(also: microphone boom operator, film sound utility person)
The boom operator works closely with the production sound mixer. Together they are responsible for capturing all the dialogue the actors deliver on set while filming. Cooperating with the sound mixer he autonomously strives for the best possible placement of the microphone. He is bound to the instructions of the sound mixer, but he is not completely subordinate to him. A boom operator’s work rather requires highly specialized and skilled craftsmanship as well as thorough experience. These are the prerequisites for an excellent soundtrack from the set. A lot of scenes require more than one boom operator.[/three_fourth]
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The boom operator’s core task is the handling and placement of the microphone. The mic is mounted to the end of a telescopic boom pole which is held by both hands.
This microphone boom is used in most situations to position the microphone just above the picture frame that the camera captures. By holding it overhead it must be placed as close to the speaking actors’ heads as possible without being visible in the camera’s picture and without casting shadows onto the set that are visible in the frame. In some larger sets a device called the “Fisher Boom” is used to aid the boom operator. Adequately capturing the actors’ performances requires the best placement of the microphone possible.
Two boom operators are required on the film set to cover most situations, solve problems, and be fast with tasks such as setting up in the morning, packing up and maintenance. Having two boom operators is mandatory whenever there is more than one camera filming at once.
Making a film is teamwork. This is the reason why the boom operator has to be a team player and must have a fast and intuitive grasp on complex situations. He also has to be able to stand up to other, mostly visually oriented, departments like camera and light. Self-confidence and psychological aptness are very helpful.
The boom operator hast to be able to identify and understand the staging, movements and framing of a given scene quickly as this enables him to best capture its dialogue. For this it is necessary to be deeply familiar with the principles and the art of creating pictures. The concepts of optics, lighting, framing and more help him estimating and identifying those situations which may be complicated for him to work with. Problems might include shadows cast by the microphone. In addition to all this a well-trained skill for memorizing lines and recognizing an actor’s movements and gesturing are important.
Whenever the production sound mixer is busy elsewhere, the boom operator is his eyes and ears on set and fills in for him. He should identify and solve small problems independently. Depending on individual working habits he may also be the one putting wireless lav mics on actors, preparing sound-relevant things on set before filming or cleaning up afterwards.
- good physical health
- capability of prolonged attentiveness
- good craftsmanship
- willingness to work irregular and sometimes overlong hours
- mental strength
Education and Employment
In Germany there is no officially recognized education training to become a boom operator. Usually multiple internships, apprenticeships and non-paid jobs as a helping hand to a more experienced boom operator or sound mixer ultimately lead to the qualification as a well trained and educated boom operator. A lot of the best boom operators became to be excellent just by years of experience. Of course it is very helpful to have an educational background in electronic, media or sound-related matters.