Why no ADR was needed for Fear the Walking Dead season eight

American post-apocalyptic horror drama television series Fear the Walking Dead is a spin-off to The Walking Dead, and its eighth season, for which filming took place in L.A, Texas, Vancouver, Canada and Mexico, is its last. Production sound mixer Marlowe Taylor reveals how the show has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding gigs of his career.

In his Cleveland Studio, Taylor has recorded the likes of Chuck D and Snoop Dogg, while as a film and TV mixer, he has worked on projects as varied as Judas and the Black Messiah, Queen & Slim and The Marksman. One constant in his life since 2015, however, has been his role on Fear the Walking Dead.

To be prepared for everything a zombie apocalypse could throw at him, he made sure he was prepared for every audio scenario, using Lectrosonics’ D Squared system, DCR822 and DSQD receivers and Digital Hybrid wireless, along with multiple SMQV, watertight WM, micro-compact SSM, plug-on HMa, plus his trusty UCR411a units for vehicle work.

“One of the biggest challenges so far this season was our James Bond-style boat chase scene,” Taylor reflects. 

“We had six actors on one boat, and they let the actor drive the speedboat. They’re speeding down a river and the bad guys are chasing them and shooting at them. There’s all this yelling in the dialogue. For this, we had six 411s in a bag in our follow boat, and we’re trying to keep up. 

"Video kept losing their image even though it was compressed to 1080 for transmission. But the Lectro just held on, and that was just using SMQV packs on the actors set to 100mW output,” he enthuses.

Another scene in season eight, which looked simple on paper, proved to be one of the most challenging to capture audio for: 

“There were several times this season when I just couldn’t believe how the Lectrosonics wireless worked flawlessly, and was able to pull me out of a tough scenario,” he nods. “We were going into a night scene, and it was five pages of dialogue with the lead characters, Morgan and Madison. 

"This was supposed to be an easy scene at night with two actors, but then the curveball came. The director wanted the scene shot in a torrential heavy downpour of rain – this was not light rain or small sprinkles – but rain so loud actors could barely hear one another.

“In addition, there was the sound of it hitting the train tracks and gravel on the ground,” he adds. 

“The water tower from special effects was coming, so I knew we needed our Lectrosonics WM water transmitters with VT500 water mic lavaliers with backups at the ready in case any of the mics got waterlogged. We also had a boom rig using a Schoeps Cmit 5U with a HMA plug on as well.”

No ADR was needed – it was a proud night for the sound team!

They persevered through the elements, shooting the scene for hours at night – the packs soaking wet – but they performed with no issues. 

“The transmitters were set at 50mw with my cart being 150ft away to avoid the rain. The scene turned out wonderfully according to post production and Michael Satrazemis, our director. No ADR was needed – it was a proud night for the sound team!”

Taylor also praises the SMQV’s contribution to his lack of range worries. “We did another show called The Walking Dead: World Beyond, which had a helicopter scene with some dialogue,” he recalls. 

“It’s way up in the air, the blades are throbbing, and I’m getting clear dialogue all the way through with just an SMQV on 100mW. I thought I had it on 250. When we got the pack back and I checked, I was like, ‘Holy smokes!’”

There were several times this season when Lectrosonics was able to pull me out of a tough scenario.

Other types of scenes that have been tough to capture pristine audio for during his time on the show often involve using SWAT assault vehicles: 

“We had four actors wired inside the assault vehicle being held as hostages, which was fine, because I was staged right outside the truck,” he explains. “Then the director decides to shoot the entire scene with the truck driving down the dirt road, passing us, with no time for us to even drop a mobile bag rig setup inside the vehicle, because the truck had just pulled away!

“So my utility just raised the antenna mass up high and ran to the actors as they were getting inside the vehicle. He used the RM remote app to turn the transmitters to 250mw and we hoped for the best. All I remember is my utility saying, ‘Wow, that’s digital!’ – which is our word for awesomeness – because we got every bit of dialogue plus the plant mics inside the vehicle just as clean as the stationary dialogue earlier. 

"If I hadn’t had the ability to increase the watts that would’ve been an entire ADR looped scene, because the director wanted to have the option of having the truck move and seeing that while the dialogue was happening in frame, which wasn’t scripted that way at all!”

In Taylor’s opinion, the ability of his D Squared series transmitters to find and retain frequencies is also second to none. “Shooting in Savannah, it’s basically the Hollywood of the east coast,” he says. 

“On set, we had the lighting dimmer guy who’s on Wi-Fi, so that’s in the air. We had the Teradek systems for transmitting lossless video. We had the follow-focus camera guys and their wireless stuff. So, we have so much RF. When I do a scan, it looks like a bomb went off! 

"On the transmitter end, the Digital Hybrid stuff punches right through, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what the new digital transmitters can do when paired with the receivers I already have.”

We could be blowing up a tanker and there’s no other double for the vehicle; it’s imperative we capture all the sounds.

When it comes to the frenzied action sequences required for this post-apocalyptic show, Lectrosonics’ ruggedness has saved the day on numerous occasions, even surviving being trampled by a horse: 

“If there’s one thing anybody can say about Lectrosonics, it's that the gear is built tough!” he laughs. “The transmitters in their metal style housing and the IFB R1As have been dropped more times than I can count. We had a SMQV transmitter slip off an actor's ankle and then a horse stepped on it. When the PA brought it to me and told me what happened I laughed because the transmitter looked fine, it was still on and just muddy with a small scratch on the back. 

"I cleaned it up and we put it right back on the actor with a bit more Velcro so it would not slip out again! They’re the best solid-build transmitters I know in the field and I couldn’t imagine doing a show without them.”

Asked if he employs Wireless Designer software to coordinate as many as the 24 channels sometimes used on Fear the Walking Dead, he replies, 

“Oh, I love the software. But all the locations you see on the show? They’re as rugged and rough in real life as they look onscreen. And there’s a lot of humidity, which my laptop won’t stand up to nearly as well as my Lectrosonics gear. So, I tend to scan within all the units themselves, and I find this works excellently.”

Taylor reveals that people may be surprised to learn that the sets they see on TV are often difficult to navigate, and that what he captures on set is also used in the Foley process:

“Many people don’t realise that the dialogue they hear and the Foley sounds of doors opening, big, loud gates slamming, walkers’ footsteps and the truck engines running are also recorded by us as well during the scenes and placed on Foley tracks for post production,” he discloses.

“I do this because the nature of these special noises and things that happen aren’t easily accessible later for a Foley recordist to come back and record. Often on this show we could be blowing up a tanker or truck and there’s no other double for the vehicle so it’s imperative we capture all the natural surroundings and sounds of these specialty vehicles during the actual scene because there may be no second chance later.”

To hear Coleman Domingo thank me because he hasn’t had to do ADR for one scene for the entirety of season eight was the best news.

The final season of Fear the Walking Dead premieres on May 14, 2023, and after eight seasons, Taylor will miss it. “The best thing about having the opportunity to work on Fear the Walking Dead is the daily challenges it brings,” he smiles. 

“The sets we build and the crew all work like family; the entire crew looks out for one another and helps when you need anything related to their department.

“Once you have reliable gear that you can count on, it allows me as PSM (production sound mixer) to focus on the task at hand, capturing every piece of the actor's performance in that moment,” he adds. 

“That’s what I strive for. To hear Coleman Domingo, who plays Victor Strand, give me a big hug and thank me because he hasn’t had to do ADR or looping for one scene for the entirety of season eight was the best news to share with my team! That’s what I love about Fear the Walking Dead: the actors talk to you and appreciate your work and valiant efforts to capture their performance in all weather conditions. That’s an honour I owe to Lectrosonics,” he concludes.