Engineering with the big guys

Audio engineer Michael Kammes said he’s still glowing from his experience as part of a stellar sound team on a $2.2 million PBS documentary airing this month.

The first two hours of “Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites” aired May 14; the second part airs May 21 over Ch. 11. It’s part of PBS’ acclaimed “Ancient Empires” series.

Lucid Sound’s Michael Kammes was Foley/BG/FX mixer on a $2.2 million PBS doc.

Kammes, 25, who runs Lucid Sound of Des Plaines and mostly works on indie features, was tapped by Marti Humphrey, the legendary re-recording mixer of more than 70 top-rated TV series, to be Foley/background/sound mixer on the two-part series.

Supervising sound editor on “Kingdom of David” was Paul N.J. Ottosson (“Down with Love,” “The Scorpion King”). As the doc raced into the final stretch, he hired Humphrey as dialog/music editor.

The Kammes-Humphrey connection had begun more than a year ago when the two corresponded via Cinema Audio Society news groups. Humphrey apparently felt Kammes asked intelligent questions and, Kammes said, “told me I had promise.”

Humphrey paid Kammes’ airfare and housed him for the three rush weeks in December. “I even got paid $1,000,” Kammes said, “although I was so thrilled I would have worked for nothing.”

The final sound session at Burbank’s Monkeyland Audio was set for three weeks in December, concluding with a non-stop 30-hour mix on Dec. 30.

“During that time, we had new speakers installed on the main stage,” Kammes said. “Dolby came out the day prior to the first mix with a new speaker setup and to tune the room, so it was baptism by fire, so to speak.”

The amount of equipment the experts used was “staggering,” he commented, ticking off two Control-24 consoles, ProTools 5.2, DA 88 for laying back audio on tape, 3/4-inch and Betacam decks, and various amplifiers. “We ran video through an LCD projector and used VTR, projecting on a 12-foot screen.”

One of the high points of his L.A. experience was seeing how the big TV shows are mixed. Because Humphrey has worked on virtually every L.A. stage, Kammes had “phenomenal access to some the biggest current shows ? ?The Simpsons,’?JAG,’ ?Friends,’ ?Everwood.’ I sat in with some of the ?Spiderman’ team as they mixed ?How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.'”

What especially surprised Kammes was the amount of older equipment used by some of the studios. “With all the hype and buzz surrounding the ProTools HD systems, for instance, I didn’t see one of them in use.”

Instead, he said, “I saw older, automated boards, loads of old outboard gear and dated audio NLE systems. No digital dailies or the like. And lots of 3/4-inch dubs. It was a complete 180 turn from what I had anticipated.”

While the experience was unquestionably invaluable, Kammes found L.A. systems “quite a stretch” from the way he has worked on Chicago films, mostly indie features. “Here, functions are more consolidated and less compartmentalized. L.A. draws distinct, fine lines between responsibilities.

“I like having my hand in everything here,” he said. “In L.A. it’s hard to have enough passion. Here, we’re hungry and everyone is willing to pitch in and do everything.”

Still, he wouldn’t have changed a minute of his L.A. experience. “My credit is on the screen for a quarter of a second,” he said.

Michael Kammes can be reached at 847/867-3070; Dutch Ryan