Bill and Ted: Facing the Music, with a Sidekick
Copenhagen, Denmark, October 12, 2020: In the most detailed user insight so far on the Bubblebee Sidekick IFB, we talked to production sound mixer Chris Welcker (www.catgutsound.com) about the audio wizardry behind the film Bill and Ted Face the Music. (Released August 28, 2020)
Editor’s note: Bill and Ted Face the Music was shot in 2019 and after post-production its release date was moved back to August 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chris Welcker first heard that the show was in pre-production around January 2019 and jumped at the chance at working on the film. “It was an absolute dream job for me! I remember thinking how lucky the person who landed the job would be. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was one of my favourite movies when I was growing up, and to think that I could one day be a part of the franchise was beyond anything I could have imagined.
The process of getting fully prepared for it was a huge task. Chris met with the director, Dean Parisot, and was made aware of the unique demands of the production. The script had many characters travelling in time to the past, the present, the future… to Hell and back! There were musical performances in just about every location. From the start, it was clear that the show was going to require a lot of creativity on everyone’s part to accomplish the desired result and come in on-budget. It would potentially set a new bar for how this sort of independently financed film could be made going forward.
A year before, Chris was the location sound mixer on The Dirt (a Netflix-produced film about the band Mötley Crüe), so he had already become familiar with the challenges associated with a big music show. That said, Bill & Ted had its own needs and required a lot of new audio equipment: there were scenes with upwards of fifteen characters who would be performing to playback music, and some scenes had dialogue happening during musical performances.
"I began looking early on for an alternative that had the ‘invisibility’ of an Earwig, but with a much lower price point. That’s when I discovered Bubblebee Industries’ Sidekick IFB monitor." ~ Chris Welcker
“I knew I would need a solid crew from the start. I was fortunate to get Ryan Farris, a long-time friend and co-worker of mine, to be boom and playback operator. It seemed natural for us to work together on films with a focus on musical performance, since we both understand the language of the filmmaking process and have strong backgrounds in music. We also recruited Matt Armstrong as sound utility/second boom,” said Chris. During moments with large distances to cover or character counts, it meant they had two strong boom operators on the set to capture everything on the overhead mics, as well as having everyone wired with radio mics.
They also had an additional sound person join them as sound utility/second boom, which turned them into a four-person sound department - a good thing as there were apparently some very challenging points in the production. These included a large performance outdoors with the entire ensemble cast present. Each cast member was playing some sort of musical instrument and running dialogue simultaneously.
“There were special effects fans and machines constantly blowing wind and/or smoke around the set,” explained Chris, “and that doesn’t take into account the climate... on top of everything, we were in New Orleans in August! It was incredibly hot and rained just about every day; it was not a comfortable place for anyone, let alone the actors who were typically in period costumes or prosthetic makeup,”
He continued, “We had to practically empty the sound trailer each day and finding shelter close to the action while trying to protect the equipment from overheating and/or getting wet was a huge task. I had two sound recorders working during the whole scene to allow us to cover all of the tracks needed. We had music dialogue and music playback and were sending different mixes to several different sources. There were five cameras running, all of which required timecode and slates. We had several PA speakers, a subwoofer, in-ear-monitors, voice-of-god for the director and 1st AD to communicate to the actors and crew…
One of the things that director Dean Parisot had foreseen was the need for ten or more in-ear monitors for the final sequence of the film. When Chris learned of the sound budget for that sequence, he knew there could be a problem with the sheer amount required.
“Earwigs are a great tool and have a very particular place in the film making process,” he said, continuing, “They pack an incredible amount of technology into an extremely small device; but there can be some drawbacks when using them: they are very expensive, especially when you need more than ten, and they don’t always produce the best results. Quite often, actors will request that we make them louder, but there is a threshold after which increased volume results in less fidelity for the transmitted signal. And if people want them in both ears, it becomes very expensive.”
He continued, “I began looking early on for an alternative that had the ‘invisibility’ of an Earwig, but with a much lower price point. That’s when I discovered Bubblebee Industries’ Sidekick IFB monitor. We sourced ten of these stereo in-ear monitors, as well as several mono cables. Straight cables were used to eliminate the coiled portion that would typically fall below the ear.”
The Sidekick In-Ear Monitor is an invisible cabled IFB solution that also has various eartip styles that can be applied, depending on the particular needs of the wearer. It comes configured in either mono left, mono right or stereo versions. The driver fits inside the ear canal and the earloop is so small it’s practically invisible when the cable management is done well.
Chris remarked, “I was really amazed when I saw them [The Sidekick] in person for the first time. I put a stereo pair onto myself, dressed the cable to go behind my neck and down through my shirt, and plugged everything into a Comtek receiver. I approached Dean, our director, and asked him what he thought (I have no hair on my head). He looked at me as if to say, ‘What do I think about what?’. I then pointed out that I was wearing the Sidekick in-ear monitors I had told him about. He was truly amazed! Actually, I think he said something like, ‘Holy s***!’ When I spoke with the Unit Production Manager later about using Sidekicks in conjunction with some additional Comtek receivers and showed him the cost savings compared to using twelve Earwigs for this particular week of shooting, he said something very similar!”
"I approached Dean, our director, and asked him what he thought (I have no hair on my head). He looked at me as if to say, ‘What do I think about what?’. I then pointed out that I was wearing the Sidekick..."
“The first time we really used them was with an actress/professional drummer. We used the Sidekicks to provide a click-track, so that she could play drums live and we could record her on-set performance. She absolutely loved them and kept commenting on how it felt like they weren’t even there (that’s coming from someone who already has custom-moulded monitors for touring).”
“We had another scene where Louis Armstrong’s band was playing When the Saints Go Marching In, with actual musicians performing along with the actor who played Louis. He wasn’t a trumpet player, so he needed to hear something to pantomime to. The Sidekick was great in this situation, because we were able to provide each member of the band with a set and feed a click-track and the trumpet solo to them.”
“What ultimately impressed us in this situation was that, like me, two of these men were completely bald. That could have proven to be a real struggle when hiding the earpieces; however, we found that because the camera wasn’t covering the backs of their heads, we could get away with running the cable up through their shirts and securing it at the base of their skulls. It meant they had the flexibility and full range of motion necessary to play, while keeping the sidekick tight to their skin and hidden from the camera.”
Another situation that came up frequently was with an actor whose costume involved being covered in prosthetic makeup. The look was fantastic, but the crew realized very early-on that he was having trouble hearing the director and the other actors’ lines. Chris set him up with a stereo Sidekick using the smallest ear tips so his ears wouldn’t be plugged up even more than they already were from the costume.
“Since the cables of the Sidekick are reinforced with Kevlar, I also felt very confident sending the unit off to the costume department to rig it up..." ~ Chris Welcker
“Even when he was on set, I could feed him the production mix track (minus his own lav mic),” explained Chris. “Since the cables of the Sidekick are reinforced with Kevlar, I also felt very confident sending the unit off to the costume department to rig it up before he got fully suited-up each morning.”
“The process of getting him camera-ready took several hours and was fairly uncomfortable for him. At one point, we began feeding him music to help take his mind off of the discomfort. He smiled and kept saying to the people around him that we were playing good music in his ears!”
Bill and Ted Face the Music was finally released August 28th, 2020 in the USA. Chris Welcker continues working in New Orleans and says, “Ultimately, I want to keep the momentum going! I just want to keep spending my time doing what I love and sharing experiences with good people.”
Find out more about The Sidekick IFB In-Ear Monitor here →