Excuse My Boom
by Juliann Lee
Work behind the camera is not as glamorous as you might expect it to be. Sorry to burst your bubble. Really, I apologize. However, if making movies makes your heart beat a little faster and the thought of thirteen hour days with outside-the-box thinkers motivates you to wake up at ungodly hours then I don’t apologize. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.
I first signed onto Saltwater as the casting team leader. After a long couple of months of brainstorming, researching, emailing, auditioning and casting with the awesome casting team, the whole crew moved from pre-production to production. This meant taking on extra roles on set. And thus began my boom operating career on Saltwater.
My 5’3 (and three quarters) stature quickly became a problem. Regularly I had to stand on an apple box, which gaffers, production assistants and even camera assistants would politely and hintingly hand to me as I stubbornly tried to prove that extending my arms as high as they could go would suffice. It didn’t.
Another problem on set was my location. Being attached to the sound mixer always made it a little difficult to maneuver around and find the perfect spot. I had to remember my boom was connected to his mixer and that if I walked away, which I forgettingly did several times, I’d either get all of the cables tangled or violently pull the cables out of the mixer and give him a mild heart attack. Added to this was the fact that to get the best sound possible, I had to have my boom as close to the actors as possible. Duh. This usually meant being where the camera was set up for the shot in very cramped quarters. So cramped that I could read the labels off of any of the camera guys’ shirts.
On my first day, we shot a scene outside in a backyard. I went behind some bushes close to the actors and lowered my boom waiting eagerly for the director’s cue. “I’m totally getting the hang of this,” I thought to myself, behind the bushes. The camera assistant came over to where I was “hiding” and tapped my shoulder and asked me to walk with him to the monitor. He politely showed me what the camera was seeing. I was not as discreetly hidden as I thought. In fact, I was 100% in the shot. I learned that what you think the camera picks up can only be confirmed by looking at the monitor because most of the time your, or rather my, perception can be wrong.
I get asked almost every time I’m on set what it’s like to be a boom operator and if it’s difficult. Well, I’m glad you asked! Imagine a set, actors, a crew of ten to fifteen people standing behind a camera and monitor, bright lights glaring, and you, holding a long extended pole with a mic at the end of it, inches away from the said actors faces. Oh, and silence. Lots and lots of silence, as you, and the crew, all watch the actors in action. Now, imagine 30 seconds go by while the actors say their lines and the camera and crew watch them in, you guessed it, silence. Then 40 seconds go by and you start to feel your arm muscles strain. Muscles you clearly have never used before or knew about. One minute goes by, now your arms are slightly shaking and you’re praying that the scene ends soon enough so that everyone doesn’t see the boom pole shake or, worse, you have to lower it in the middle of the very serious and emotional take in which the actor is crying because her dog just died. And then, by miracle, the actor says their last line, and you hear your new favorite word, “Cut!” from the director. The director walks over to the actor and gives them some notes and you get to rest your arms a bit. I’ve learned the hard way that lowering your boom quickly is the worst thing you can do. This can lead to hitting props, ceiling fans, light fixtures and at times, the unsuspecting crew member. But before you can excuse your boom and profusely apologize, the director is back behind the monitor and the next take is underway. Back to raising your arms up as high as they can go and hoping for the very best.