Utility Sound Technician
by Mark Ulano
from his Pro Audio Review column
During the process of working on the 2 part Zen Boom feature
(8/99&9/99), I realized that within the same theme of the sound crew's
invisibility lay the almost unknown work of the Utility Sound Technician
What are the responsibilities of the UST and why is his job so
You will often see his credit in the film crawl as "cable person",
although common, it is a significant misnomer because his work is so
deeply integrated into the sound crew's operations and not bound to the
task of "cabling". In fact, there is no official union designation for
cable. Utility Sound Technician is the correct phrase.
Maybe the mystery lies in this misnomer?
The UST is the essential 3rd corner of the Production Sound Crew
triangle along with the Mixer and Boom Operator.
This person is responsible for handling a lot of the minutia that flows
in a steady stream, at a high rate of speed, into the sound department.
The UST must have a complete working knowledge of all the equipment used
in sound work and of all the permutations that this equipment may be set
up with. During the daily shot to shot work, the UST is the housekeeper of
the sound department, a kind of First Mate. He is the engineer's 2nd,
supervising many operations. Among them are: Equipment placement and set
up, perimeter and noise control, equipment maintenance, music playback
including cue aid and induction loop setup, maintenance of the supply
inventory, liaison with the production office, transportation and other
departments, walkie talkie distribution and maintainance, frequent 2nd
boom operation, video monitor lines to the sound mixer, rigger of wireless
mic's and mic planting.
The UST's relationship to the mixer is much like the music engineer's
2nd in command. He comes in, sets up, roughs in all the
beginning-of-the-day ritual activities. As the day progresses, the UST
will handle all the spontaneous logistics that may arise from setting up
each shot. If the extras (background artists) that are crossing in the
frame are too noisy, the UST may lay carpet runners on the floor or attach
foot foam to the "shoe offenders", furthermore he will verbally coax them
into quieter movement. If the actors are moving dynamically through
several rooms in the shot or if there is a large spatial split between
foreground and background dialogue, the UST will be put into service as
the second boom operator. Who knows, maybe on take 6 of a 5 page master
scene, the director re-blocks the dialogue to be delivered in a totally
new spot, unreachable by the Boom Operator. Without hesitation, the UST
jumps into position like the sound commando that he is, often without even
the courtesy of a rehearsal.
In recent years, producers of limited experience have misunderstood
this person's multifaceted work and misinterpreted the UST's job as a
trainee position or worse an unnecessary job!
Sound mixers, fearful for their employment, bite their lip and attempt
to work with the 2 man sound crew, seriously impairing the capabilities of
the sound crew to respond fully to the demands of production film sound
work and more importantly serving the director's needs.
A dialogue must begin to better communicate the critical service this
hardworking crew member contributes to sound department and to the larger
the film making process.
ONE MAN'S VIEW Ross Levy, Utility Sound Technician for Fox Networks
show Time of Your Life, starring Jennifer Love Hewett
The utility person must be the "Swiss army knife" of the department,
with skills in many areas of production sound and be able to do any of the
other department members jobs at any moment. It is critical that the
department has the advantage of a triple threat sound team. The utility
person must have knowledge of sound mixing, boom operating, radio mics, on
set politics, and understand the needs of the sound mixer and boom
operator. I like to consider my position the best boy of the sound
department. At the start of each day I like to go through a morning ritual
to prepare the department for the days work. This often requires making
sure all equipment is set up and working properly, cleaning the DAT and
Nagra recorders, supplying the needed tape stock, sound reports,
batteries, testing the Comtek system [note: wireless monitoring for the
director and script supervisor], and setting up the time code chain for
the jamming of the slates. Once I've accomplished this I'm ready to start
the day and tackle the production sound challenges as they come.
I like to watch all blocking rehearsals with the boom operator to see
if a second boom is needed for the particular scene. If radio mics are
required I like to split the responsibility with the boom operator to
expedite the body miking process. Once the boom operator and myself have
worked out how to mic the shot, I try to solve any potential sound
problems that may occur during the scene. When shooting at a practical
location such as a restaurant, I touch base with the location department
immediately to make sure all extraneous noises can be shut off, such as
air conditioning, refrigerators, etc. I also talk to the electrical
department regarding their cable runs in to the set. I always ask that
they avoid running their cables through doors that lead directly to a
noisy street and place lighting dimmer packs and HMI light ballasts [both
use noisy cooling fans] as far away from the set as possible. I also must
make sure the extra's are quiet and do not interfere with the
The utility person is always aware of the day's schedule to anticipate
any pre-rigging that may needed. If there is a car-tow shot, I like to
breakaway from the set and pre-rig the process trailer or camera tow
vehicle for audio. There's nothing more efficient than having the vehicle
rigged for audio before the camera is mounted. The microphones are just
roughly placed and can be easily adjusted by the boom operator once the
frame is set.
If the company is doing a lot of stage moves during the day, I move and
set up the sound equipment while the boom operator and mixer watch the
rehearsal. It's not uncommon that as soon as I'm done setting up the
equipment I'm needed to boom a complicated two-boom scene. The utility
person must be flexible to sudden changes and strong in multi-tasking.
Last update : April 25th, 2000