Discovery Channel

Mike Morrell rigs the Northwestern for sound.

Discovery Channel
Fill 1
Fill 1
August 26, 2019
In The Mix

Sound and Fury

Audio pros on Deadliest Catch confront wet and wild conditions.

Capturing the audio on Deadliest Catch, the reality series about crab fishing in the Bering Sea that has aired on Discovery since 2005, may not be as harrowing as capturing the crabs themselves, but the process definitely has its challenges.

"Each boat has hydraulics and generators running, and there are crab pots clanging — it's like working at a construction site," says executive producer Decker Watson, a two-time Emmy winner for the show and a former sound mixer and supervisor.

"The mics are going into the most hostile environment for a mic: high winds and saltwater," explains audio supervisor Mike Morrell. "The salt immediately starts to corrode the electronic circuitry."

Further complicating matters, there are no sound technicians on board the fishing vessels, chaser boat or helicopter during production. On each fishing boat, a shooter-producer on deck records audio via the camera, while a producer-director of photography is in the wheelhouse, where a stationary camera records sound. "Everything else is done in postproduction," Watson says.

Morrell, who previously worked on Whale Wars, outfits the boats and the fishing crew before they launch from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, each October and December.

Crewmembers wear lavalier mics, usually hidden in their shirts and connected to transmitters in waterproof tubes. The deck shooters also have lav mics, and their hand-held cameras are protected by zip-top freezer bags. "It's very primitive," Watson allows. "We can't find anything else that works better."

Because of weather conditions and the fishermen's activities, the company goes through at least 200 mics a season. The show's digital information technician, Jeremy Green, sends out replacements on the chaser boat from his base in Dutch Harbor.

Once the show is shot and edited, it falls to sound designer and rerecording mixer Bob Bronow, CAS, to repair the audio. Bronow — who has two Emmys for the show and an additional nine nominations — reduces noise and recreates sounds as needed.

It takes him about 35 hours per episode, during which time he also incorporates audio from narrator Mike Rowe and music from composer Didier Rachou.

"When I saw the first cut, I realized how horrifying it was," recalls Bronow, who besides his two Catch Emmys has a 2018 statuette for Genius. "I thought, 'If I can convey that with sound…' That was my goal. The Bering Sea is a place where you can get killed just by going outside. I realized the sea had to be a character."

Bronow has amassed a digital library of show sounds, such as crashing waves. "But you can't go to the library and say, 'I want the sound of a pot crashing over the deck,'" he says. "It's important to match the sound to the visual, to involve the viewer."

His dialogue channels include the "futz" track, which he uses to simulate a voice coming through a speaker, such as when the crew on deck speaks with the captain in the wheelhouse.

Also essential, Bronow says: "The bleeping track, for all the profanity! It averages about 60 times a show."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019

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