Room Tone

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Here's a bit of technical background. One of the things you need to record, when you're shooting on a soundstage, or for that matter, on location, is the noise that the place makes all by itself. The noise of the room. I know, it sounds silly, but each place has its own special sound, and it's important to record that sound so that later, when you have to fix an audio track, or record a wild line, you have something to put underneath it so that it blends in with the rest of the audio track that was recorded live.

It's called Room Tone, and at the end of pretty much every shoot, everyone has to stand very still, making no noise, while the sound guy records a few moments of room tone for use later, in post-production. It's not silence, of course - silence is easy to duplicate. It's noise, but it's quiet noise. It's ambient noise. It's this:

Hear that? Of course you didn't. But it's there. Room Tone: not really silence, not really noise.
Last week, a friend of mine called me. He has a show on the air in the fall, and I've really surprised myself because the part of me that hates him for his success has turned out to be, unexpectedly, a lot smaller than the part of me that likes him for his friendship, or whatever, and so I find it easy to talk to him without making a lot of passive aggressive veiled insults.

But it's his first series, so in a way I'm his secret sounding board, which is kind of fun but also creates a kind of grizzled veteran vibe that I'm not, at barely 40, ready to really swing with. I mean, grizzled veteran implies a ramshackle place in the high desert and weird, embittered letters to the editor of the WGA journal; shorts with an elastic waistband and elderhostel catalogues. I'm not there. Yet.

So he calls me to say that their first table reading went well. That's sort of a crucial time for a new series - the pilot has been shot and seen a million times, but the first episode after that is really important. It sets the tone for the series. The network says they like a show, they say they like a pilot, they order the show to series, but they never really like a show, they're never really behind it, until they see a few more. So the first one after the pilot is a big deal, and the table reading, when everyone gathers to read the script for the first time and kick off that week's production, is a pretty fraught moment.

My friend's moment went well, apparently, except for one hitch. They didn't have enough chairs. They only had 70 chairs. What he forgot was that he has a cast of 8, and 6 writers, and about 12 production staff - that's 26 - three people each from the studio and network - that's 32 - and....he only had 70 chairs. He needed at least 90.

Because the network comes with 10, not 6. And the production is a co-venture, which means one studio comes with 8 and the other comes with 5, then sees that the other one came with 8, and so calls back to the office to get 3 more. And one of the actors has a manager, who pulls strings to get a drive-on and essentially crashes the reading - what am I saying? One of the actors? All of the actors. So that's at least 10 more, because one or two of them come with their assistants, who swarm around the craft services table and make bustly important-sounding phone calls to impress each other.

Room tone, in other words. The room is filled with room tone. Not silence, which would be restful and conducive to concentration. Not noise, that's for the actors to make, when they speak the dialogue. Nope. Just room tone. Just....the sound a room makes when nobody's doing anything important, or saying anything useful. The sound a room makes when it's filled with....nothing. 60 extra people, but, nothing.

That's it for this week. Next week, I've personally and painstakingly arranged for all of KCRW's regular programming to be interrupted every few moments with insistent pleas for money. That's right: Pledge Drive.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martin Shot.



Rob Long