Production sound mixer Geoff Gann of DoubleGSound doesn’t miss a beat. The North Carolina based recordist gained his experience working all over the country with Good Morning America. Since, he’s tracked a number of TV series, movies, commercials, and documentaries in his career. One of high praise being the Emmy-winning 20/20 feature The Babies of 9/11: Twenty Years Later (S43E31) with Diane Sawyer, who reconnects with children who lost a parent during the 2001 tragedy. Gann oversaw the heartfelt project which had multiple sound crews capturing the long form story using up to 24 wireless microphones. More recently, Gann has become recognizable from his work with Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, a YouTube content creator with over 165 million subscribers today.
Donaldson has become the biggest creator in the space and has built massive studios in Greenville, North Carolina for his high-end glossy videos. You can take a tour of the studios here. Each one of his entertaining videos averages 100 million views. To put that in perspective, M*A*S*H, the highest rated TV show finale of all time, had 105.9 million viewers. MrBeast gets that many eyes every video drop. To say he’s popular is an understatement and Gann agrees. “If you don’t think MrBeast is an A-lister then you don’t know what people are watching,” he says.
Gann first teamed with MrBeast on his I Built The World’s Largest Lego Tower in 2020 and he says working with him has been infectious. “Every time I see kids approach Jimmy and the boys their graciousness always sticks out. To stop and talk to them and let them take selfies always makes me smile.”
Below, Gann shares what it’s like to take part in a MrBeast viral video, the importance of over planning, and how his Zaxcom gear played a significant role in capturing crisp audio.
With over 450 million views to date, MrBeast brings the insanely popular Netflix series Squid Game to real life. The Emmy-winning show pins hundreds of cash-strapped people to compete in children’s games for life altering money. The only problem: if you lose, you die.
MrBeast thankfully didn’t take it that far, but he did recreate a number of games like “Red Light, Green Light,” “Honeycomb,” and “Tug of War” in marvelous detail. Each of the 456 contestants in MrBeast’s version is knocked out one by one until one lucky person walks away with $456,000.
Gann began discussing the project with the production team months ahead of time. “Their first question was if I could mic every contestant, so we came up with a workable solution to bring in a second sound mixer, Michael McQueen,” he says. Gann and McQueen began wiring each contestant following the first game, “Red Light, Green Light,” which has the contestants trying to cross a course towards a finish line. If they move on a red light or don’t cross the finish line in time, they’re eliminated. Both sound cart setups included a Zaxcom Nova, an RX-4 module interface, and several QRX200 four-channel receivers. To sync timecode to each cart, a Zaxcom ERX3TCD was used for its frame-accurate, no drift timecode. A non-powered antenna provided plenty of range.
To mic the contestants, the sound team lined up each person off set and wrote down the corresponding contestant number located on their green track suits to each wireless microphone. Sound would then wire each contestant to with Zaxcom wireless transmitter. Gann recorded microphones 1-16 and McQueen recorded microphones 17-32. But sound had up to 40 wireless microphones running at once. “We would switch between using the internal recording function on the Zaxcom transmitters or tracking them,” Gann says about recording microphones 33-40.
In mapping out the radio frequencies (RF) the scan function on the Nova provided the initial group of channels. Gann took the low band of frequencies and McQueen took the high band. They then mathematically stepped up each wireless transmitter. “We spread all the transmitters out and used simple math to coordinate the frequencies,” says Gann. “Once we had a comfortable pocket of usable RF, we ditched the RF Scanner and never had a problem with steppage or intermodulation. It was almost too easy.” For the massive sets like “Red Light, Green light,” Zaxcom BlueFin antennas extend the range and eliminate dropouts.
A Race for Cash
In a race to win a huge cash prize, two contestants face beastly hurdles along the way. In recording the sound of the mad dash, Gann was able to scout each location prior to shooting which gave him insight to the aural challenges ahead.
To cover MrBeast and each contestant, Gann asked production sound mixers Jack Norflus and Johnpaul Golaski to join. “I consider Jack and Johnpaul two of my mentors. They were who I looked to when I needed help figuring something out. And it’s always humbling when you get to hire your mentors,” Gann admits.
