How do you avoid the pitfalls of being "that boom operator?"
Operating a boom isn't as simple as it looks; it actually requires a lot of expertise, finesse and physical strength. Not only do you have to know where to place the boom in order to get the best possible sound, but you also have to ensure that it doesn't ruin the shot by bobbing into the frame. Luckily in this video from Aputure, boom operator Stephen Harrod serves up six tips that will help you take your boom game to the next level.
So here are six things to keep in mind the next time you operate a boom:
1. Make sure you are out of the way
You, not just your boom, need to keep as low a profile as possible. Sets are busy and people are usually packed like sardines in the small space around the camera, so make sure that you don't get in the way of others trying to do their job. Be mindful of where you are and whose sight you might be obstructing. Harrod even suggests wearing clothes that minimize distraction, like black stuff that doesn't have big prints, text, or graphics.
2. Go to rehearsals and understand the blocking
Being aware of how the day's shots are going to unfold as far as blocking goes will help you not only put your boom in the right place at the right time, but it'll help you avoid sticking it where it shouldn't go. This is especially important if there is a lot of camera/character movement, as well as dialog in the shot, because not only will you have to move with the camera/characters, but you'll have to know who is delivering their lines and when in order to point your boom at the right person.
3. Be aware of lighting
You've done a good job of keeping your boom out of the camera's view, but what about shadows? If you put your boom in front of a light, it's going to cast a shadow and potentially ruin the shot, so take note of where lights are placed and where the light is in the scene—this goes for windows and mirrors as well. If you're finding it difficult to avoid casting a harsh shadow, talk to someone in the camera or light department (the DP, 1st AC, or gaffer) to try to work out a solution.
4. Pay attention to the camera
Cameras move a lot these days, especially thanks to the ubiquity of handheld gimbals. This means that you have to be more aware of where the camera is going to be throughout the duration of the shot. And wherever the camera is, that is precisely where you should not be. As the shot changes, so should your position. And again, being there for rehearsals will help you plan your path more effectively, but Harrod suggest always positioning yourself facing the camera in case it moves somewhere you didn't anticipate.
5. Know which lens is being used
Even though you're working in the sound department, knowing which lenses are being used for the shot, as well as what those lenses do, will help you put your boom in the right place. Because wide lens will capture more of the scene than a telephoto lens, you'll have to change where you stand based on which lens is being used. The rule of thumb: the shorter the lens, the further away you need to boom; the longer the lens the closer you can boom.
6. Make sure you and other departments are on the same page
Cohesion is crucial in filmmaking, so make sure you're working together with everyone on set to get the job done the right way. Harrod explains that his work is more than simply getting good audio, it's also about quality control. So, make sure you're communicating clearly with other departments to ensure that obtaining that quality is possible. If your boom is obstructing the lighting, if a costume has noisy fabric, or if props are in the way, talk to their respective departments.
Do you have any good tips for boom operators? Let us know in the comments below!