Film & TV

Film 101: What Is a Boom Operator? Understanding the Job of a Boom Operator

Written by MasterClass

Jun 1, 2019 • 3 min read

MasterClass Video Lessons

Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking

Have you ever watched the blooper reel of a film and seen a little microphone dipping in from above the frame? That microphone—called a boom microphone—is held up by a member of the sound crew called the boom operator. If they do their job well, you won’t ever see the mic—and instead you’ll just hear crisp, clear audio when actors say their lines.

Close

What Is a Boom Operator?

A boom operator is a member of the sound department, who operates the recording equipment. The boom operator’s main responsibility is to capture sound during each take. They do this through a boom mic, which is suspended above the shot with a boom pole (also called a boom arm). The boom operator stands nearby the camera operator, holds the boom pole, and keeps the boom mic close enough to the actors to record with good sound quality, but not so close that the boom mic or its shadow dips into the shot.

What Does a Boom Operator Do?

In very static film scenarios, such as sit-down interviews, the boom mic can be held up by a microphone stand called a boom stand—but for most cinematic productions, the action is always moving, so the boom mic needs the flexibility and versatility of a boom operator to follow the actors.

The boom operator also affixes clip mics, often called lav mics (sort for lavalier), to the actor’s clothing or body.

The boom operator reports to the production sound mixer, the senior-most sound-crew member on set. On lower-budget films, the boom operator and the production sound mixer are often just one person, referred to as the “sound recordist.”

What Equipment Do Boom Operators Work With?

The boom operator has various pieces of audio equipment to help them get good sound recordings.

  • Boom pole. This is the pole the boom operator uses to get the mic as close to the actors as possible.
  • Boom mic. “Boom mic” is actually a general term that refers to any mic suspended with the boom pole, rather than a specific kind of mic. The two most common boom mics are shotgun microphones (great for noisy, outdoor filming) and small diaphragm hyper-cardioid microphones (best for quieter, indoor filming).
  • Mic blimp. The mic blimp is a wind-resistant cover that goes over the boom mic to reduce environmental background noise. It’s commonly referred to as a “dead cat,” because it’s covered in fuzzy gray hair.
  • Shock mount. The shock mount attaches to the tip of the boom pole and holds the mic in place. The shock mount helps absorb any vibrations and keeps them from picking up in the audio recording.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Boom Operator?

The boom-operator position is an entry-level job on most sound teams, so no formal education or experience is required. Of course, there are a few key skills you’ll need to be a good boom operator:

  • Physical fitness. The film industry is characterized by very long filming days, which means that boom operators often have to hold up the boom mic consistently throughout an entire day—for many days in a row. This will cause a lot of strain on your arms, shoulders, and back.
  • Tech awareness. Boom operators work with lots of specialized equipment, and they’re often expected to be able to repair that equipment quickly if something goes wrong.
  • Memorization. The boom mic needs to be as close to the actor speaking as possible during shoots, and dialogue can switch between multiple actors during the same shot. As the boom operator you’ll be responsible for knowing the script and remembering all planned camera movements, so you can place and tilt the mic during the shot to capture the clearest audio.

What Is the Career Path of a Boom Operator?

The boom operator is an entry-level job on most sound teams, so you don’t need to have work experience on film sets in order to be considered—though some experience as a production assistant or sound trainee wouldn’t hurt. Once you find work as a boom operator, you can use the experience to learn the etiquette of working on set and the particulars of audio recording to work your way up to production sound mixer, the senior-level sound position on set.

Learn more about film crew roles and responsibilities in Jodie Foster’s MasterClass.