Why Correct Titles Matter

I am going to be talking about why Titles or Credits matter in terms of your position that you are employed as on a film or video shoot. No, this is not someone simply complaining about minutia that matters only to my own ego. 

What is the difference between a Cinematographer and a Camera Operator? Can a Cinematographer also be a Camera Operator? Well, the difference may come down to wether or not that individual wins an Oscar or an Emmy. What? Yes that’s right. If a film is awarded a prize for “Best Cinematography”, but the Cinematographer is credited as a Camera Operator, they don’t get the award. Crazy right? Well this is why we need to be very clear as to what we are credited as, and what our recognized title is on any job that we do. 

Want another example? A colleague of mine worked on a documentary that won an award for best Production Sound. But that production company incorrectly credited him as a Sound Recordist, instead of Production Sound Mixer. So he didn’t win his Emmy. Yup. 

So it amazes me how many job postings, paperwork, and credits that I see that call my position so many different things, many of which are basically made up!

So let’s get something straight. First of all, your title may differ depending upon the country that you work in. As an example, in the United States, a Boom Operator is just that; a Boom Operator. But in the UK, they are called 1st Assistant Sound. In France, the title is Perchman. But for now, I’m going to be concentrating on the United States, because that is where I am based out of at the moment. 

My correct title is Production Sound Mixer. I can also be called Sound Mixer for short. How does this differ from the person who does the final mix of the film? Well they are called the Re Recording Mixer. Why? Well it’s pretty simple really. 

Up until recently, all audio sources on set (boom, lavs, plant mics, etc.) had to be mixed down live to a single track. This was called the Production Mix. That is why my title is Production Sound Mixer. Do I still mix everything live in set? Yes, absolutely. Does my mix make it into the final mix? Sometimes. But these days it’s mostly a reference mix for editors and post, as well as for dailies and anybody listening to IFB on set, like the Director or Script Supervisor. So my role is no less important than it used to be. 

Once my tracks are edited down to a coherent dialogue track or “stem”, and paired up with Foley, FX, Background, Music, and other audio stems, they are mixed together by the Re Recording Mixer, who’s title implies that the mixdown of the entire film gets re recorded onto a master tape, which is re synced with picture, hence Re Recording Mixer. 

Ok but what’s the difference between a Sound Mixer and a Sound Recordist? Quite simply, a Sound Recordist isn’t necessarily mixing anything. For example, if I were hired to record sound effects of a car for a movie or video game, I would be a Sound Recordist. Specifically, a Sound Effects Recordist or Gatherer. If I were hired to record ambiances of nature or cityscapes, I would be a Sound Recordist. But if I were hired to record the audio for a film or TV show, I’d be a Sound Mixer. What about if the job is just interviews for a corporate video? I’m still a Sound Mixer. Why? Well, I may be creating a mix between the boom and lav for the camera and/or IFB. Choosing the boom or lav track for either of those purposes means that I have made the decision to exclude one of those tracks from the “mix” that I am sending to camera/IFB, so I am still a Sound Mixer. 

With those distinctions in mind, I am blown away by how often I see “Sound Op/Operator”, “Audio Op/Operator”, “Audio Tech”, “On Set Sound”, “Soundie”, “Boom Op” (when implying Sound Mixer), “Sound Recordist”, or any number of other made up terms. It makes me wonder how many people actively working in the film, TV, Commercial, Video world actually know what we’re called? They seem to know the correct titles for all the other departments. How someone would know what a Gaffer, Grip, and Best Boy are, but not a Sound Mixer, Boom Operator, or Sound Utility, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since the Sound Department titles actually describe what the jobs are! Or maybe it’s a lack of respect? Maybe a lot of people don’t care enough to make sure that we are correctly credited, wether they’re aware of it or not?

So, aside from missing out on awards, I wonder if there are other issues that may come up as a result of being incorrectly titled or credited? These days, wording has to be so specific that almost everything can be whittled down into legal terms for one reason or another. All you need is for someone to have a reason. I’ll bet that if I am hired as an “Audio Op” and given a Certificate of Insurance under that title, and needed to make in a claim because an actor dropped their wireless mic transmitter in the toilet, that the insurance provider might deny that claim because they don’t have “Audio Op” as a recognized position. I don’t know if this is true or not, but since insurance companies will do just about anything to not have to pay out a claim, they might just try something like that. 

So there you have it. Titles or credits are really important. So make sure that you are hired as and credited as the correct title according to your job, or you too may lose an Emmy!