All three production sound mixers mirrored the same setup so that everyone could record MrBeast, his team, or the contestants. Each mixing bag had a Zaxcom Nova with an RX-4 module interface, while the contestants and team wore ZMT4 wireless transmitters for their lightweight, easy to hide design, and long battery life. MrBeast was wired with a ZMT4-X for its even longer battery life that didn’t require a change during the entire shoot. Additionally, each transmitter would simultaneously record sound to its internal microSD card as backup. “We were maxing out all the channels to include the boom,” says Gann. “But from all the projects where I had multiple mixers this went the smoothest because of the early location scouts.”
However, the final location posed a challenge. Gann was unable to scout the location prior to shooting as it had yet to be finalized during the initial scouts. Here, each contestant squares off against a sumo wrestler before dashing off to find the money. To avoid RF interference, Gann performed a new frequency scan upon arriving. After locking the best wireless frequencies, he sent a screen grab of those frequencies to Norflus and Golaski who were able to program them before landing. “I didn’t have to stop the chase to change any frequencies as ZaxNet allowed me to change everyone from my mixer as soon as they were in range. It did so without interrupting the internal record function of the ZMT transmitters,” notes Gann. “It all went off without missing a beat.”
First Class Accommodations
In this wild rags to riches video, MrBeast takes flying to new heights boarding blimps, planes, and private jets to show viewers what it’s like to ride on the cheapest plane to the most lavish. Gann captured the production sound from takeoff to landing.
During prep, the production mixer connected with producers and camera leads to outline the project. The most important questions he asks being how many wireless microphones are necessary and how many days does he need to pack.
“I am a guy who asks all the questions up front so I can be prepared for any surprises,” he says. Even with a plan in place, Gann admits he has to stay nimble. “MrBeast’s shoots have a very organic workflow. You need to adapt to what’s going on. Be prepared and pay attention. If they say you need 6 of something and you prep 12 you’re good to go.”
Gann will also create multiple recording options for complex stunts or scenes that require additional sonic attention. For instance, the $1 plane MrBeast rides has an open cockpit and a very noisy engine. Gann captured the sound using three setups.
At the heart of the recordings was the Zaxcom Nova which Gann stashed in the toolbox of the plane. A patch cable was then run from the Nova into the communication system of the helmets MrBeast and the pilot wear during the flight. Additionally, Gann taped a DPA 6061 microphone to the helmet microphone as a second recording option and used a pair of ZMT4 transmitters knowing there might be RF interference depending how far the plane went. Gann also recorded the audio to the internal microSD card on the transmitters. Thirdly, he mic’d MrBeast and the pilot with a ZMT4-X wireless transmitter paired with a DPA 6061as another option.
“Our main problem was the amount of wind from the open cockpit, but having the Zaxcom gear made the involved setup easy. That, along with my years of experience micing people in everything from hurricanes to C-130 aircrafts with the Army Rangers.”
In approaching the larger planes, Gann arrives early to talk with the pilots. He will ask them to turn on their communication system to perform a frequency scan using his Zaxcom gear to make sure the radio frequencies (RF) are not interfering with anything crucial to the aircraft’s system. Once Gann notes the available wireless channels, he’ll ask a production assistant to walk the entire plane with a Zaxcom wireless transmitter and microphone to see if there are any trouble areas.
With the audio mapped out, Gann will generally position himself out of frame, letting scenes with MrBeast and the team play out. His bag setup included the Nova with an RX-4, to stay nimble, along with 12 ZMT4 transmitters. “Doing the legwork beforehand to see where I am going to experience a problem is important,” he says. “On the $500,000 plane, I found I didn’t need to use the onboard recording of the Zaxcom transmitters. The wireless range covered the whole plane.”
Looking back, Gann says, “Had you told me a couple years before the pandemic that I’d be working on high-end YouTube content, I would have thought you were joking. But the nature of staying relevant in any industry is the ability to adapt to emerging trends and MrBeast CERTAINLY defined an emerging trend. I’ll be ever grateful for the opportunity to work on as many cool projects as I did, especially during the pandemic, and for the opportunity to travel all over the world with them. The crew became family and that doesn’t always happen in our production lifestyle…I’m also grateful for the clout that comes with working with such a channel that has opened the door for other clients such as FGTeeVee and WhistlinDiesel. What a ride!”