Sound Devices 664 Shines on the Set of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
George Flores, CAS, is a top sound mixer for television with 16 years of experience working on such leading shows as Southland and Ringer. He has leveraged his experience to perfect his sound cart, to which he most recently added Sound Devices’ new 664 Field Production Mixer. For Flores, who is currently working on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the 664 has all the features required to capture the show’s comedic dialogue and performances.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows the exploits of “The Gang,” a group of friends who run Paddy’s Pub, a relatively unsuccessful Irish bar in South Philadelphia. After effectively employing the 664 as the master recorder to help capture audio for the Warner Brothers/TNT police drama Southland, Flores incorporated the 664 into his workflow for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which has similar production challenges.
“With its high volume of inputs, the 664 worked tremendously well on the set of Southland,” explains Flores. “As we ran around the city, it was able to sufficiently perform under situations where you had to run off batteries. We also like to have everything on our sound cart at all times and the 664’s light footprint enables us to do so. Its overall design, combined with its stellar performance, makes the Sound Devices 664 the logical choice for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
While It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is shot like a sitcom, it also incorporates unconventional elements, requiring additional flexibility from the crew. “We shoot in practical locations and sets that aren’t always meant for shooting sitcoms. Utilizing three to four cameras, the crew often shoots individual close-ups of two people simultaneously, which can be physically challenging for the boom operators,” says Flores. “Also, while the show’s creators like to shoot structured, scripted performances, they like to keep camera angles and setups flexible enough to try new ideas on the fly. The 664 allows us to capture audio that reflects this, resulting in finely crafted comedic dialogue with some interesting curve balls.” To that end, Flores also appreciates how the portable 664 enables him to think outside of the box while keeping up with the actors. He and his crew are faced with quite a bit of maneuvering around rigging and lights and other elements during shooting in order to fully capture the characters’ personalities, while also keeping pace with their comedic timing.
“The combination of boom and lav mics wins the day for us,” he says. “We wire all the cast members and yet boom 95 percent of the show, so the preamps and Sound Devices’ CL-6 inputs for both the hardline and wireless booms have worked very well.” The CL-6 Input Expander, a companion accessory to the 664, adds six analog line-level inputs to the mixer. With the 664 connected to the CL-6, users can record all 12 input channels and four outputs, for a total of 16 tracks. “If ad-libs are part of the creative process, we have the available tracks to get them,” he adds.
Sound Devices 664 features six ultra-low-noise, high-dynamic-range preamps that accept mic- or line-level signals and include analog peak limiters, high-pass filters, input trim control and direct outputs on every channel. Featuring full analog audio paths for high-performance audio and superb power efficiency, the 664 also has numerous digital capabilities. Inputs 1 and 6 can be selected as AES3 or AES42 inputs for digital microphones, each with its own SRC for simplicity in system clocking. The 664’s analog output compliment includes four output buses. The L and R buses are on balanced XLR, 10-Pin and TA-3M connectors and on unbalanced TA-3M or 3.5mm connectors. Secondary output buses X1 and X2 are available on balanced TA-3M connectors. Users can route inputs and buses to four AES3 connections for eight digital outputs on the XLR and 10-pin connectors.
The 664 can record up to 10 tracks of 16- or 24-bit polyphonic or monophonic broadcast WAV files to SD and/or CompactFlash cards. All inputs and outputs are individually selectable for recording, enabling the mixer to record all 10 channels of audio. With its dual card slots, it can record content to either or both cards simultaneously, with the added ability to assign different tracks to each memory card. The 664 includes a high-precision timecode generator/reader for multi-camera and double-system sound applications.
Flores’ setup also includes the Sound Devices 744T for back up, Lectrosonics IFBs for private line booms and utilities, Comtek for public line, and a base of 10 channels of wireless, including Lectrosonics SM Transmitters, Venue Series Receiver Systems and SRb-Quadpack Receivers. Power is provided by a modified PSC LiFE Battery.
To keep his essential gear close by while It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is in production, Flores places it in a baby stroller. This unconventional and yet thriving idea is a perfect example of the ever-evolving cart and audio gear set-ups often found on today’s productions. The stroller idea came from the previous sound mixer on Southland, Harrison “Duke” Marsh. “Due to the fast pace, multiple location moves and extreme nature of Southland specifically, a lightweight and mobile sound package was needed for the demands of daily production—right down to the very vehicle in which they were placed,” notes Flores.
“It may be unconventional to be moving around the set with a baby stroller, but it is another tool in the equipment arsenal, giving one the ability to work efficiently and allowing you to focus on the more important task of attaining the best audio,” he says. “When we placed the 664 and radio equipment in the stroller during our Southland shoots, it was part of the quest for getting high-quality audio and the 664 was an integral part of that. No longer did I have to be yards away and question my wireless range or have to worry about short battery life on my recorder. Proximity and power efficiency were two less things to worry about.”
According to Flores, the 664’s ability to retain a lighter footprint without sacrificing quality is invaluable. “Technology moves at a rapid pace, and you have to be ready to embrace it. The 664 is a killer piece of equipment, with enough inputs/tracks to really do a well-rounded job. If you don’t have the power behind the punch—that being the preamps—it’s going to be a difficult task to get location audio. The 664 does a very good job with its input gain stage on both the physical knobs and CL-6 menu functions to ensure cues and line transitions are smooth. The 664 proves its worth as a master recorder as well, and will continue to be a vital part of my setup,” he concludes.