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Boom Op Advice?

Anyone have any good advice for boom ops out there? Specifically so that during post the sound doesn't have to be fixed extensively.

What do you want to know? More specific?

There can be tomes written on the subject.

First piece of advice: Stay out of the camera's frame,

beyond that, there is no limit to what you can do to get your job done.
Even the best production sound will be extensively edited in audio post. On my current main project - a 100+ minute feature - I put about 250 hours into editing the production dialog (and I will spend more time when I mix; the dialog volume is sometimes adjusted syllable by syllable). With the exception of one scene the entire movie is production sound dialog. I did some replacement with dialog from unused takes and quite a bit of noise reduction, and the sound was, for the most part, pretty good. All of the sound between lines of dialog is completely removed and replaced with room tones, all of the actions replaced with Foley and sound FX.

There is no quick and easy solution to having a polished sound track. It's a lot of hard work that can also be a lot of fun. I spent two days doing nothing but the sound of characters drinking from beer and liquor bottles. I spent a whole day recreating a character cooking his lunch. A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon recording an old pick-up truck, and next weekend - weather permitting - I will be recording a "muscle" car. Oh, and I get very funny looks when I buy high-heels for my Foley work.

As far as being a boom-op; do serious upper-body work-outs - you'll be holding that boom over your head for hours at a time (I have a ten foot steel pole that weighs about 30lbs. that I practiced with - the boom was a feather after a month of that). Hold your arms in an "H" - elbows parallel to your shoulders. Rest the boom in your palms and roll/adjust with your fingertips. Know the script inside/out. Get it in as close as you can without getting into the shot or casting shadows. Practice with the actors and DP during blocking. Wear quiet shoes and clothing. And develop patience and a can-do attitude.
A lot of first time filmmakers screw up the audio, only to find out the hard way - that in many instances, audio is more important to your audience than the visual. So make sure you take it seriously.

To make it a bit easier for your boom operator, I suggest the use of apple boxes and step ladders to find all those crazy, non-shadow producing sweet spots.

And finally, don't forget to get at least 30 seconds of room tone.
Last time I filmed a movie I had inconsistency in the sound from take to take, even though it was at the same location. Some of the sound was echo like and others were very nice. Does this have anything to do with the distance of each actor from the mike?
Define "festival quality".

If you want a decent sounding budget mic the current "go to" mic is the Rode NTG-2. You can get it from B&H with the shock-mount and an impedance matcher for $269. You'll still need an XLR cable.


"Complete" kits with a softie and boom pole are $579.


I suggest that you check out my blogs here on IndieTalk for some production sound basics. If you are planning on getting into production sound (as opposed just needing some sound gear) there is a lot more than having one mic and a boom pole. Another option is to look for an up-and-coming production sound mixer and work for expenses for a while. S/he'll have the basics already so you won't have to purchase anything right away, although most boom-ops have small kit of their own - usually a set of cans (headphones; Sony MDR-7506 [$99] are a standard) and the Sound Devices MM-1 ($395) The mic plugs into the MM-1 which hooks to your belt, has input/output controls, supplies phantom power to the mic and has a headphone jack so you can hear what you're doing. It also means that the cable to the mixer or camera is not "dragging" on the boom.

If you're handy you can make your own boom and shock-mount. There are lots of vids on YouTube and other places that will give you step-by-step instructions.
In addition to the great advice given so far:

1. Use your ears!!!! (You NEVER boom without headphones, right??) The earlier comments about the effects of mic-to-source distance and reflective surfaces are dead on. Add to that the level and direction of ambient noise and you have plenty to be aware of. Move that mic around until it sounds good!!! Be searching for the best mic position (for both sound quality and shadows) by having your actors or stand ins talk while your lighting guys are busy setting up the shot. Knowing some sound theory about mic distance and reflection will help you make good mic placement choices faster, but at the end of the day, your ears are the most accurate judge.

