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How Do You Become a Boom Operator?

Boom operator holding a mic

Interested in working on a film set? Have you thought of becoming a boom operator? Boom operator is an entry-level position for those trying to break into the film industry. Even the casual television or movie watcher can tell you that the sound is distinctly important. Sound allows the audience to grasp what they’re watching even if they are not looking at the screen. Sound in film is one of the most vital pieces of a film project.

Of course, there was once a time when sound in film didn’t exist. When silent films held musical counterparts rather than a score. With how far the industry has come, sound has proved to be vital. From the music soundtrack, to the sound of someone walking, these sounds bring the film to life.

Try muting your television for a moment and staring at the screen. Now do you understand how important sound is to film and television? That is why attending a film and sound design program is an important step to breaking into the film industry.

Often, the sound technicians, mixers, and boom operators do not get the credit they deserve for their role on the film set. Sound is a definitive and important role in any piece of media. As we’ve now seen, when you mute the sound from what you’re watching you’re left with silent images. Sure, if a visual artist does well enough you can still grasp the story. But it is the sound that can enhance the story all on its own.

One of the most distinctive roles in sound design is the boom operator. Think someone who holds a long pole with a microphone on the end isn’t important? Let’s take a look at what exactly a boom operator does. What is a boom operator? What skills do they need? How does their role affect the film? And, how does one get started in the film industry as a boom operator? 

What is a Boom Operator?

A boom operator holds the most important piece of audio equipment on a set. The microphone is used to pick up the sound in a scene. The microphone is attached to a long pole and the boom operator is required to stand completely still. They must then tilt and turn the pole so that the microphone picks up the audio on set. This job requires long hours on your feet. You must also work with the director and actors in order to hide the pole and its shadow from the camera. The boom operator requires careful attention to detail and a close relationship with the recordist.

Where Does the Boom Operator Work?

The boom operator is always in the center of the action. Which in some cases may even mean squeezing into a very tight space with the actors. In order to pick up the best sound, the boom operator’s job is to always be in close proximity to the sound on set. The microphone needs to have access to the cleanest audio. With about 8 to 10 feet in length, a boom operator stands and holds the pole only feet away from what is being filmed.

If you’re someone who has a keen attention to detail and wants to be right in the center of the action, boom operator may be the job for you. Just make sure that you’re prepared to shift and squish into any position that will hide you from the camera.

Who Does a Boom Operator Work With?

A film is comprised of a full working team. Everyone has a role in making the final product. However, there are only certain parts of the film that a boom operator works on. The boom operator works closely with the sound recordist and the assistant director.

The Recordist

The boom operator and the recordist are a team. The pair work in tandem to record all of the sound on the film set. If they are not working together then the sound will not sync. It is this pair that will determine if filming needs to be paused for airplanes and other loud sounds on set.

Assistant Director/Director

Another person that the boom operator works in tandem with is the director. With the director surveying the scene and making calls on how they want to see and hear, the director will also be the eyes that say when the boom operator needs to move. If the boom operator is in a poor spot for the camera, the director will ask the boom operator to readjust to a better position.

The Talent

An area that many don’t consider is the actors. The boom operator works up close and personal with the actors. In order to perfectly mic their dialog, lines are recorded through the boom. As a boom operator, you must fit into the scene discreetly while also picking up the best forms of audio. For small crews, the boom operator and the actors form close bonds.

The Boom Operator’s Skill Set

There are many skills that are important for any boom operator. The most important are attention to detail, active listening, stamina, strength, and an ear for detail.

Skill #1: Attention to Detail

Even the slightest mistake by the boom operator can hurt a scene. Staying out of the shot and recording all of the sound on set is paramount for any boom operator. A boom operator with good attention to detail will have concern for every detail, regardless of how small. You must stay organized, observe everything and listen actively.

Skill #2: Active Listening

One of the most important skills that a boom operator needs to master is active listening. Being able to quickly listen when you are told where to move or how to hold the pole is imperative. While a scene will have many takes, you never want to be the reason for another take. If the boom shadow is in the way, the boom operator must quickly listen to directions and remove it from view.

Skill #3: Stamina & Strength

Another important skill to possess as a boom operator is stamina and strength. A typical day on set can last 12 hours. The boom operator must stand and hold a pole in complex positions. Quite often, the heavy pole is held over your head. Filming isn’t going to stop because your arms hurt. You will have to push through with those strained and aching muscles. For an average film shoot it means holding steady for 5 days a week, 12 hours per day.

Skill #4: Ear for Detail

Knowing what you’re listening for and what angle gets the best diction is important. In order to be a boom operator, you need a keen ear to make sure you’re getting the best sound. The boom operator should have first-hand experience with sound.

How Do You Become a Boom Operator?

The role of a boom operator is an entry-level position on any film set. Doing whatever you can on a film set is how you get your foot in the door. Once you have your chance to be on set, it’s time to show interest with the standing boom operator. Make sure that you talk to the recordist and make connections with the film crew.

Getting a degree in film and sound design shows that you have the qualifications and are serious about film. Having the background and knowing what you’re doing will make you an asset to the film crew.

Making the decision to start a film and sound design degree program will be beneficial to all of your future endeavors. Leaning more about sound design and what makes sound work well with the dialogue and the entire film making process, will help you succeed as a boom operator.

Final Thoughts

A boom operator’s job is an important one. It is an integral part of the film crew. If you’re looking into being a boom operator, be sure you have the strength and stamina to do the job right. There are no small jobs on the film set, they all help to create the final product. It is the final cut of the film that makes all the hard work worth it.

Film and Sound Design Program

The Film and Sound Design program offers an occupational degree that immerses college students in the world and industry of film and sound design. IPR’s condensed program allows students to earn a multi-skill, multi-functional Occupational Associate of Applied Science Degree in as little as two years.  Students learn hands-on, entry-level skills in every aspect of the film business: recording, post-production, and design. Work as a part of a team to produce your own film- from concept and storyboard, to production and editing – you’ll graduate with a portfolio of work to showcase your creativity and launch your career in the exciting Film Industry.

If you are interested in a career in audio production and engineering, you should tour our Minneapolis creative arts college, see the labs and meet our staff. Call 1-612-351-0631 or contact admissions to make arrangements.