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Here comes the Boom!

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

As we explore the world of audio for video, I thought it a great time to go through the role of a Boom operator

A boom operator is a term given to the person who holds and operates the microphones whether they are stationary, wired, or wireless microphones on a location or film/TV/video production set. They also assist with operating other sound equipment but are primarily responsible for capturing the actor’s dialogue and other required sounds on the film/TV/video set (for the buzz or fx tracks or even for some room tone).

The ‘strong; silent type’ are some words you might use to describe the BOOM operator.

Taking a quick peek into a BOOM operators kit, you’ll see things like ‘dead-cats’, brushes, boom poles, blimps, triggers, mounts, shotgun and lavalier mics, and all sorts of audio technical gadgets. And cables. Lots of cables. Different kinds of cables. And batteries. A bagful of batteries. Different kinds of batteries.

Boom operators use boom poles to which specialized directional high-quality professional microphones are attached to capture high-quality sound, specifically dialogue, with as little extraneous noise as possible. So, if you are shooting a scene in a street where there is really heavy traffic, the job of the Boom operator is to capture the dialogue and reduce the traffic noise. There are many gadgets and tools available to help to do this, already mentioned are the ‘dead-cat’ and ‘blimp’. The ‘dead cat’ is a furry external cover that is placed over the microphone to reduce or help eliminate external unwanted noise, such as wind or traffic. The ‘blimp’ is specifically designed for tough location conditions and is a fantastic help with windy environments.

Boom operators are also responsible for clipping (securing) and placing microphones around the set or onto the actors (talent) themselves.

Booming is a very important job, that requires a lot of physical fitness. Workdays can be long hours and also very demanding both physically and mentally. You are often required to move around to capture the tightest sound and get/keep the microphone as close to the required source as possible or stand in a specific position for extended periods of time, without moving. You see, moving could introduce or cast shadows. Movement can also introduce noise that the microphone picks up (especially handling noise) and then that noise or those shadows in frame can ruin a great take which will require the scene to be reshot/redone.

To do a great job, you need to work closely with the other sound crew members, as well as the director and cast; and then of course the camera operators. I suggest that you learn or become familiar with the script, so you can anticipate movement, and plan how you will follow; with as little noise as possible. Familiarize yourself with the planned shots of the day so that you can get a great feel for where you need to be positioned and which microphones and gear will be required.

As a Boom operator your listening skills, focus, and attention to detail are critical skills. For example, you need to pay attention to and watch for any potential issues, such as the surface the talent will be walking on and if it will introduce unwanted noise that will compromise dialogue and wanted audio quality. Or, the jewelry and clothing the talent is wearing. Will these introduce unwanted noise? You then need to be able to address these issues tactfully before they become a nightmare problem in post-production!

In summary

Apart from having a pleasant personality, being incredibly patient and resilient, having good organization skills the, and being a willing team player; as a boom operator, you also need to be physically fit and technically savvy. From understanding the terminology to the different types of equipment needed in different situations, electrical wiring and working with different kinds of sound equipment and routing, and of course; keeping up to date with maintenance of the equipment.

But, above all, the greatest skill that a Boom operator can possess? To know when to be quiet and when to speak up. You always need to be respectful of actors and movie directors. If the audio quality is not good, you need to speak up. And be ready with a solution of how to make it sound better or improved at the very least. Suggestions only get you so far. Implementation of actioning of solutions or actioning of your skill set is what makes you stand out.

There is no such thing as ‘fix it in post’. It’s a myth that comforts amateurs or the inexperienced. Be professional. Take the time to get it right to the best of your ability right at the source. Then, you will be recognized and appreciated for your attention to detail and professionalism. Your name and reputation as a boom operator will be synonymous with quality, and you will be booked time and time again for projects as they become available.

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