Jeffory Haddad shares secret weapon on set of GLOW, Top Gun & American Horror Story

Jeffory Haddad’s résumé as a primary mixer or tech includes many of the hottest TV series of the past 20 years: 24, The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, This Is Us, Superstore, The Morning Show, Euphoria, GLOW, Pretty Little Liars, Never Have I Ever, Glee, True Blood, The Mentalist, Melrose Place, Gossip Girl, American Horror Story, Orange Is the New Black, and so many more….

That history of accomplishment draws on Lectrosonics’ legacy of high-performance wireless equipment, such as Haddad’s SMV transmitters, UCR411a and SRc receivers, original Venue modular receiver, and new DSQD digital receiver – all of which he coordinates with Wireless Designer software. In this interview, he details his enviable career, how nice it is to be back to work after the writer’s strike, and why dynamic range is the key to natural sounding dialogue.

How did you come to have a career in production sound mixing?

I came from a music background. I’m a bass player and drummer originally. I started playing very young and eventually began college as a music major, studying theory and composition. After my first two years I had to stop and begin working full time. I played in bands growing up and remained close with most of those friends. One of which became my business partner, Tommy Mitchell. 

We are still friends and collaborators to this day, let’s say more than 30 years… We opened a little recording studio, right in the middle of an area where lots of local bands rehearsed. I was the engineer, so I recorded all these bands, usually at night, while we were trying to get gigs like composing for TV and commercials during the daytime. We were pretty busy. I still own it; it’s down in San Clemente, but I sublease it now.

Sound mixers know the feeling: we roll on take one and hold our breath, waiting for the dropout, the static, the pops.

But then you got into film and TV sound?

Yes. Music production is my first love, but by the late ’90s, big studios — and mid-sized ones like mine — were getting less and less work and home recording had really taken off. So, at first, I was motivated by financial security – there’s more work in film and TV. But as I learned and grew in production sound, I realised how much I loved it.

Is it a more lucrative environment?

That, and I was seeing how the storytelling of film and TV came to life, the production side of it. Creative problem solving. Back on JAG, I cut my teeth on all the stuff you don’t have to know in a music recording studio. 

How different departments work together as a cohesive unit to tell one story. How to creatively overcome challenges. How do I quietly get a first assistant director’s attention and say, ‘Hey, we need a little more time. How do I get wardrobe to help me with hiding wires and transmitters on actors? What if a prop is super noisy right under our boom mic, or someone in the deep background doesn’t know they are off camera going through a loud door?’ All that kind of thing.

When did you first hear about Lectrosonics or use any of the gear?

Sean Rush on JAG was using it. When we started, we didn’t have any. I don’t think the original Venue system had even come out yet. We started off using a little quad box from a different company. Limited reception! 

As the sound utility, I would run the 100-foot quad cable out, the boom operator would be holding the box up in the air for reception, and we would both walk, or run – depending on the scene. I remember literally running next to a moving car, cabling my ass off trying to keep up!

If I’m using legacy gear, that’s Lectro’s fault because it lasts so long!

It sounds like whatever your first Lectrosonics piece was, it was an upgrade!

I think it was the predecessor to the UCR411. I remember when the mixer first got that receiver. It was a big deal, and then he continued to buy more [Lectrosonics] products, so I kind of grew up under Lectro. When I moved up to full-time mixing on Pretty Little Liars, we were shooting on the Warner Brothers lot, which has its own sound department. They supplied us with all our gear, and everything was Lectro. I was operating all the equipment myself at that point.

We hear you are still using some legacy gear?

If I’m using legacy gear, that’s Lectro’s fault because it lasts so long! Yes, I’m still using two Venue 1 systems and I use Wireless Designer software to do all my coordination. I just started using it a couple of years ago, and it’s been such a time-saver to see all my frequencies on a laptop. I have to say, the old Venues still work so well, but I knew it was time to upgrade, so I bought a single DSQD. 

I haven’t fully integrated it yet, because I’ve been looking at other things like the DSR4, which is like the DSQD in a slot-mount. A huge part of my attraction was that they can pick up the signals of my SM-series transmitters. But then the writers’ strike hit.

an actor can go from a whisper to a scream before I could ever reach for the transmitter’s gain control.

Have things picked up a little since the strike was resolved?

Yes, a little. I picked up a couple of commercials in November and December 2023. I completed principal photography for a new Apple TV show called Mere Mortals, which is a spinoff of Mythic Quest. I wasn’t the mixer pre-strike, but after the strike they had to get it done really quickly and the previous mixer was not available. 

It was a crazy week of work. Day one was multiple earwig feeds, going to six different sets, all with their own mix-minuses. Each set had to communicate with each other, and we were shooting it all simultaneously. I was bouncing back and forth everywhere like a madman. And it felt great!

