maisel.”
Sherman-Palladino is very detail-oriented, orchestrating some scenes for maximum effect. “During a spotting session, Amy will say, ‘The laughs are all happening in the right places, but they’re wrong. This one should just be women reacting; here, maybe it’s just a couple of girls in the background; the men would get this.’”
In response to her notes, Bochar says, “A lot of times we just recall a group and do another half a day of material. Amazon has been wonderful for allowing us to do that.” Price switched out his venerable Audio Ltd 2000 radio mics for a 12-channel Zaxcom RX12 system after season 2. He mixes to a Zaxcom Deva 16 with a Mix 12 control surface.
The show’s prop department went to New York’s Gotham Sound to incorporate new Shure TL lavs into the various vintage mics that Maisel uses at the different venues. “They became my primary source for all the standup,” says Price. “I ended up buying a Shure TL48 [TwinPlex]; I use that on Rachel almost exclusively” to match the modified standup mics. “I like the way they sound—nice and open and warm-sounding.”
Further raising the degree of difficulty for Price and his team, the showrunners have insisted on live bands, especially in season 3. On the “Miami After Dark” episode, the jazz quartet was live, says Price. “And Amy didn’t want to see any mics.”
While Price handled the extensive dialogue tracks, a second mixer recorded the music. “We took a bidirectional capsule and put it behind the drums, away from the camera. Then there was a plant mic above, a Schoeps capsule. We put a mic on the piano lid for the bass, and another mic under the piano for the piano. And we put a lavalier mic on the trumpeter’s sleeve,” says Price. The show is one of his career highlights, he says.
“The whole cast is amazing. One reason it sounds so good is that we don’t have a whisperer or mumbler among them. And it’s such a family. It’s a happy set. Everyone’s having fun.”
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Steve Harvey began writing for Pro Sound News and Surround Professional in 2000 and is currently senior content producer for Mix and a contributor to TV Tech. He has worked in the pro audio industry—as a touring musician, in live production, installed sound, and equipment sales and marketing—since November 1980.