New York, NY – August 2015… For Location Sound Engineer Ben Nimkin, there is frequently precious little time to outfit the talent with a microphone capable of faithfully capturing the audio quality necessary for documentary film production. Combine this with the fact that, unlike film and television actors who are accustomed to being ‘wired,’ most people don’t naturally take to the process of being outfitted with both a microphone and wireless transmitter. Hence, they tend to be less patient. To minimize the challenges of this process, Nimkin relies extensively on his collection of lavalier microphones from Menlo Park, CA-based Countryman Associates.
After completing graduate school for documentary filmmaking, Nimkin began his career as a freelance editor and occasional shooter. He quickly took an interest in the audio aspects of production, however, and has been working in location sound for the majority of his career. His credits include the documentary Live From New York, which chronicles the 40-year-history of the popular NBC TV show, and HBO’s critically acclaimed documentary The Diplomat, which tells the remarkable story of the life and legacy of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whose singular career spans fifty years of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Nimkin recently took delivery of a customized Countryman B6 Omnidirectional Lavalier microphone, which augments his arsenal of four stock B6 microphones in addition to his Countryman B3 and EMW lavalier microphones. His discussed his fondness for Countryman products.
“I started using Countryman products in grad school about six years ago,” Nimkin recalls. “We used the company’s EMW Omnidirectional Lavaliers and I loved working with them. This led me to the B3 Omnidirectional lavs along with the B6, which has since become my ‘go-to’ microphone for much of my work. In all cases, I use my Countryman mics with Lectrosonics SMQV and Wisycom MTP40S wireless systems and, together, they make a great setup.”
Recently, Nimkin has been working on ESPN’s ’30 for 30’ documentary about pro golfer John Daly, which is being produced by V2 Film & Design. The project looks at Daly’s life and his impact on the game. According to Nimkin, “Daly is a very interesting and amazing character, but he does whatever he wants and, in order to follow him, the crew must be very flexible and move quickly. That means I need to mic him up quickly—sometimes while he’s on the move.” In order to address these challenges, Nimkin consulted with Countryman’s engineering staff and arranged for a customized B6 lavalier that offered him additional flexibility.
“As is often the case with documentaries,” Nimkin explained, “I need to mic people who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the invasive procedure of being wired up for sound. As such, I needed a mic that I could place on someone quickly and efficiently and that could just as easily be adjusted. This led me to ask Countryman’s engineering team if they would modify a B6 with a small length of flexible wire shrink-tubed near the capsule. This change enables the top inch of the mic to be bent into almost any shape and stay that way.”
“One reason why the B6 is so great for narrative work,” he continued, “is that its small size makes it easier to hide. But its small size has an additional benefit—there is less surface area and, therefore, less chance for the microphone to rub and make clothing noise. My customized B6 has the added benefit in that I can push it through a tie knot easily, bend it around a button hole, or shape it under the brim of a hat without excess tape; and I can do it all faster and with greater assurance that it will sound great. I have even bent it into a little spring shape to help isolate the capsule on a particularly noisy outfit.”
Nimkin shared a common exchange between himself and his subjects when they are first wired for sound, “The conversation I often have when miking someone for the first time starts with me saying, ‘Hi, I’m Ben and I’m the sound engineer on this shoot. Have you ever been wired up before?’ The talent frequently responds with something akin to, ‘No I haven't. Wow! Is that the microphone?’ while pointing to the B6. My response, ‘Small isn’t it? It's super tiny, so you won’t feel a thing.’ The talent typically gestures to the mic and says something along the lines of, ‘Amazing!’”
When your livelihood depends on the ability to quickly and accurately capture audio on location, the necessity for quality customer support services is crucial. Here too, Nimkin regards Countryman’s support among the industry’s best, “I’ve never had anything go wrong with any of my Countryman products. I was so impressed with the response from Chris Countryman when I suggested a design modification to the B6. He was enthusiastic and eager to try it out. It is this ease of creating a dialogue that enables us to improve our equipment and improve our craft.”
Before turning his attention to an upcoming project, Nimkin offered these parting thoughts, “Countryman mics have been my primary lavalier mics for years. I have used others, but I really love how they sound, how they are designed, and how well they handle the abuse of the day-to-day grind of production.”
About Countryman Associates
For more than 30 years, Countryman has focused on developing microphones and accessories that deliver maximum gain before feedback, with the highest possible rejection of wind, vibration, interference, and other unwanted sounds. The result is warm, clear vocals in speaking and singing applications, delivering natural audio reinforcement that requires almost no attention from the sound engineer or the performer. For additional information about Countryman Associates, visit the company online at www.countryman.com.
Photo Information: Ben Nimkin