Recording Selling Sunset: "They go from whispers to screaming at each other in the blink of an eye!"

Selling real estate in the Los Angeles market can be glorious, given the area's sunny location and an abundance of the rich and famous living there. Popular Netflix series, Selling Sunset shows that it can also be cutthroat – as airbrushed-looking agents fight over wealthy clients and enormous beach-front properties. Audio supervisor Marcos Contreras explains how he’s always ready for every unscripted moment on the reality TV show…

Season five of Selling Sunset premiered on Netflix this year, and such is its popularity, it has already been renewed for a sixth and seventh. The reality TV show revolves around The Oppenheim Group, where glossy, elite real estate brokers sell luxurious properties to their affluent buyers, all while navigating the drama in their personal lives.

Contreras captures sound for the reality show with the help of his arsenal of Lectrosonics wireless systems, including SMWB and SMDWB miniature wideband bodypack, SMQV belt-pack and Hma plug-on transmitters, as well as SRc portable and DSQD digital receivers.

Selling Sunset is one of the most popular shows on Netflix and it demands a lot,” he notes. “The wireless must be reliable every time. Lectrosonics is up to the task, with no dropouts or interference even over big, open spaces.”

“The trickiest parts of this show are the massive concrete and glass houses we shoot in,” he explains. 

“We also always shoot three-to-four cameras, usually one super-duper wide to get a sense of the space, and on some occasions with very little space or time to relocate myself to be in an optimal place for good reception. Lectro comes through every time. It holds up well – even when I think it's gonna be a tough one, I’m always happy at the end of the scene.”

Selling Sunset is one of the most popular shows on Netflix and it demands a lot.

A native of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, Contreras has been working in audio production for 15 years, ever since he moved directly to L.A right after graduation. 

He gained familiarity with Lectrosonics products like the venerable UM400 while pursuing a BFA in Film and Television at the Savannah School of Art and Design, so there was no question that he would buy Lectrosonics when he set up shop in L.A. “Gotta buy stuff that’s reliable,” he grins.

This has come in handy on several occasions – one time a particularly “rowdy” cast member tried to light some pieces of his gear on fire. 

Selling Sunset has a cast of 10, and Contreras has had to work around the occasional runaway cast member. 

Still, he can often pick up a signal from the SMWB or SMDWB transmitters and by listening, get a sense of where the talent has flounced off to in order to regather the group and continue the shoot, adding that being able to get a signal and PFL a channel has “saved his butt” on numerous occasions.

We can’t repeat the big dramatic moments.

Being ‘technically’ an unscripted show, Contreras has to be ready to capture the drama as and when it happens:

“We can’t repeat the big dramatic moments,” he clarifies. 

“It’s one thing to ask a cast member to repeat a line about a price or something – that’s easily correctable – but when they are in the drama, whether screaming, crying or laughing, the gear has to work. It always has with Lectrosonics. 

"These people can also go from telling secrets in whispers to screaming at each other in the blink of an eye! I need the gear to hold well, and Lectrosonics always has.

“I’m very lucky to work with one of the best directors in the biz: Pyongson ‘Sunny’ Yim and Sundee Manusakis, who is our EP, who are out there in the trenches with us every day,” he adds.

“Together we come up with a plan that allows for flexibility and readiness for most situations. Of course things will happen and we always adjust, but because everyone is well informed, we adjust swiftly and successfully. 

"With Lectro by my side – gear that I know front to back – I can make changes on the fly if needed, with little to no interruption – the quality of sound is always there.”

My Lectro transmitters have survived getting spiked onto the ground like a football, to being set on fire!

A big (or in this case, small) issue when filming the show is that the casts’ clothes leave little to the imagination – it can be tricky to attempt to conceal a wireless transmitter within a bodycon dress. However the miniature size of the Lectrosonics pieces skirt around the issue as they can be belted to a leg or hidden in the small of the back.

Contreras’ main go-to units are the SMDWB, which are basically double-battery versions of the SMWB. He typically pairs them with a Sanken COS-11D omni lavalier mic, but sometimes with a DPA 6060 or 6061. In the L.A/OC area he uses the Block 22 frequencies.

A perhaps under-appreciated feature of the SMWB and SMDWB transmitters is their high-quality built-in digital recorder, which produces a .wav file – compatible with practically any editing software – stored on an internal microSDHC card. 

This came in handy for Contreras for a scene that involved a shot with an actor at a difficult long range, where recording the talent right on his SMDWB transmitter saved both setup time and the shot itself.

Selling Sunset has also been confirmed as having an upcoming spin-off, Selling the OC, which is set to premiere on Netflix this summer. 

Contreras has 18 SRc portable ENG receivers, and for a typical Selling Sunset or Selling the OC shoot he uses six of them in a bag feeding a Sound Devices Scorpio portable mixer-recorder. He describes the setup as “really quick” on the transmitters and receivers. 

In fact, such ease of use is a highly desirable feature when he hires an assistant or when he rents out his equipment to other productions.

These people can also go from telling secrets in whispers to screaming at each other in the blink of an eye!

“My main everyday kit consists of six Lectro SRC receivers on the A1 group of frequencies,” he explains. 

“These are paired with 12 SMDWB transmitters. It allows me to go from a simple, three-person scene, to a house showing, and then to an office scene. The office scenes are usually six to 12 cast members, so I will need every channel – all of this is recorded into a Sound Devices Scorpio and/or a 688. 

"On what we call bigger ‘tent pole’ events, I bring my cart with three DSQDs and maybe add an A10 rack with four more SRCs – all over Dante into the Scorpio. It’s a very flexible system.”

His rolling equipment rack houses three DSQD digital receivers, more SRc receivers, a mixer and recorder and a diversity antenna system, which he says is especially useful for location work.

“Everybody knows how to use Lectrosonics,” he points out, “and their slogan of ‘Not Fragile’ is one of the reasons why I’m such a huge fan. Luckily enough our team and our cast on Selling Sunset and Selling the OC are all very respectful of the equipment and have been very good at letting me know if they need the mic taken off or adjusted. 

"Other shows, not so much. Lectro transmitters are my go-to since they have survived getting spiked onto the ground like a football after a touchdown, to being set on fire!”