The sound assistant works under the supervision of the production sound mixer and boom operator to support the function of the sound department and maintain audio recording equipment. This technician is at the bottom of the ladder, but gains hands-on experience toward future career advancement.
Work begins on the first day of shooting when the sound assistant helps prep gear and attends the blocking rehearsal. For each shot, he or she must identify the necessary gear as outlined in the sound mixer’s script breakdown and prep the equipment, ensuring all components are in place and operating properly. As directed by the boom operator, this person may help in placing microphones and running cables, and sees to it that those cables do not obstruct the work of other crew members. On large productions, the sound assistant may be called upon to operate a secondary boom. He or she is also the official noise police; if extraneous sound is being created that interferes with a take, this person finds the source and handles it quickly and quietly. After the shot is wrapped, the sound assistant strikes the gear and moves on to the next setup to repeat the process. When moving locations, he or she is responsible for packing the truck neatly and putting equipment back in its proper place. A hastily packed truck means time lost searching for gear buried under crates—or worse yet, damaged goods that go flying when the driver initiates an impromptu brake check. The sound assistant is also tasked with maintaining audio equipment and performing repairs as necessary; no rookie escapes the unenviable task of cleaning cables. At the end of each day of photography, he or she is responsible for packaging the sound rushes and seeing that they are properly labeled.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production is recommended, as specific training is required in the operation and care of electronic audio equipment. The sound assistant must recognize the differences in various types of microphones, their intended use, and the art of proper positioning to pick up the desired audio source. The production sound mixer will not be pleased if the scene needs another take because you aimed the unidirectional mic away from the actor. A firm knowledge of electricity is required, as is an intermediate level of troubleshooting and repair.
What to Expect
This is an entry-level position in the sound department, and as such will bear most of the weight of the grunt work. Be prepared to schlep gear and take orders. Work on set rarely moves along at a steady pace; long periods of waiting are followed by mad dashes to get the shot before the DP loses the light. Prior experience on set as a production assistant is helpful, but not required before becoming a sound assistant. There are also opportunities to serve as a sound trainee through affiliation with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union that represents technicians and artists in film, television, and theater. Most positions in this career field are freelance, so you will have to hustle and work your connections for gigs; a strong work ethic makes the best impression. It is common for a sound assistant to be hired by a production sound mixer and move from one show to another with the same team—if they like your work.
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