Job profile boom operator
The main responsibility of the boom operator is microphone placement using a boom. In cooperation with the production sound mixer, the boom operator tries to achieve ideal microphone placements. Generally, the boom operator is subject to the production sound mixer’s instructions. However, his job goes beyond merely assisting the production sound mixer. Rather, it is a craft, requiring a high degree of skill and experience and serves as the basis for a good production sound. On a documentary shoot, the production sound mixer usually carries out the responsibilities of a boom operator in addition to his own tasks.
Field of activity
Usually, the boom and microphone have to be placed as close as possible to the actor delivering a line without being seen by the camera. On larger sets, longer booms on wheeled platforms may be used. The skillful handling of the microphone by the boom operator is a key requirement to an acceptable recording of the actor’s dialogue performance.
For high-quality film sound, it is advisable to have two boom operators on set, in order to be able to cover all filming situations, eliminate interfering factors and to carry out additional sound recordings (ambiences) off set or after the main crew was moved. When using more than one camera, two boom operators are essential.
Film production is team work. Therefore, the ability to work in a team intuitiveness and the ability to get the hang of the task quickly is essential to the job of boom operator. What is more, the boom operator has to be able to assert himself in stressful situations towards his colleagues mainly concerned with the visual elements of the scene. This requires a certain measure of self-confidence as well as good psychological skills.
The boom operator needs to be able to quickly grasp picture contents and motion patterns of a scene and to follow the actors with the boom. Memorizing the scene’s break-down and visual composition is the key to achieving the best possible result. Knowledge of lenses (focal length) and lighting technology can help in the assessment of frame borders and the early detection and solution of problematic lighting situations (in particular avoiding boom shadows). Further, the boom operator has to be able to memorise actor’s lines and to react to text-related gestures in an instant.
As long as the production sound mixer is occupied with other tasks in the background, the boom operator is his representative and “ear“ on set. He has to be able to locate and solve sound problems independently. Depending on how production sound mixer and boom operator share the work, the boom operator’s job can range from installing wireless wireless mini-microphones on the actors to operating in all other areas of technological preparation, location fitting, assembly and disassembly, always bound by instructions.
- good physical condition
- ability to keep focused over long work days
- willingness to work at irregular and long hours, in various locations sometimes far away from home over longer periods of time, on weekends and nights
- ability to deal with situations of high stress level
Training and job situation
There is no state-approved apprenticeship or training for boom operators. Training is usually achieved through internships with production sound mixers and film productions. An educational background in electrical engineering or media areas can be useful.
Boom operators usually work as employees of film production companies or the production sound mixer. Outside of big studios, the contracts are mostly project-based, which means they are limited to the duration of the production.
Even though the job situation can be considered saturated, well trained boom operators are often sought after, especially for feature films. With good qualifications and extensive experience, the employment prospects are even better for boom operators than for production sound mixers.