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Ford v Ferrari: On Set With Lectrosonics

Capturing Christian Bale’s dialogue on the set of Ford v Ferrari – for what many car aficionados say are the most realistic race scenes ever created for a feature film – turned out to be surprisingly easy, thanks to some smart thinking and top-notch audio capture.

Ford v Ferrari has won a lot of awards – and notably, a lot of sound awards. Amongst its numerous other accolades, the film scooped up wins for Best Sound Editing at the Oscars, Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture at the Live Action Cinema Audio Society Awards, a Hollywood Sound Award at the Hollywood Film Awards, and won Best Sound at the Satellite Awards.

Telling the true story of the Ford Motor Company’s upset racing victory at Le Mans in 1966, Ford v Ferrari has earned praise for what many car aficionados say are the most realistic race scenes ever created for a feature film.

This involved capturing the dialogue of actor Christian Bale (playing driver, Ken Miles) at realistic speeds, a challenge which fell to production sound mixer Steve Morrow, a 25-year Lectrosonics user nominated for Academy Awards for his work on La La Land and the 2019 remake of A Star Is Born.

“I went to school in Seattle at Bellevue Community College, taking film-making classes – all of my sound was terrible,” Morrow admits. “That got me interested in sound – good sound. I took some classes and bagged working for free as a boom operator on a freebee job, Where the Air Is Cool and Dark. Twenty-five years later... here I am!”

Morrow’s tenacity paid off – now regularly playing a crucial role in critically acclaimed blockbuster films.

“I always approach every film the same way,” he says. “I need to make sure to capture the performances of the actors – no matter what that actually means. So for A Star Is Born that meant being able to capture the live onset singing and performances of the band and cast. For Ford V Ferrari it was making sure to get the cleanest, clearest tracks on set of the cast. We knew going into that one that post was going to have a field day with the car sounds and racing! Our goal was to help with that as much as possible.”

Morrow used Lectrosonics compact SSM transmitters and UCR411a receivers to put the audience behind the wheel of Bale’s fire-breathing Ford GT40:

“I always use SSMs for all the actors’ mics,” he states. “They’re the smallest and lightest transmitters Lectrosonics makes; they’re ultra-reliable, and the talent barely knows they’re there. Lectro has other transmitters with higher output power, but we’ve never had a problem with range. For most of the dialogue, we have active shark-fin antennas on long coax cables, powered from the Venue two receiver chassis.”

For Ford V Ferrari, I made sure to get the cleanest, clearest tracks on set of the cast. Steve Morrow

Recording cockpit dialogue, however, called for a different approach, as the cars would be driven around actual racetracks:

“The cars, including the Shelby Cobra and Ford GT40, were put on a vehicle called the ‘Biscuit rig,’ so named because it was used in the movie Seabiscuit,” he explains.

“It has its own motor and stunt driver, a movable pod for a camera operator, and hauls the vehicle around the track at speed. Christian was focused on acting, not driving, and we miked him up with an SSM and DPA 4062 mic, then put a simple bag rig consisting of UCR411a receivers and a field recorder right in the trunk of the car.

“The Biscuit rig is designed for shooting and there’s no room on it for a sound operator, so we had to just start the recorder, watch them drive off, and trust we were going to get a good recording. Lectrosonics lets me have that trust, and I like the UCR411a for this sort of guerilla work, because it can really take a beating.”

The method worked so well, in fact, that they were able to record an exchange in which Bale talks to another driver who briefly pulls up alongside him:

“For that scene, we didn’t have a separate audio bag in the other car, just a second UCR411a feeding another track of the recorder in Christian’s car,” Morrow points out. “When the other driver pulled up, his SSM came within range, he said his lines, then drove away. It went off without a hitch.”

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