Content - Directions in sound: using the invisity in-ear receiver

Directions in sound: using the invisity in-ear receiver

Oscar-nominated Arthur Rochester of DigiTrax® Sound discusses his choice of the Phonak invisity in-ear receiver.

  • Arthur Rochester Phonak invisity in ear receiver

With over 30 years of on-set motion picture experience, Arthur Rochester has been the Production Sound Mixer on numerous Hollywood movies including The Witches of Eastwick, Something’s Gotta Give, About Schmidt and The Truman Show.

FM transition

In the last few years sound professionals like Arthur have increasingly made the transition from using inductive loop technology to transmit directions and script cues to on-set actors, over to FM-based in-ear receivers.

Arthur explains the reasons for this migration: “From the sound mixer’s point of view it’s largely about convenience. In the past with induction technology, we had to deal with amplifiers and induction cables, which for a vehicle scene say, would have to be installed inside the car. Or else you would have to use an induction receiver on a loop around the actor’s neck, and then a receiver in the ear. That is obviously far from ideal as actors really don’t want to be bothered with extra equipment in a scene; they already have hair and makeup staff constantly working on and around them.”

It was in 2002, in the run up to filming Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, that Arthur first had the opportunity to try what’s now his standard in-ear receiver of choice. Following a conversation with Ann Reische from Swiss hearing and communications manufacturer Phonak, he trailed Phonak's 4-channel wireless receiver, invisity, which is based on frequency modulation (FM) technology.

"Of course I am always looking to improve my sound equipment and make things as fool-proof as possible, so I tried it out,” Arthur explains. “In this line of work you don’t get the chance to experiment on the job, so it’s important to be sure that everything in the sound recording package is compatible and free of bugs. I found invisity much easier to use than induction equipment. There’s less hardware involved, and I liked the idea of being able to tune my wireless earpieces to different frequencies. It’s simply a great receiver in a small size, so I decided to use it on Something’s Gotta Give and I’ve used it, to some degree or another, on every movie since, usually paired with a Comtek ESP25 transmitter.”

Using invisity

In terms of how invisity is employed on-set, Arthur says this usage usually revolves around script prompting, however there are some interesting exceptions.

“This receiver is typically used for actor script cues of course, but its use can also be very specific to an actor or to a certain situation. For example, in one film I worked on, the female lead had some very sensitive scenes in which she needed to reach a certain emotional point. The music she chose to hear in her ear, via the invisity, helped her achieve that,” he says.

By contrast, in the thriller Cellular with Chris Evans, William H. Macy and Kim Basinger, Arthur's invisity receivers played a key role in reducing the number of road scene takes. “Cellular was easily the most intensive filming in terms of my invisity use, as we employed in-ear receivers in all the moving vehicle scenes that featured dialogue. We would use invisity for the off-screen dialogue, via an actress sat in the command van, and also for the director’s cues to the actor (Chris Evans), who was driving the car. The receiver was much more reliable than using a cell phone headset for this job.”

The Cellular team also produced a short film, ‘Dialing Up 'Cellular'’, on the making of the feature, in which Arthur explains further how he used his invisity receivers to aid scenes.

As for the ease of adoption of in-ear receivers by the on-screen talent and film crew, Arthur claims the most important feedback is really only that of the director, in that anything that helps save time and reduce the number of takes is a very real benefit.

“It’s all about the director really and how he wants to cue the talent in front of the camera; actors are in a sense, just grist to the mill. If the director can get ‘into the head’ of the actor while they are acting then this is really to his advantage. As such, directors really love earpieces like invisity so Production Sound Mixers today are expected to carry these sorts of prompt receivers in their standard kits.”

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About Arthur Rochester

A Production Sound Mixer with over 30 years of on-set motion picture experience, Arthur Rochester has worked on numerous Hollywood movies, including Something’s Gotta Give, Cellular, About Schmidt, The Truman Show and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Arthur has received Oscar nominations and BAFTA, CAS and Saturn awards for his work. He has owned and run DigiTrax® Sound since 1992.

Hollywood sound mixer Arthur uses Phonak's invisity in-ear prompt receiver

Arthur Rochester, Oscar-nominated sound mixer and Phonak invisity user.