Boom Operators are responsible for placing the microphone in the best position, without impeding camera operation, or hampering actors’ freedom to perform. Clear dialogue is expected by cinema audiences, and this is usually achieved by placing microphones suitably close to the actors saying their lines. This is part of the Boom Operators’ responsibility, and is a physically difficult enterprise, requiring a great deal of skill and experience.

Boom Operators work on a freelance basis, and report directly to Production Sound Mixers in Production Sound Departments. They usually specialise in either film or television, but may also work on commercials. The hours are long and the work often involves long periods working away from home.

What is the job?

Boom Operators assist the Production Sound Mixer and operate the boom microphone, which is either hand-held on a long arm or dolly mounted (on a moving platform). If radio or clip microphones are required, Boom Operators position them correctly around the set or location, or on actors’ clothing. Boom Operators are responsible for positioning microphones so that Sound Mixers can capture the best quality dialogue and sound effects. If this is done well, a great deal of money can be saved by not having to re-record (post-sync) the dialogue at a later stage.

Boom Operators are also responsible for all the sound equipment, ensuring that it is in good working order, and carrying out minor repairs where necessary.
Boom Operators begin work on the first day of principal photography, after reading the script several times, and familiarising themselves with the characters and their lines of dialogue. Members of the Sound Department arrive half-an-hour before call time, in order to unload and set up all the sound equipment.

Boom Operators are given “sides” (small booklets of pages from the script that are to be shot each day), so that they can memorise all lines of dialogue and anticipate when to move the boom during filming. During the morning rehearsal with the Director, Director of Photography and the actors, Boom Operators carefully note all planned camera movements and lighting requirements, so that they can ensure that the microphone does not accidentally fall into shot or cast shadows.

Boom Operators are on set virtually all day, positioned with the Camera Crew, with whom they must develop good working relationships as they are often asked to move slightly because of lights or camera angles; Boom Operators may also make similar reciprocal requests. They finish work when the film wraps (is completed).

Typical career routes

The most important starting point for a career in sound is to develop and demonstrate an interest in acoustics by exploring, experimenting and learning about audio technology and its capabilities. Most Boom Operators start their careers working in Facilities Houses, where they learn about sound equipment, subsequently progressing to working as Sound Trainees on the floor (i.e., the set or location).

As their work affects many other departments, learning about on-set protocol is crucial for all Sound crew members, and this knowledge can only be acquired by experience. Committed Sound Trainees can progress to being Sound Assistants relatively quickly, and may eventually work with a Production Sound Mixer who offers them the opportunity to swing a boom.

Essential knowledge and skills

Boom Operators need a basic understanding of electronics. They should also have a good working knowledge of all sound recording equipment and microphones.

Key Skills include:

Excellent aural skills
Dexterity and agility
Ability to anticipate
A good memory
Good timing
Precise attention to detail
Diplomacy and sensitivity on set
Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures