Boom operator (media)



A boom operator (or First Assistant Sound) is a core role in the sound department of a
film production Filmmaking (film production) is the process by which a motion picture is produced. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages, starting with an initial story, idea, or commission. It then continues through screenwriting, casti ...
, who works with the
production sound mixer A production sound mixer, location sound recordist, location sound engineer, or simply sound mixer is the member of a film crew or television crew responsible for recording all sound recording on set during the filmmaking or television productio ...
utility sound technician A utility sound technician, also referred to as sound assistant, sound utility, or cableperson is an assistant to both the production sound mixer and the boom operator on a film or television set. Although sometimes the utility pulls cable and ...
. The principal responsibility of the boom operator is microphone placement, usually using a boom pole (or "fishpole") with a microphone attached to the end (called a boom mic), their aim being to hold the microphone as close to the actors or action as possible without allowing the microphone or boom pole to enter the camera's frame.

Invention of the boom mic

The first noted instance of a prototype boom mike was on '' The Wild Party'' (1929). To allow Clara Bow to move freely on the set, director Dorothy Arzner had technicians rig a microphone onto a fishing rod. Another instance of a boom mic was on the set of '' Beggars of Life'' (1928) when director
William A. Wellman William Augustus Wellman (February 29, 1896 – December 9, 1975) was an American film director, producer, screenwriter, actor and military pilot. He was known for his work in crime, adventure, and action genre films, often focusing on avi ...
wanted a tracking shot of two actors walking down a street, and the sound man refused, telling the director that the actors had to be static and the microphone had to be hidden in a flowery vase. Wellman said "that's crazy" and instructed the sound man to put the microphone on a broom-handle and walk along the actors just outside of the frame. According to
David O. Selznick David O. Selznick (May 10, 1902June 22, 1965) was an American film producer, screenwriter and film studio executive who produced ''Gone with the Wind'' (1939) and ''Rebecca'' (1940), both of which earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture. E ...
, "I was also present on the stage when a microphone was moved for the first time by Wellman, believe it or not. Sound was relatively new and at that time the sound engineer insisted that the microphone be steady. Wellman, who had quite a temper in those days, got very angry, took the microphone himself, hung it on a boom, gave orders to record—and moved it." A patent was filed a year later for a very similar sound-recording device by Edmund H Hansen, a sound engineer at the
Fox Film Corporation The Fox Film Corporation (also known as Fox Studios) was an American Independent film production studio formed by William Fox (1879–1952) in 1915, by combining his earlier Greater New York Film Rental Company and Box Office Attractions Film ...


Often in television studios, the boom operator will use a Fisher boom, which is a more intricate and specialized piece of equipment on which the operator stands, allowing precise control of the microphone at a greater distance from the actors. They will also attach wireless microphones to persons whose voice requires recording. Boom poles are usually manufactured from several lengths of aluminum or carbon fibre tubing, allowing the boom to be extended and collapsed as the situation requires. Some poles have a microphone cable routed through the inside of the pole, which may be a regular cable protruding at the bottom end, or a coiled cable that can extend with the pole, connecting to a socket at the base into which the operator plugs the microphone cable. The ideal boom pole is lightweight and strong, supporting the weight of the microphone on the end while adding as little weight as possible. Frequently, a wind-attenuating cover, called a "
blimp A blimp, or non-rigid airship, is an airship (dirigible) without an internal structural framework or a keel. Unlike semi-rigid and rigid airships (e.g. Zeppelins), blimps rely on the pressure of the lifting gas (usually helium, rather than hydr ...
" or "mic-blimp", is used to enclose the microphone. A blimp covered with sound-absorbing fuzzy fabric is usually nicknamed a windmuff or a "dead cat". In film crew jargon, the gruesome-sounding phrase ''dead cat on a stick'' is simply a boom microphone fitted with a fuzzy wind-screen. On feature films and TV drama boom operators will have another sound assistant working under them who will assistant in various ways; including with boom operating out of vision dialogue, applying radio microphones and rigging other pieces of equipment. The boom operator and production sound mixer can sometimes be combined into a job performed by one person on lower budget productions, usually when the crew number is to be kept minimal, or for documentaries or news collecting. The one-man unit is often known simply as a "sound recordist" or "sound man", and would perform all on set sound duties. The boom operator must decide where to place the microphone based on a combination of factors, including the location and projection of any dialogue, the frame position of the camera, the source of lighting (and hence shadows) and any unwanted noise sources. Often the boom operator will need to be as familiar with the script as are the actors, as they may be required to tilt or move the microphone according to who is speaking. In productions with a bigger budget, more than one boom operator may be used, with each operator focusing on a different actor. Having the boom mic or its shadow appear on the screen in a completed picture is considered a sign of poor film-making. Notable examples include the mic's shadow appearing above two crewmen flying a plane in ''
Plan 9 from Outer Space ''Plan 9 from Outer Space'' is a 1957 American independent science fiction-horror film produced, written, directed, and edited by Ed Wood. The film was shot in black-and-white in November 1956 and had a theatrical preview screening on March 1 ...
'' and the mic itself dipping into the frame numerous times in Rudy Ray Moore's film '' Dolemite''. Pastiches of bad film-making may also use boom mic visibility to spoof their material. Boom operators therefore need to have a high level of skill to perform their jobs to a high standard. Knowledge of various types of microphones and their applications is essential. A knowledge of camera lenses is also necessary as well a good overall technical understanding of all the varied equipment modern sound departments use. Because boom operators are required to liaise with actors and multiple departments they need to be diplomatic and have good people skills. They also need a good level of physical fitness, strength and stamina.

See also

* Perchman


{{TV production Broadcasting occupations Filmmaking occupations Mass media occupations Television terminology