5 minute read

SOUND AND MUSIC

Job Title: Boom Operator

Job Overview

The boom operator is responsible for capturing the actors’ dialogue by use of the boom microphone or concealed wireless microphones.

Special Skills

Boom operating is a physically demanding job, requiring that the person fulfilling the job be in good physical shape. Boom operators must be strong enough to carry heavy equipment, yet agile enough to slip between lights and other apparatus without knocking them over or casting shadows. They must also be alert, able to memorize dialogue quickly, and possess the ability to get along with a variety of personalities. Being able to maintain a calm temperament under pressure is an asset. Boomer operator Kevin Sorrenson says his early interest in photography was also helpful in understanding lenses and composition.

Cable person/boom operator Bill Shotland improved his boom skills by practicing whenever he could. “In my house, I would take the fishing pole and practice moving through doorways and around chandeliers. On set, when we broke for lunch, I would jump up on the fisher boom and practice doing figure eights, or have people walk while cuing them.”

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

Look for nonunion, low budget productions where you can work for free to gain experience using the equipment. Make connections on those projects with people who may use you again. Volunteer to work for a boom operator for free, so that you can get on set and observe what they do. When the crew breaks for lunch, ask if you can practice with the boom, maneuvering it around the set. “In this business you're always looking for a job,” says Sorrenson. “You don't just get a job and you're set; you get the job for as long as the film lasts and when it's over, you're out of work, looking for a job.”

Professional Profile: Kevin Sorrenson, Boom Operator

Although his father was a sound recordist for film and television, Kevin Sorrenson did not initially consider following his father into the business. Not knowing what career he wanted to pursue, he studied psychology and mathematics at a junior college for a year and a half, until his father suggested he give audio a try.

“He always made it sound interesting. I didn't have any idea what it was going to entail until I went on a couple of sets and he showed me. You start as a cable man; you're sort of the helper or gofer. I used to watch the walkie-talkies, push the cart around, and run microphone cables.”

Sorrensen quit college at age 19 to pursue the career. One of his first jobs was on producer Aaron Spelling's series The San Pedro Beach Bums. The show lasted just long enough for Sorrenson to work the 30 consecutive days necessary to meet the eligibility requirements for joining the union. With just a year's work under his belt, he landed his first movie, The Driver. “It was a lot of night shooting in downtown Los Angeles. They used a lot of walkie-talkies and I came down and wrangled them.”

What do you like least about your job?

“The hours are probably the worst part of my job. On Friday night, we usually work late; sometimes we'll work for 14 or 15 hours. Sometimes you'll come home watching the sun come up; you're drowsy and it's a tough drive. Working conditions can be tough: working in the heat or the real cold and at night when you're exhausted.”—Kevin Sorrenson

What do you love most about your job?

“What I like is that you're right up there with the actors, the director, and the camera in the heat of things.”Kevin Sorrenson

He went on to work as a third man (a.k.a. cable man) on the television series Lou Grant, where sound mixer Dean Vernon became a mentor, teaching Sorrenson to boom. “He was real insistent that I learn to operate a fisher boom and learn how to do booming and cue.”

Little House on the Prairie followed. Sorrensen again served as third man on the sound crew, and again found a mentor, this time in soundman Frank Meadow. “He let me practice booming, trying shots, and eventually working with the actors.” After Little House, Sorrensen worked on a variety of projects, steadily making the transition from third man to boom man.

CAREER TIPS

* “Keep your sense of humor or you won't survive.”—Kevin Sorrenson

“Your rookie year as a boom operator is really tough, because it's when you make all your mistakes. You dip the microphone into the picture because you don't quite understand framing yet, how a camera operator is going to compose the picture. You have to start learning lens sizes. For instance, 14mm lenses are very wide, so you can't get very close to the actor. You have to learn telephoto lenses; things you can't really learn out of a book. You just learn by observing, getting in trouble, and getting yelled at.”

With a couple years’ experience working as a boom operator behind him, Sorrensen landed work on the series Murder, She Wrote. “I had met the mixer [Tim Cooney] when I was still a third man and he was a boom man. He moved up to sound mixing, remembered me, and thought we could work well together. You tend to work really close with people on the sound crew, so you want to be able to get along with them and be on the same wavelength.”

After completing three seasons of Murder, She Wrote, Sorrensen left the business for nine years, during which time he worked in construction and manufacturing. Finally realizing that wages and benefits were better working sound, he paid a fee to the union and was admitted back in good standing.

Almost immediately, he landed day work on the series Party of Five and worked a couple of nonunion movies in between. Then he started getting calls to work on Ally McBeal and X-Files, filling in for regulars on their days off.

Sorrensen reunited with sound mixer Tim Cooney, who had given him his first boom job on Murder, She Wrote, to work on We Were Soldiers, followed by Joy Ride and The Salton Sea, and television pilots for Birds of Prey and The Lone Ranger.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionSOUND AND MUSIC - Job Title: Production Sound Mixer, Job Title: Boom Operator, Job Title: Cable Man, Cabler, Sound Utility