What was the most challenging part of all that and how do you handle it?

Honestly, the biggest thing I have to deal with, period, is how much of the RF spectrum in the L.A. area is now gobbled up by 5G and other services. I mostly stay in the block 19 and the 470 range. I don’t have any wireless in the 941 to 960 area yet. Again, here’s where Wireless Designer comes in. I get to a new set or location, the first thing I do is get my antennas in the air and boot it up. I also rely on my proximity to the transmitters. I almost always use 100 milliwatts [output power]. I rarely ever need to crank them up to 250.

Lectrosonics performs so well dynamically that whatever else is going on in my day, my wireless is the least of my worries.

We’ve heard a lot of mixers, on both the film/TV and concert side, recommend using only as much output power as you absolutely need. Why is that?

In my case, let’s say I’ve got a lot of actors working in a scene, so I may be dealing with 10 or more channels of wireless. With little RF spectrum available, I’ll want to use less output power on the transmitter. I’ll need to position my antennas as close to the set as I can. That way I have a few more choices when selecting the best frequencies while coordinating. However, it’s also important to consider that you may be pushing too much signal into your receivers.

Can you describe a scene where you felt challenged by distance, obstructions, or other issues?

I mixed pickup scenes for Top Gun: Maverick. What I walked into were big, multicast scenes. One location shoot in downtown L.A. stands out. It was a long walk-and-talk scene with Tom Cruise and Bashir Salahuddin. The camera was pulling them down a long hallway with a 90-degree turn. There was no place to hide antennas except near the end marks — not ideal. 

Sound mixers know the feeling: we roll on take one and hold our breath, waiting for the dropout, the static, the pops. Well, take one was clean. However, that feeling doesn’t go away. It stays with you take after take. Our Lectrosonics held up — every take was clean! It was a total win because right after that we sang happy birthday to the man himself, Tom Cruise. I wouldn’t have felt so good in that moment if those takes had problems.

There was no place to hide antennas except near the end marks — not ideal!

Our readers like a good nightmare audio story, but with a happy ending. Got one to share?

Oh, so many. Here’s an example. On GLOW, which is based on female wrestling in the ’90s, we had this large cast of actors. We shot lots of scenes with all of them together. Moving around, ad-libbing at different times, lots of physicality, directors who don’t want to cut, and me juggling what to do with not enough channels. It was a lot. 

With all that regularly going on, once my frequencies were dialled in, the wireless was the least stressful part of it all, thanks to Lectrosonics. As a sound department we never stop thinking about the connection between our transmitters and receivers, and the many things that can go wrong. Especially in these large scenes with everyone ad-libbing to some degree.

How has your gear performed in terms of audio quality relating to the naturalness of the human voice?

I love that question because I think of the creative tradeoffs we have to make. I’m a big fan of dynamic range. I like my gain structure to start by being optimal for the microphone, the source, then work its way to me from there. So, that first gain stage at the transmitter is arguably one of the most critical moments. I like it set as loud or open as possible without going over — basically, crank it for all the dynamic range I can get. 

I can do that without worry because the SM-series transmitters I use can take a lot of SPL and still sound natural. The built-in compression and limiting are also very good, most of the time undetectable. I do try to avoid going into compression/limiting because I want post to have clean, hot tracks that aren’t ‘pre-squished’. I also depend on the low noise floor of the SM in this first gain stage.

This all adds up to a natural sound because the human voice is so unique. Unlike a cello, or most instruments for that matter, an actor can go from a whisper to a scream before I could ever reach for the transmitter’s gain control. You don’t know it’s going to happen, necessarily, because the actor might have decided just then to try something new, and the director might like that take best, so Lectro’s performance helps me be ready for that. 

Only once in my career that I can remember off the top of my head, did an actor come to the sound department and clue us in that he was about to do that.

May we ask who?

It was Robin Williams on a movie called Shrink. He was so courteous. He quietly let us know he was about to get loud. The big irony for sound departments is that if we’re doing our job well, we become somewhat invisible.

I’m not saying we should be invisible, not at all. Often those around us don’t realise that a little more information could help, especially when it comes to dynamics. There’s a lot more frequency content in the signal when working with music as compared with dialogue, but even a singer at a live show is within a certain dynamic range. Actors? Well, there are so many ways to interpret a script and to tell a story with the right tone. 

And then that dynamic can change on the next without anyone knowing. The sound department is at the front line of that. And in the front line of our equipment are our transmitters and receivers. Lectrosonics performs so well dynamically that whatever else is going on in my day, my wireless is the least of my worries.

Image credits:

GLOW: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Orange Is the New Black: Courtesy of NETFLIX

Top Gun: via skydance

The Morning Show: Apple

Euphoria via Sky