Colin Hart has published a very interesting and detailed article about the principles and techniques of boom operation. It’s more focused on location sound, but it will be an amazing read for anyone who has to deal with booms, including sound designers and recordists.
The Boom Operator: one of the most crucial parts of a sound team, if not the most crucial. Also, one of the most misunderstood positions. He is a ninja. No, seriously, he is.
Let’s talk cinema style audio for a bit. On a film set, the boom operator is the “voice” of the sound team. He’s the one that communicates most set-related concerns to the proper crew. If he’s having trouble with placement, he’ll talk to the cam op or DP. If body pack or Comtek batteries are low, he’s the one that changes them. If talent is having trouble with their wire, the boom op is generally the one to fix it. The mixer usually stays off to the side. Because of this, the boom op needs to be a very personable character. He needs to know how to get what he needs without pissing people off. He needs to be able to get along with whomever is thrown his way.
Once we start talking ENG, the mixer not only mixes, but does everything the boom op does. He’s a one man band. He needs to be able to move very quickly, anticipating every need before it happens, staying one step ahead of the crew, lest he hear the dreaded phrase “Waiting on sound!”
Now, you could be the most personable person in the world, not stepping on anyone’s toes and getting all the work you need to get done finished without negatively altering anyone’s mood, and still be a terrible boom op. Let’s talk technical.
A boom op needs to realize how incredibly sensitive his gear is. It’s a game of inches. You need to be able to think one step ahead of the talent. You need to be quick, light on your toes, and stealthy. You need to be everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time. You need to be moving faster than the talent, staying dangerously close to the frame line, so much so that people are breaking into a nervous sweat. You need to perform near stunt moves, moving over and around obstacles on set during moving shots, being aware of your surroundings while sticking your mic on a spot the size of a quarter. You need to do all of this without making a single noise. This is why the boom op is a ninja.
As a boom operator, you have to be willing to do crazy things to get that perfect sound. You will, at times, find yourself in strange positions, in harms way, or in otherwise less-than-comfortable situations. You have to be on point at all times, knowing that if you mess up, you’ve compromised the entire shot.
Ok, if I haven’t scared you away yet, lets go over some basics of boom operation.