As part of the Beyond Reality interview series, I interviewed Nick Peterson, a sound recordist who has worked on shows such as Australian Survivor and Travel Guides. He shared his story of starting out in TV, what it was like growing up in a TV family and the toughest gigs in sound.
To listen to the full interview, check out the Beyond Reality podcast here: Beyond Reality – Nick Peterson.
Did you always want to work in TV?
No, I didn’t! I was a musician at school so I always wanted to get into recording music, playing music for a living if possible but that was a lofty dream that wasn’t to happen. Being from a TV family, I kind of fell into that side of the world.
Your dad is a DOP, what was it like growing up in a TV family?
Well summer holidays were a little bit different, while my friends were going off to beach holidays, my brother and I were helping out on shoots, carrying tripods or holding reflectors. We would typically help out on commercials and corporate videos. I have memories of spending my 18th birthday, 2km underground in a gold mine in the middle of Western Australia camera assisting for a corporate video. I had zero interest at that age of following in dad’s footsteps or getting into photography but I think in hindsight, it set me up pretty well for adult life cause while my friends were going off to spend years at university, I got a head start and went straight into work.
Did you go to University and if so, what did you study?
When I finished school, I had enrolled to do a PE Teaching course at university but the last thing I wanted to do after 12 years of studying was go and do another year of study. My mum was adamant that I couldn’t take a year off so she handed me the TAFE booklet with a couple of highlighted courses, one of which being music technical production so all things recording studios, bands, musicians so the things I was interested in school.
What was your first job in reality TV and how did you land it?
My dad and my brother were both working on Australia’s Next Top Model and I went along to work as a camera assist and met the sound recordists on set. During the shoot, one of the sound recordists got a phone call to say that his wife had gone into labour and he handed me the sound kit and told me I had to finish the day. I was kind of thrown in the deep in that day and it went okay and I ended up working as a sound recordist on the next season. It was definitely right place, right time, right circumstances. That was my first series that I worked on the whole series as a sound recordist. That was the biggest step up for me, that was when I bought equipment and said this is what I’m doing.
How long did it take to get consistent work as a sound recordist?
It took a couple of years, it was slow steps. There was one point where I was picking up odd sound recording jobs, odd camera assisting jobs and still working at the bar pulling beers.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve done in television?
I recently worked on Swedish Farmer Wants A Wife: Around the World. That was a different experience. They picked Swedish farmers that lived in different countries sent the film crew and sent some Swedish girls to date them. So the entire show is in Swedish and I’m there recording it with another Australian and couldn’t understand a word of it. At least we knew the quality was good!
What’s your best piece of advice for someone starting out in TV?
Ask a lot of questions…not when you’re rolling though (it’s important to be quiet)! Also, be helpful to everyone on set, not just your department. Those relationships that you nurture, they pay off in dividends later. Being a sound assistant is amazing training. The number one skill for reality TV is radio micing techniques. When you’ve got different outfits on different people every single day, you have to learn a lot of ways to make that sound good so being a sound assistant, you get exposed to that straight away.