Friday, September 20, 2013

A Plague on Both Your Capacitors

A mildly amusing bit of propinquity.  I'd gotten involved in a forum discussion about the chemistry of capacitors -- a poster had the odd idea that ceramic caps weren't really ceramic because "ceramics don't contain metal."

Anyhow.  I also needed a recharger for the batteries I was using in the wireless mics, and I pulled apart my broken charger.  And found right on the main board a fat, 470µf capacitor with electrolyte bubbling out of the blown top seal.

The manufacturer's stamp is "Xunda," which is identified as on the list of suspect brands -- brands of electrolytic capacitors involved in the "Capacitor Plague" of the early part of this century (the last wave of cases was around 2010 -- right about when I bought this charger).

Rarely have I found a problem that obvious, and that easy to fix.  Unfortunately it seems some other part of the circuit was hurt when the cap failed, but the charger is mostly working now and that is better than it was.

Which leads me to digress about serendipity.  I love those moments when external events force an artistic change that is better than what you would have had otherwise.  The great story comes from "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  A huge sword-versus-whip fight scene had been choreographed, but after a week in Tunisia Harrison Ford was nearly doubled over with dysentery.   And he pled with the director, saying something like, "Look, I've got this pistol right here, it's been part of my costume since the first day.  Why can't I just shoot him?!"

And they changed the scene and created one of the most memorable moments in the film.  Probably helped, too, that the expression of exasperation and pain and disgust on Indy's face at that moment was very real...

Two stories come out of the New Who episode "Planet of the Dead."  The original scene called for a pristine double-decker bus to be sitting in the middle of an alien desert.   But an accident befell the bus at the docks in Dubai.  Working quickly, they re-wrote the episode to explain the damage to the bus as resulting from the passage through the wormhole.  And this was wonderful.  It made the central problem (that they needed the protection of the bus's metal skin in order to travel back through) vastly more real.

Later scenes aboard the wreck of an alien ship were filmed at an abandoned factory back where it was still winter.  Davies threw in a line of typical Doctor Who technobabble about the skin of the alien craft being made of some material that got colder the hotter it was outside.  But that didn't matter.  The contrast between the sweaty desert and the chill of the ship (chilly enough the actor's breath fogged up) was powerful and effective, made the alien ship more alien, and conversely underlined just how hot and dry the desert was.

Not that Doctor Who didn't do this kind of quick juggle all the time; from coming up with an in-story reason why Louise Jameson stopped wearing brown contacts as Leela, to explaining why someone other than Fraser Hines was playing Jaime for a couple of episodes.  Often the scripts were changed to work around problems with the prop/costume of the monster de jour -- a move "Jaws" also made that strengthened that film immeasurably.

Anyhow.  My own story of the moment is a lot less interesting.  We did a voice-over session with the actor for an in-show answering machine message, and the usual pre-show speech (the "turn off your cell phones, fire exits are to the rear" speech).

I recorded in the lobby and I got way too much room tone.  It sounded fine for the answering machine, but sounded terrible for the pre-show.  I tried notching, gating, every trick I knew, and I couldn't rescue the recording.

Until the other shoe dropped.  If the recording session had been fine for an answering machine message -- then make the pre-show speech into an answering machine message!  So I added some rings, beeps, and line noise and the cue was done, without having to schedule a new voice-over session.  And it is funnier (the preview audience loved it) and plays very well with the oddly central role of the telephone in many scenes of the framing story.

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