Boom operators assist the production sound mixer by holding and operating a microphone attached to a long pole so that it is in the ideal position to capture the dialogue of the actors and other sounds. The boom operator decides where to place radio and clip microphones during recording and also assists with other sound equipment throughout productions.
The main duty of the boom operator is to find the best possible microphone placement to record dialogue or other sounds. The boom microphone, the boom operator’s weapon of choice, is held either by hand on a long arm (known in the industry affectionately as a “fishpole”) or mounted on a dolly that allows for greater movement. They also position microphones around the set or location, sometimes on the actors’ clothing, to ensure that the proper sounds are recorded while the unwanted sounds are minimized. As capturing the dialogue clearly is one of the boom operator’s key duties, becoming familiar with the script and “sides,” a small booklet of the pages to be shot that day, and memorizing the characters and their lines will help create a familiarity with what dialogue needs to be captured and how best to do it. Boom operators must also be familiar with planned camera movements and lighting so that the microphones remain in the camera’s safe zones and outside of the frame. A “boom in the shot” or an errant microphone shadow are the boom operator’s two worst nightmares. They often maintain and repair their sound equipment, so knowledge of electronics is almost as important as knowledge of acoustics. Boom operators are also expected to work closely with other members of the sound department and the camera crew, so being able to maintain good working relationships is extremely important.
Skills & Education
While there are no formal educational requirements to becoming a boom operator, a high school diploma is a basic prerequisite for employment; degrees or certifications from colleges, trade schools, and universities in programs like sound engineering or sound operation and design will allow potential boom operators to become familiar with the fundamentals crucial to the profession. Film school will also impart cinematic knowledge and help form networks necessary to succeed. As with any high-tech profession, continuing education is strongly recommended for those pursuing careers as boom operators. In addition to education, basic skills common to all successful boom operators include a cursory knowledge of electronics and sound recording equipment, excellent aural skills, strength and dexterity, memorization skills, good timing, attention to detail, and the ability to work with each different team involved in the filmmaking process.
What to Expect
A typical day for any boom operator includes showing up at the beginning of principal photography and becoming (and staying) familiar with the scenes, dialogue, camera movements, and lighting to be used during the shoot. Boom operators will then rehearse with the director, camera crew, and actors and make sure that the boom and other microphones are adequately concealed and placed in optimal locations. “Boom in the shot!” is something that no boom operator wants to hear on set, because few other exclamations can cause so much embarrassment, but it is not uncommon. For boom operators on the fishpole, hours holding it can cause great strain on the arms and the shoulders, so a supply of Bengay may be in order and sticking to a physical fitness regime is a good idea. Some of the perkss: on-set catering, working outdoors, and traveling to interesting locales for shoots. Some of the downsides? On-set catering, working outdoors, and traveling to interesting locales for shoots. Most boom operators work on a freelance basis; freedom and flexibility are some benefits of the job, but an aggressive savings plan is a smart move. Boom operators are often the first to arrive and the last to leave during shoots, so the days will be long, but rewarding for the right candidate.
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