2. Be polite, but insistent, when the DP/Director frames and lights the shot with no place to capture good sound. If you have to place your mic 10 feet away from the source to avoid shadows, make it clear to the DP/Director that sound is going to suck. (Of course you must do this with humor and diplomacy rather than whininess and negativity, but you must speak up. It is part of your job.) In the end, the visual may take priority, but the director has then made a conscious decision rather than just discovering bad sound during post.

3. Depending on the level and direction of ambient noise in your environment (air conditioners, traffic, etc.), consider small movements to capture different actors in a two shot. If you flip the mic to completely face actor #1 during his dialog and to completely face actor #2 during her dialog, you will get the hottest signal for each actor, but you may hear the background ambient levels washing back and forth (annoyingly) as you flip. Centering the mic over them and making smaller facing movements may avoid this.

4. Face and body resonances: In general, you will get a lighter, more natural dialog sound by booming from above. Point roughly toward the bridge of the actor's nose as a starting place then adjust by ear from there. Unfortunately, booming from above is also where you often have the most conflict with shadows, so booming from below may be necessary. Unfortunately, you'll often pick up more chest resonance and less of the clarifying high frequencies from below. Just the way the body and face are built. We teach singers to control some of these face and body resonances, for example to switch between a more operatic sound or a more pop sound.

5. The Rode NTG-3. Dang! I swear it sounds as good as an MKH-416, but half the price.
Great advice here. I wouldn't so much worry about 'chest resonance' and the likes...but I guess some people think in frequency...and you don't have to tweak individual syllables in post. That will drive you crazy, and it's not necessary. Sound guys are notorious for being too critical about every little frequency. You don't need to be a savant to capture good audio...just be aware of your surroundings, and get that mic as close to the actors mouth as your frame allows. *no offense to anyone*

* The best audio will come from an actors close up. Don't shoot yourself over not capturing fantastic dialog from a wide or master.

* Move the boom around before a shot and scan for shadows on walls or the actors.

* Be aware of what your boom cord is doing...keep it tight and controlled.

* Be aware of ambient sound...if something changes (like a refrigerator)...get a solid minute of 'room tone'...keep the actors and crew in the room for this. You will use this to lay behind your scene audio to keep your ambient consistent.

* You can say 'hold for fire truck' if the director doesn't...at least on the indie level. If they don't hear it ...let them know.

* You can rest the boom pole on the back of your shoulders and neck for extended shots.

Anyway. Great advice above. Good stuff.
It's not a 'term'...it was an actual example. You could say:

"Holding for A/C"

"Holding for ambulance"

"Holding for airplane"

"Holding for passerbys"

"Holding for traffic noise"

"Holding for subpump"

"Holding for toilet flush"


There are so many things you'll have to hold for...the list goes on and on.

Another thing you might have to do is 'reset.'

When you reset, usually a loud noise will interfere with a line of dialog, and you say 'reset for...' and jump back to the beginning of that particular line of dialog, and repeat it from there without cutting...the camera continues to roll. Actors should try to stay in position (emotional match as well), reset, and continue.
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At locations where the room is too small for the sound cart, or outdoors where the sound cart is distant from the actual set, get used to some people expecting to be able to talk to the sound mixer through your mic.
does the boom operator say "Hold for firetruck" or "Reset for toilet flush?" Seems like that would really irritate the director if the rest of the performance was perfect..

On close sets, you can. Depends on your relationship with the Director. On pro sets...wait, and let him or her know after 'cut.'

I wouldn't interrupt on a pro set...heck no. :)
does the boom operator say "Hold for firetruck" or "Reset for toilet flush?" Seems like that would really irritate the director if the rest of the performance was perfect..

In my experience it's the sound guy that makes this call, not the boom op. I've never seen anyone call this out during a take. It's always either reported after the director calls cut, or announced before the roll.

IE: 1AD calls for roll sound, then the sound mixer asks to hold for <insert noise here> and the director will make the call to either wait or just roll and deal with it.

Interrupting a take in progress is probably #1 on the list of things that will get someone fired with a quickness. If not #1, definitely in the top 5. #1 is probably punching the EP in the face. :lol: