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Boom Operator


Description

Did you know that Robert De Niro began his career in the film industry as a boom operator? Boom operators are the people who hold and operate the microphone attached to the long pole, which in film lingo is called the fish pole. They also handle various sound equipment for theatrical productions and report directly to the production mixer. Booms must try and get as close to an actor as possible, without getting the microphone into the shot. The microphone must be optimally placed for recording dialog, effects or music.

Being a boom operator is not an easy job. It requires a steady hand, good arm muscles and technical skill. The boom operator has to be one of the most knowledgeable craftspersons on the set. They must have a fundamental knowledge of a number of aspects of a film including wardrobe, the script and cameras. Knowledge of the wardrobe helps them plant lavalier microphones, while memorizing the script keeps them on par with the actors and their lines. Since they must follow the actors closely with the microphones, they need to know their lines and next moves. Also, they must be able to follow the camera and its lenses to keep the boom out of the shot.

Because more and more filming is done on location and the equipment has become compact, lighter, and simpler to operate, one person often performs many of the above functions. Also, since the boom operator is standing around all day, holding the microphone in the air, it is important that the fish pole be lighter to help avoid injuries. Boom operators are required to constantly update their technical sound knowledge and be aware of new trends in the industry.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Boom operators must be solid team players. They must have excellent listening and concentration skills to focus on the task at hand. Holding the fish pole microphone is tough work so they should be physically fit. Boom operators should also be really comfortable with heights. Since they are holding the microphones over the scenes, they often have to do so from heights above the actors. In order to remain competitive, boom operators must keep up with changes in technology and in the industry. Finally, stamina and a positive attitude are two skills neccesary for boom operators, especially when they are shooting 12- to 15-hour days.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Place the microphone so there is no shadow on the set or actors
  • Keep the microphone on the actor that is in the take
  • Set up the fishpole, or boom, operates it and breaks it down for storage or shipment at the end of the day
  • Assist the production mixer in all microphone placements if required
  • Ensure that the microphone is being placed in the optimum position to record the sound
  • Voice slate wild and ambient sound when required by the production mixer
  • Keep audio cables away from electrical cables so they will not pick up AC hum
  • Pick up and delivers sound equipment and supplies
  • Consult with production personnel and other workers to assemble and set up stage properties to achieve desired effects
  • Generally assist the production mixer in any duties he or she may require
  • A typical day for a boom operator involves holding the fish pole microphone over the actors filming a scene. Therefore, the work can be very tiring and straining on the arms, back and shoulders. Some days may be as long as 12 hours and a majority of the time will be standing on one's feet. Boom operators will work inside on sets and also outdoors on location, which will require a bit of traveling.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Boom operators are employed by television and radio stations and networks, recording studios, motion picture and video production companies and by theater and stage companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A boom operator usually starts as part of a the basic sound crew and then works up through various levels to production mixer or sound producer. Studios usually promote from within, although there is a lot of interchanging between studios depending on how many productions are going on. Advancement is a slow process and may take many years since openings are few. Advancement really comes in the form of an increasing pay level, based on growing professional status and recognition.
 

  Educational Paths  
Although there is no required educational path for becoming a boom operator, most have a community college diploma or a university degree in film, theater or broadcasting studies. Since the film and theater industries are vertically integrated, many aspiring directors and cinematographers begin as boom grips to learn the basics of the industry and make the proper connections.

Potential boom operators should learn as much as they can about microphones: dynamic, ribbon, condenser, phase coherent and boundary layer. They should also learn some basic electronics. Another good idea is to intern or cable with a top-notch crew. Work a few shows with a good boomer, watch, learn and ask questions.
 

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