Written by: Kevin Young
TORONTO, ONTARIO: For Vinit Borrison, anything that streamlines workflow is a welcome addition in his day-to-day work as a cinematographer and filmmaker, particularly when it comes to providing fluent, reliable communication with everyone on (and off) set. Regardless of the size or scope of the project, that’s integral to both the process and the final product, which is exactly what prompted Borrison to utilize Clear-Com’s LQ Series Audio-over-IP interface and its companion mobile software, Agent-IC, as a wireless, stand-alone intercom system on recent shoots.
Borrison has garnered a reputation for innovation by deploying progressive technologies and creative techniques in his work, and has, over time, been an early adopter of 8K Cameras, drone technology, virtual reality/augmented reality cameras, as well as proprietary systems he’s created and designed himself.
Unsurprisingly, he’s always on the hunt for technologies that will save time and limit the amount of hardware he and his crew have to deal with daily, and Clear-Com’s two-wire LQ-2W2 in concert with Agent-IC does all that and more. “We’ve been looking for a solution like this for a long time and I’ve now used it on various productions and we’re loving it,” Borrison says.
“Using the old way of doing things, you’d have to set up antennas and a base station and once you went out of range you’d be disconnected from the group.” Beyond limiting overall infrastructure, Borrison adds: “Because Agent-IC can connect over cellular and Wi-Fi, and is Bluetooth compatible, I can use it with my AirPods. I’m always wearing them to take calls as it is, so being able to do that and stay connected to the production com is amazing. It also eliminates the need for belt packs and for switching between headsets to talk with different departments. It’s a total game changer for the way we work and communicate.”
In large part, that’s because of the Agent-IC smartphone App: “Being able to use the phones everyone has in their pockets already is helpful, especially during Covid. We’re wearing face shields and masks, so right now it’s even more difficult to wear multiple devices,” he says, adding that the fact people can avoid constantly handling other, shared devices also adds a welcome layer of comfort.
Once he became aware of the potential benefits of the Clear-Com LQ system, Borrison reached out to Geoff Maurice, Sales Manager at GerrAudio, Clear-Com’s Canadian distributor.
Intrigued by the possibilities himself, Maurice promptly provided a loaner system for him to road test. “Because the system is IP-based the base station can be located anywhere, so as long as you have a network link to the LQ with your cell phone you can communicate from anywhere to anywhere,” Maurice says. “What’s unique about this for us is that it’s a way of doing something that not a lot of people consider. I love situations where non-obvious solutions to problems turn out to be innovative and, in this case, cost effective.”
“And it’s easily configurable,” Borrison puts in. “Right now, I have the app set up so I can speak to each of the departments I need to, but each of them can be on their own party line so they can stay on their channel and talk without disrupting other departments. And again, because it works over IP, the range is unlimited. When I was testing it, I actually used it to talk to a friend in Thailand! It was hilarious.
It’s also immensely helpful, particularly on jobs on which the sets, the crew, and their technological resources are spread far and wide. “I shoot a lot of car commercials where we’re often separated by quite a distance and sometimes lose communications. With a system like this, the director can be anywhere, instead of driving around with us and I can be talking to the chase vehicle and the vehicle that we’re shooting wherever they are. It's a fantastic solution.”
Even on jobs where the distances aren’t substantial the LQ system helps overcome communication barriers and enhances how agile and responsive everyone can be when adapting to evolving needs on set. Whether that’s speeding up the process of switching out equipment on a shoot, pre-rigging far-flung locations, or making immediate changes to how a scene is shot.
The latest version of the LQ also provides connectivity for two-way radio integration. “Which is something I’ll be testing out because, as I said, some of our crew are now wearing two systems and would far rather just have one,” Borrison adds. Beyond that, with dedicated jacks on the LQ-2W2 for wired intercom, it’s possible to tie into a partyline or other devices as needed – so it may be used to complement traditional intercom systems such as Clear-Com’s Encore or Eclipse HX digital matrix.
Borrison also sees this as a means of potentially replacing walkie-talkies altogether and enabling more seamless communication between the crew on set and those working remotely. “Executive producers and clients - they aren’t coming on site right now.” Consequently, conversations that would previously take place pretty much spontaneously on set now require scheduling, dropping whatever you’re doing, and finding a good place to take a Zoom call. “But if we set this up so those calls were latched into our system, we can have live communication and keep everyone in the know without running back and forth between the set and a monitor or some other Zoom device.”
Given the potential and efficiency of the Clear-Com system and the tangible benefits it provides in film work, Maurice is surprised it hasn’t been put to use this way more often. “I’ve always wondered why people haven’t put this through its paces in this application,” he says, adding that while the idea of solely using Agent IC for Wireless Intercom is “definitely out there” – “Now that we’ve had the opportunity to see Vinit do this, it's obvious that it’s a simple solution that works very well. I mean, you just pull your phone out of your pocket and you’re there.”
Granted, when applying new technology to a somewhat ‘out there’ application, there’s always a learning curve; even with a system as user-friendly as this. That’s why his relationship with GerrAudio Distribution has been and remains so important, Vinit says: “GerrAudio have been fantastic. I had an older Clear-Com system before this and whenever it needed servicing, or a part, or whatever, the turnaround was very quick. And because the LQ is new, I was having some issues with the initial setup, but Geoff was available, even during the crazy hours we keep when we’re shooting. And in this line of work that level of support is extremely important.”