Location Sound Mixer, Tammy Douglas, Describes Unique Sound Capturing Methods on A24’s ‘The Humans’

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Tammy Douglas, the location sound mixer on A24’s The Humansfaced a lot of unique challenges on this project. This film was done largely in wide shots which meant very few shots were boomable and often the actors were speaking over each other which made it challenging from a sound perspective. What did she do? She had to be creative in how she set mics up around the room and relied heavily on body mics.

The Humans follows the Blake family as they gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. As darkness falls, mysterious things start to go bump in the night and family tensions reach a boiling point. The film began its limited theatrical release on November 24th and is also available to stream on Showtime.

In an exclusive interview with ProductionHUB, Tammy shared how she relied on body mics, while working with each individual actor and their costumes so that she could figure out how to best capture their dialogue.

PH: Hi Tammy! How are you? How have the past few months been for you?

Tammy Douglas: The past few months have been great. I have been keeping busy with some great short-term projects like the NY Units of Luckiest Girl Alive and The Son. On The Son, I got to spend one of the days recording some scenes with Hugh Jackman and Anthony Hopkins. That was very exciting.

PH: Can you share what your journey in the production industry has been like so far? Can you recall what got you interested in sound mixing?

Tammy Douglas: In high school, I decided that I wanted to get a degree in film. I ended up going to Florida State’s film school where I learned about all the different jobs and I discovered my love for sound. After graduating from college I moved to NYC and started booming for several years. I wanted to make sure that I learned that job before I started mixing. I then started to buy sound gear and I slowly started getting sound mixing jobs. 20 years later I am still sound mixing and on occasion, I boom for some sound mixer friends.

PH: Sharing some past work experience, what do you think you've learned over the years? Any tips for any sound mixer newbies out there?

Tammy Douglas: The biggest thing I have learned is to be calm under stressful situations and always be kind. In the sound world, different situations pop up that require troubleshooting.  Maybe an actor’s wireless microphone stops working or maybe there is a lot of RF issues at a specific location or maybe there is some noise that needs to be located and turned off.  Every day can have its own set of specific problems. Learning how to quickly resolve those problems and ultimately record the best audio possible is key. Along with this is learning to pick your battles. Sometimes a problem cannot be fixed and you have to keep recording and just make a note on your sound report.

PH: Let's get into your work on The Humans. First, how did you learn about the project? What drew you to it?

Tammy Douglas: I learned about the project from the production supervisor, Kerry Johnson, and one of the producers, Louise Lovegrove, with whom I had worked with in the past. I was given the script and after reading it I was very excited about the project. Stephen Karam wrote a beautiful script that shows a family gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving.

PH: The film used a lot of wide shots. How is that challenging for you? How do you work through a challenge like this from a sound perspective? Can you share your thought process on mic placement?

Tammy Douglas: It was very challenging. There was no dialogue in the entire movie that was captured by a boom. All of the dialogue was captured on wireless microphones.  From the beginning of the shoot, I had to make sure I got the best sound possible off of the actor’s lavalier mics. Every setup I had at least 2 plants or 2 booms trying to capture the sound of the room or of footsteps or whatever sounds were being made in the scene. Sometimes it was a right and left setup or sometimes a foreground and background setup. 

PH: You used body mics as well. Can you share what that experience was like? Was it unique for each actor?

Tammy Douglas: I always like to place a lavalier mic in the center of the chest if possible.  Never too close to the throat and never too low.  I look at every outfit and I make a decision about where I will get less clothing noise and also will give me that preferred central position. It was unique to each actor in The Humans.

Richard Jenkins: I put behind a button using a lav concealer.

Amy Schumer: I would put the transmitter in a small pouch and wrap the lavalier around. I would then hand it off to Amy and she would place it in the middle of her chest.

Beanie Feldstein: I had to attach directly to the dress.  As the shoot progressed the on-set costumer and I were trying to find the best way for the mic to be attached to the dress but also not drag the fabric down.

June Squibb: I taped to her skin.

Jayne Houdyshell: I taped to the skin or an undershirt.

Steven Yeun: This one was the most challenging. His button-down was a little starchy and I never found a spot that didn’t have a little bit of noise.

PH: In your opinion, what qualities make a great sound mixer?

Tammy Douglas: Having a good ear, remaining calm in stressful situations, knowing how to interact with all the other departments in a pleasant manner, and being kind to your own department so everybody gives their best.

PH: Can you share any other upcoming projects you're excited to work on?

Tammy Douglas: On January 14th, a movie I worked on called Sex Appeal is premiering on Hulu. The film stars Margaret Cho and Paris Jackson.

PH: When you aren't working, where can we find you?

Tammy Douglas: You will find me on a beach in Bahia, Brazil.

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