Henau Marais: Sound in Remote Locations, Travelling Heavy and Staying Focused
Sound recordist Henau Marais has over 18 years of professional audio experience working on commercials, reality TV shows, feature films, documentaries, news and much more. He’s helped capture some incredible sound on broadcasts/productions for the likes of Disney, the BBC, Discovery, RedBull, Microsoft, Warner and HBO.
We took some time out from Bubblebee HQ to have a chat with Henau in Cape Town, South Africa.
Find out more about his work here.
What’s your background and how did you end up becoming a sound recordist?
In 2000, I studied film and TV at a film school in Cape Town.
Not long after my studies, I got a job with a local, independent production company who employed me to take care of their kit. I progressed really quickly, and soon became the main sound recordist there.
I worked in that job for five years, and then ventured into the freelance world.
How do you travel with your sound gear, and do you have any tips on how to travel safe/light?
Even though every job is different, I always chat with Production beforehand about workflow and other equipment requirements to get the best results.
Unfortunately, I don’t travel light! The main reason for this is that I don’t want to have major regrets about leaving a piece of gear at home: especially if I’m in a remote location. I may not be able to do my job properly – or could even end up delaying an entire production – if I don’t travel with backup kit.
Going through airports is always a major headache, particularly when you have hand luggage. I always take my fragile and expensive items on-board, including my Think Tank backpack and mixer bag. The rest of my gear goes in Peli cases in the hold.
Sounds like lots of fun at the airport! Talking of kit, what three tools do you use now that you can’t live without (or wish you had five years ago)?
My old umbilical cable to camera served me well, but when Zaxcom made the Camera Link to go with the RX200, it was a no-brainer to invest in a wireless link to camera. About a year ago, I also bit the bullet and decided to make my boom wireless. I’ve never looked back.
I don’t leave home without my Bubblebee Invisible Lav Covers FUR OUTDOOR and a Piece-A-Fur. As the industry grows and demand gets higher, companies like Bubblebee are there to make our lives easier on location with accessories that weren’t available in the past.
Are you more of a boom or a lav mic kind of guy?
“I don’t leave home without my Bubblebee Invisible Lav Covers FUR OUTDOOR and a Piece-A-Fur.”
I have no problem using a lav mic when it’s needed, and they’re pretty much the norm now. If you’re a location sound guy these days, you had better be able to make lavs sound good!
Sound recordists love the sound of top-quality boom mics, but it’s important to remember that that’s not an opinion shared by a lot of producers and directors. Plus, a lot of projects are shot in ways that make using lavs a must. Not all shots can be boomed.
Having said that, lavs bring other challenges like clothing rustle, wind exposure and RF issues. These are substantial enough to make me use a boom where possible.
So, a lot of it is really about craft and adapting to challenges in the moment. With that in mind, what was the most challenging production/project you worked on, and how did you go about overcoming its challenges?
In 2011, I was asked to work on a show for Discovery called Diamond Divers.
I wouldn’t say it was a pleasure, but it was very rewarding. On shoots like that, you really get to know yourself and your capacity to adapt and improvise. It wasn’t easy to work on a boat that was constantly rolling and getting pounded by the waves: you always had to hold onto something, and sleeping/bathroom arrangements were pretty basic.
The food was interesting, to say the least! One of the cast members had to cook, and what was on the plate would often end up on the deck because of the rough seas. On top of this, lots of people were getting seasick. That’s never a good thing to look at when you are eating dinner…
For me, the best approach through all of this was to get into a routine as quickly as possible. At the end of each day after filming, I’d start prep work for the following morning, cleaning kit, charging batteries, and preparing lav mics so they were ready to go straight onto cast members at 5am.
I really had to get into a rhythm and stay focused. I was running eight wireless microphones simultaneously, and had to constantly follow conversations that could lead to any drama or action. If something did happen (or sounded like it could happen), I had to let the camera team know so they could go in and get coverage. That kept me on my toes!
So ultimately, I guess I overcame challenges on that Diamond Divers shoot by staying focused on the job, and not letting things like the dangerous and difficult working conditions get to me.
“When using lavaliers in very windy situations, it’s a kind of dark art to get everything to work perfectly. That’s when I go to my trusted Bubblebee lavalier accessories.”
For jobs like that, what’s your basic equipment checklist? Does it differ with each production?
In terms of what I use on a job, I like to keep it very simple.
There’s almost always a call to the DP or cameraman to chat about audio workflow. I do this to avoid any stressful or unnecessary drama on set the next day, especially during 5am call times.
Cape Town can get pretty windy. How do you go about dealing with that?
Again, I’ve found the best way to approach this initially is to have a chat with the DP or director.
Getting the best possible sound is in everyone’s interests, but there’s only so much wind protection one can practically use. This is where the boom is usually my friend. I also like to be proactive in windy situations and make sure everyone’s reassured about the quality of the audio: I might try things like asking for closer shots, or turning the talent’s body so it naturally shields the wind.
When using lavaliers in very windy situations, it’s a kind of dark art to get everything to work perfectly. That’s when I go to my trusted Bubblebee lavalier accessories.
What’s the best moment of your career?
This is a difficult one for me…
I guess for some people, it’s all about working on a big show or working with someone famous. For me, it’s about getting recognition for doing a good job.
Sometimes you get a call from a Producer, Director or Editor, and they compliment you on your work. That’s always a highlight, and it makes everything worthwhile.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Henau!