NFL Films started using the Sound Devices 744T recorder during the 2005 season.
NFL Films has been documenting the sights and sounds of football games since the 1960s. In 2005, the company’s location sound department made the transition from digital tape to hard-drive recording.
I was brought on at NFL Films as a full-time production sound mixer the same year it made the switch from Fostex PD-4 DAT machine to the Sound Devices 744T. NFL Films bought the recorders a few months prior to my arrival but hadn’t really begun the learning process of the machines.
I was 22 years old, ambitious, and eager to help facilitate the changeover. I felt like I was the face of change and modern technology and I was, therefore, determined to be the one to know the Sound Devices products inside and out.
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The 2005 football season was a year of quick learning for me, the other three staff sound mixers, and all the freelance NFL Films employees around the country. We had to set a standard operating procedure for using the 744T so all of the files that came back from all of the games each weekend were in the same format. Before the season started, I helped write this standard and record all the test files to ensure our postproduction was ready for the change, too.
At the time, our sound cameras were Aaton XTR prods using AatonCode or Sony HDW-F900s with matching timecode. (Now we are shooting almost all of our sound games on the Sony HDW-F900R and recording double system on 744Ts with Lectrosonics SR camera hops as guide tracks).
As the 2005 season went on, I stayed on top of the many firmware updates that Sound Devices released and kept all of our sound mixers up to date, as well. In spring 2007, we did a large shoot in the Cayman Islands that required us to mike around 20 football players as well as set up four mics throughout the crowd. Once again, I looked to Sound Devices to be my main recorders for this entire show. I needed 24 tracks, so I linked six 744Ts together through word clock and the link cables. Upon testing this in the weeks leading up to the show, I found that code and machine control were getting lost after the third recorder in the chain. I called Sound Devices, and they told me I was the first to link this many machines together! Since working together to solve the issue, Sound Devices has made a firmware update to rectify this.
By summer 2007, I began working with the Holophone H2 surround sound microphone. Although it’s a 7.1 mic, I was only using front left, center, front right, rear left, rear right, and the sub channels, excluding the top and rear center. I needed to record six channels and, again, I went with my Sound Devices products. The 744T is a 4-track recorder with only two channels of mic level in with phantom power, so I had to adapt somehow. I used two 744Ts to get the six record channels I needed and also passed through my Sound Devices 442 mixer for the two mic level in phantom power channels the 744T couldn’t accommodate. The rig was cumbersome and not easy to move from location to location. It was built on a cart, and a bag setup was not even a thought. The recordings worked out and sounded great, but I knew it was not an ideal setup for any future shoots that would require mobility or subtlety.
NFL Films shot Truth in 24, a film about Audi Motorsport’s attempt to win its third-straight 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Sound Devices 744Ts and 788Ts recorded team radios and the official race broadcast.
In spring 2008, Audi Motorsport hired NFL Films to make a feature film called Truth in 24 about its quest to win another 24 Hours of Le Mans race. We shot races in Sebring, Fla; Long Beach, Calif.; and in Monza, Italy, in the months leading up to the daunting 24-hour race.
Our DP for the film was Hank McElwee, NFL Films vice president of cinematography, who has extremely high standards for the footage he captures. He wanted to shoot this movie not just in the legendary NFL Films manner, but to surpass all expectations.
I was thrilled when I was asked to lead the location sound for the film, and I wanted to ensure that I matched the quality of the audio with the look I knew McElwee was going for. I requested that the film be done in a surround-sound mix; when that was granted, I began preparing for the challenge.
I quickly saw that each racetrack and every car had a unique sound; it was a perfect application for a dynamic surround-sound mix. The first race we attended was in Sebring, and I left the cumbersome Sound Devices surround recording setup at home and just brought the Sanken CSS-5 stereo mic for all my effects recordings. The next race was in Long Beach, and it was the same week Sound Devices announced the 788T 8-channel recorder at the NAB conference. I had to miss the show that year because of the shoot in Long Beach, but when I got off the plane, I had an exciting voicemail on my phone from my father, sound mixer extraordinaire Jay Hartigan, calling from the floor at NAB telling me about the 788T.
A Sound Devices 788T and a Holophone H2 were used to record surround sound for Truth in 24.
The 788T could not have been released at a better time. (I take that back; three months earlier would have served me better.) I got my hands on one of the first just a week before I left for the three-week shoot in Le Mans, France. It was perfect for my surround-sound recording, as I needed six mic levels and 48V phantom on every channel, and the ability to link all the faders together so I could control all six channels with one knob. This gave me only one machine that fit into a bag, a huge improvement from my previous setup. I carried the Holophone H2 and the 788T around the 7-mile track and in and out of the pits and with ease.
During the entire 24-hour race in Le Mans, we used a Sound Devices 744T to record the three head-engineer-to-driver radios and another 744T to record nearly 36 hours of the radio broadcast. All of the Sound Devices recorders and the four Sony F900 cameras had matching timecode.
My next shoot will be a project for Showtime about a middleweight boxing tournament in Berlin. This job will require up to eight characters wearing wirelesses mics and a few other mics planted throughout the arena. Naturally, I won’t be heading overseas without my 788T and two 744Ts.
Kyle Hartigan first learned about production sound mixing as a child from his father. Now in his fifth season at NFL Films, Hartigan, who is 26, won an Emmy in 2009 for Audio on HBO’s show Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys. Hartigan continues to work with the NFL to provide superior quality audio recordings throughout the football season and for the company’s independent films.