What does a Boom Operator do?

Since the invention of the first boom mic in 1929—little more than a microphone on a fishing rod—it has been the essential, go-to piece of equipment of capturing audio on location for feature films, television shows, and advertisements. If you believe what some people say, the job of a boom operator couldn't be simpler: hold the boom microphone up above the actors and don't let it fall into the shot, no matter what happens. The truth, however, is a little more complex. While some of the first boom operators really were just hired muscle, today's boom operator is a dedicated member of the production sound crew who acts as the right hand of the production sound mixer. Being a boom operator is also the most common entry point for those aspiring to record audio for TV and movies.
Holding a boom mic is straightforward, but operating it well is an art that requires excellent technique.
Holding up a boom mic is straightforward enough, but operating it well through movement-heavy scenes is an art that requires excellent technique. In order to follow the action of the scene and acquire the cleanest possible audio, boom operators must memorize the actors' blocking and respond sensitively to small movements and improvisations. In addition to handling boom mics, boom operators also assist the production sound mixer (their direct superior) with selecting and placing remote mics on actors' bodies. Boom operators are also responsible for keeping all audio equipment in good working order and may have to perform repairs under pressure.

At a Glance

Career Path

Boom operator is one of two entry-level positions in the production audio crew, the other being the utility sound technician. Most boom operators are university-trained audio engineers who specialize in live recording (as opposed to studio recording). They work closely with production sound mixers, and may receive a certain degree of on-the-job mentorship from them. Some are happy to work in this position for their entire lives, and progress by finding work on higher-budget projects. Others wait for their golden opportunity to take over the mixing board, perhaps when a production sound mixer is ill or unavailable.

There are numerous examples of boom operators becoming production sound mixers, but to do so might require patience, dedication, and a lucky break. Boom operators might also go on to become field recordists, capturing specific sounds and ambience for use in other projects and libraries, or sound recordists—the equivalent position to production sound mixers in the radio and podcast industries.

Finding Work

It’s tough to find one's first big-time gig as a boom operator. For one thing, production sound mixers usually hire their own teams from among people they've worked with in the past. For another, one needs a great deal of demonstrated experience and skill—in the form of credits on smaller projects—to even be considered for a Hollywood gig. For aspiring production audio professionals, the solution is volunteering on non-union shoots, keeping an eye out for production sound internships, and working as much as possible on student and independent films. One should also consider gigs as a utility sound technician, a similar role with networking potential.

Professional Skills
  • Audio engineering
  • Live recording
  • Mic choice and placement
  • Physical fitness
  • Focus
  • Memorization
  • Listening
Interpersonal Skills

Film is a collaborative art, and boom operators must strive in all ways to be easy to work with. Arguments and interpersonal friction can make a 12-hour shoot feel even longer than it already is, while being friendly and respectful with other members of the production crew (especially the film crew) makes everybody's job easier—and the boom operator more likely to be rehired. Boom operators are usually hired by production sound mixers, which means that good professional relationships with sucessful production sound mixers are vital. All of that aside, boom operators need a great memory, a high level of focus, and a huge reservoir of physical stamina.

Work Life

Most boom operators are freelance, although some are employed by Hollywood sound houses in the production sound crew. When shooting on a project, boom operators may spend more than fourteen hours each day on location, alternately working and waiting around, repeating this process every day for several weeks or even months. On the other hand, boom operators can also go for weeks or months between gigs, during which time they may need to find alternative sources of income. Establishing a consistent flow of work is vital to success.

Boom operators may need a vehicle to get to their gigs, particularly in spread-out Los Angeles. Additionally, plane travel—domestic or international—and weeks away from home are necessary for many gigs, especially in the film industry.

The Berklee Boost

Employers look for skills learned in the following Berklee programs.