Boom operator

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Peter Cooper's job as a sound assistant and second boom operator involves capturing dialogue on blockbuster film sets.

What are your main responsibilities?

I assist the sound mixer and boom operator both on and off the set. This includes fitting personal microphones to artists, setting up the sound recording equipment, running audio cables, and setting out production headsets. I also distribute daily dialogue scripts within my department, and operate the second boom. The film set may change several times during the day and it's essential to have every item that's required to hand.

What about non-recording tasks?

Providing all the recording stock, ordering consumables and maintaining the sound store room are also part of my role. Other responsibilities involve watching rehearsals in order to prepare microphones and identify unwanted sources of noise. I also help repair any technical problems or faulty equipment. This involves soldering, cleaning, rewiring, and basic electronic maintenance.

What hours do you work?

Usually the day starts at 7.30am, but it's not uncommon for additional hours to be requested at short notice in order to complete a scene. I do get paid overtime.

What's your working environment like?

It's a 50/50 split between working on indoor and outdoor sets.

Lighting levels surrounding a studio set can be very low, so you need to be aware of all the electricity cables and other filming equipment around you. Some of the time may be spent working abroad.

What special skills or qualities do you need to be a boom operator?

Negotiating skills are vital. You have a job to do but you need to make sure it fits in with what everyone else has to do. The sound department has a huge responsibility to deliver on a film, and you need to get the job done professionally with the minimum of fuss. Teamwork is crucial and you must be able to work with people at all levels. You also need to be flexible and possess a good sense of hearing, as well as humour!

What training have you done?

I completed a two year full-time New Entrants Technical Training Scheme with FT2 (Film and Television Freelance Training), where I achieved an NVQ Level 2 in Sound Assistance and Boom Operating.

Do you use any tools or equipment?

I have my own tool kit which contains things like a torch and a multi-purpose knife and screwdriver set. I also have my own wet weather gear which allows me to work in cold and wet conditions. It's essential to have the correct clothing. Other equipment such as boom poles, microphones, personal mics, clamps, and other maintenance and rigging equipment is all supplied.

What do you like/dislike about being a boom operator?

Working on film sets can be the most amazing feeling and there's a lot of job satisfaction when you see the finished production.

On the other hand, the hours can be long and hard, with time spent working away from home. The film industry demands a lot of your time and you have to be prepared to make some serious sacrifices.

How do you see your future?

People often move up to main boom operator and then sound mixer, but I want to move into post production, in particular writing music for films and TV commercials.

Peter's steps to his career as a boom operator

  • Assisted sound engineer at Q Broadcast Studios.
  • City & Guilds Level 2 in Professional Photography.
  • Part-time work as a sound technician.
  • Worked on corporate videos at university.
  • Achieved a place on an FT2 scheme and completed NVQ Level 2.

Peter's boom operating tips

  • Approach as many organisations as possible about the different routes into the career.
  • Check the full details of courses you are applying for as many will be more applicable to working in a recording studio.

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Salary of a boom operator

  • Sound assistants usually work on fixed term contracts.
  • The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) recommends the minimum wage for a 60 hour week for a sound assistant is £714, for a boom operator £911, and sound recordist/mixer £1,317.
  • However, these salaries are negotiable.
  • Working on a feature film often pays higher than working on a TV drama.

Getting in

  • It's normal to start as a trainee/runner and work your way up through on-the-job training and assisting more experienced staff.
  • Courses are available round the UK from HND to degree level, and the National Film and Television School (NFTS) offers a one year diploma in sound recording for film and TV.
  • FT2, Cyfle (Wales) and Scottish Screen all run formal training courses, as do some broadcasters.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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