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Emmy Sound Mixing: A High-Seas Adventure With ‘Deadliest Catch’

With no doctor on board, a deck hand performs first aid, presenting a unique challenge to re-recording mixer Bob Bronow.

Deadliest Catch Freddy Maugatai - H 2012
Rick Gershon/Discovery Channel
"Deadliest Catch"

For re-recording mixer Bob Bronow, the sound mixing on Deadliest Catch involves the engine hum in the wheelhouse and on deck, loud hydraulic machinery, distortion, wind and waves — and since there are no production mixers on the boats, the audio is captured with camera and lavalier microphones.

Bronow found the “Mutiny on the Bering Sea” episode — for which he is nominated for an Emmy for outstanding sound mixing for nonfiction programming — involved a particularly challenging scene during which Captain Andy Hillstrand had gotten his finger crushed while working in the engine room. He described his work on this scene to The Hollywood Reporter

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"Blood was building behind his fingernail and the pressure had to be released. With no doctors on board and in the middle of the Bering Sea, deck hand Mike Fourtner volunteered to perform the procedure: Take a sewing needle, heat it with a portable torch until it was red hot and stick it through Andy’s nail. Multiple times,” Bronow recalled. “That would be bad enough in a doctor’s office, but they were in the middle of huge seas so the boat was rolling heavily. That, and the fact that this was all taking place in one of the noisiest parts of the ship (the galley) added to the challenge.

"Like every scene in Deadliest Catch, I started with noise reduction. I evaluated every piece of audio in the scene. Then multiple noise reduction processes were used to remove as much rumble, hum and clipping as I could while maintaining the natural sound of the dialog.

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"The environment outside was creating a difficult environment inside as Mike was attempting to lance Andy’s nail with the needle. I focused on the sound of the waves hitting the Time Bandit’s hull in the boat-to-boat shots. That conveyed the magnitude of the weather on the outside. On the inside, things were creaking and rattling as the boat was tossed around."

Meanwhile, Fourtner was trying to work on the Captain’s fingernail.

"The intensity and pain that Andy was feeling was juxtaposed with the rest of the crew’s laughing at his discomfort," Bronow said. "To highlight that, I focused on the sound that the needle would make as it pierced the nail and the sound of the blood being released from behind the nail. It was a difficult sound to listen to followed by laughing and cheers. Anxiety, pain, release, repeat.

"The tension of the scene was finally resolved when Andy says, 'He had to hurt me to help me' and Mike mouths to the camera, 'Love it!'"

Bronow's work on the series has been nominated for an Emmy each year since 2006. He has two previous wins.