Boom Operator

The Job and What's Involved

Boom operators work for the film and TV industry in the area of sound production. They assist the production sound mixer and their main responsibility is to operate the boom microphone, a long pole with a microphone on the end which is either hand-held or dolly-mounted (on wheels). They also position other microphones and cables.

The boom operator must position the boom microphone close to the action but out of the camera frame. It should pick up the best sound quality without impeding the actors, casting a shadow or appearing in shot.

A boom operator:

  • Arrives half an hour before call time and helps to unload and set up all of the sound equipment.
  • Reads the 'sides' (booklets with the part of the script that is to be shot that day) and memorises the actors' lines.
  • During rehearsals, notes all planned camera movements and changes of lighting.
  • Positions microphones so the sound mixer can achieve the best possible sound quality when recording dialogue and sound effects.
  • Holds the 'boom arm' or sets it up on its stand or platform.
  • Anticipates when to move the boom and moves with the camera operator to follow the action (this could involve walking backwards) holding the boom steady and high.
  • Attaches clip microphones to the actors' clothing.
  • Maintains all the sound equipment and, if necessary, carries out minor repairs.

Boom operators work as part of a team with the production sound crew, which includes production sound mixers and sound assistants. They must also work very closely with the camera crew. They may work in film or television and also on commercials and corporate productions.

Boom operators often work long and irregular hours. They arrive before the start of filming and remain on set virtually all day. Filming can take place during the day or night and at weekends and may last up to twelve hours.

The work may be in a studio or on location, indoors or outdoors (in all weathers). Boom operators may have to spend long periods away from home.

They may have to provide their own equipment, including the boom microphone, mixers, cables, stands, talkback units and floor speakers. They may need a driving licence to get to locations.

It takes physical stamina to hold a boom pole above the head for long periods. Boom operators need to be fit and have good balance.

Most boom operators work on a freelance basis. Annual income will vary and there may be spells between contracts when they are not earning any money at all. An experienced boom operator may earn around £139 for an eight hour day.

The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematographic and Theatre Union (BECTU) can give advice about pay rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Boom operators may work for broadcasters, independent film and television production companies, or producers of corporate and commercial productions. Around two thirds of the television industry is based in London, but there are also broadcasting and production companies in Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool. There is a high proportion of freelance and short-term contract working in sound production. Increasingly, freelancers work for more than one sector of the industry.

Practical experience, either paid or voluntary, in film, broadcasting, theatre, the music industry, community media, or even hospital radio, is essential. It is important to demonstrate an interest in sound by learning about audio technology and its capabilities. Experience of wiring and soldering is also useful. Many boom operators start their careers in the facilities sector, working with equipment hire companies or manufacturers.

Boom operators usually start in a trainee role or as a runner and work their way up, learning on the job and from more experienced crew members. There is no one entry route and competition is fierce.

Vacancies may be advertised in trade magazines or websites. Many jobs are advertised by word of mouth so networking is essential. Applicants may need to start with a job on little or no pay in order to get a foothold in the sound production industry.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements. Qualifications such as GCSE's (A*-C) and A levels in subjects such as maths or physics may be useful. The Diploma in creative and media may also be relevant for this area of work.

Other relevant courses include:

  • City & Guilds qualifications, such as the Certificate and Diploma in Sound and Music Technology (7503) or the Certificate for Audiovisual Industries Induction (7502).
  • BTEC National Diploma or Certificate in Media Production (sound recording).
  • BTEC Higher National Diplomas/Certificates, foundation degrees, degrees and postgraduate qualifications in film and TV production, audio and recording technology, sound engineering, and music technology.

Entry requirements to courses vary according to the qualification and candidates are advised to check with individual institutions.

Skillset's network of Screen Academies and Media Academies are institutions that have been identified as offering the highest quality of film and television skills training. Details are available on its website: www.skillset.org which also has a comprehensive course database.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are some schemes available for new entrants to TV or film. Entry is fiercely competitive. They include:

Schemes run by Skillset or regional screen agencies across the UK. These are aimed at people who are committed to a freelance career in the industry and who already have some experience. Schemes last between three and eighteen months and combine short course training with industry placements. Trainees receive an allowance and work towards vocational qualifications.

FT2 - Film and Television Freelance Training runs a new entrant technical training scheme, which offers the opportunity to train as a sound assistant.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is essential, to keep up with changes in technology. Short courses are available at a number of institutions, including the National Film and Television School, BBC Training and Development, and Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. Freelancers have to fund their own training, but may be eligible for support from Skillset to cover part of the fees.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Boom operators need:

  • Excellent hearing, concentration and attention to detail.
  • Knowledge of microphone characteristics, lighting techniques and camera angles.
  • Good timing and the ability to anticipate.
  • A good memory for dialogue.
  • Physical stamina, balance and agility.
  • Good communication skills and the ability to work well as part of a team.
  • Tact and sensitivity when working with performers and other crew members.
  • Patience, flexibility and reliability.
  • An understanding of on-set protocol and health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, a boom operator can move into other jobs in the field of sound production and post production, such as:

- Production sound mixer
- Dubbing mixer
- Sound supervisor
- Sound editor

Promotion to sound designer or studio manager is also possible.

Get Further Information

The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS),
28 Knox Street, London W1H 1FS
Tel: 020 7723 6727
Website: www.amps.net

BKSTS, Pinewood Studios, Pinewood Road,
Iver Heath, Bucks SL0 0NH
Tel: 01753 656656
Website: www.bksts.com

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematographic and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

FT2 (Film and Television Freelance Training),
3rd Floor, 18-20 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7407 0344
Website: www.ft2.org.uk

Institute of Professional Sound (IPS),
IPS Secretariat, PO Box 208, Havant, Hampshire PO9 9BQ
Tel: 0300 400 8427
Website: www.ibs.org.uk

National Film and Television School (NFTS),
Beaconsfield Studios, Station Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 1LG
Tel: 01494 671234
Website: www.nftsfilm-tv.ac.uk

Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication,
Walden Road, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 5SN
Tel: 020 8289 4900
Website: www.rave.ac.uk/shortcourses

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900
Website: www.skillset.org

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