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PLo128

The art of booming narrative films.

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Hey y'all. I'm new here, but I've been mixing/booming freelance for about six years now and I keep finding that there's no "one" way to mix a narrative feature, but I'd like to read how all of you go about your work day.

I was let go from a shoot recently by a sound mixer I haven't worked with much in the past. I was his boom op and utility person. I was fired in a passive aggressive way, and I don't know his personal truth behind it all, but I'm perplexed as I've been moderately successful at this craft. Enough to keep making a living at it after six years anyway.

My hunch is that I wasn't up to snuff with his ideas of a good boom operator. He'd get frustrated if I didn't capture footsteps clearly when an actor was walking further into the distance of a shot. "You need to turn the microphone and follower her!" he'd say.

"What about sound perspective? And isn't a post sound guy going to create his own footsteps anyway? Is this worth making a big deal out of?" I'd shoot back.

Or if two actors were talking I'd keep the boom stationary, evenly between them also knowing that they were laved on iso tracks. He'd bark, "You need to tilt the mic back and forth to capture the dialogue."

"Won't that screw with the ambient room tone when we hear the mic shifting positions back and forth?" I'd ask. "Or what if the actor decides to improv an extra line and my shifting captures her dialogue unevenly?"

Rather than dealing with my questions and helping me understand where he comes from with his experience as a sound mixer, he found it easier to fire me and hire an unknown.

Now, I come from the experience that above all else the sound mixer's role is to capture clean, clear dialogue first and foremost. If I know the production is hiring a sound designer later, I don't stress about capturing sound effects on set. Especially if I'm getting paid $100 a 12-or-more-hour-day. My experience has always been that sound designers throw away pretty much anything that isn't dialogue. I'll get room tone after every scene (though most I've talked to say that's pretty unnecessary too in this day and age of ProTools), and I'll definitely capture a sound effect in an insert since I can get the boom inches away from the object making a sound, but I also won't ask for a 4th take if a plane came in on the third of that coffee mug being set on the table. Why hold up production over something so trivial? Hey, this isn't even a union shoot where we're going to make overtime. We're lucky if they call the pizza guy after the 12th hour!

Sorry for getting carried away. I originally started this post because I wanted some opinions on how exactly one should conduct themselves as a boom operator. Is there a standard way to do it on a narrative film?

All replies are appreciated. Thank you.

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Hi, and welcome...

I'll start with a couple of observations.

You seem to be in LAX, and after 6 tears of experience you are boomng $100/day POS movies ...

your avatar is a Nagra, so I'm wondering if you are a boomer, a mixer, a OMB, or a jack of 'all trades audio'?

As a boomer, you work at the direction, and pleasure, of the mixer, so while you may have your ideas of mixing, when you take a booming gig, you need to follow your mixer's ...

" if two actors were talking I'd keep the boom stationary, evenly between them "

IMHO not SOP

" if the actor decides to improv an extra line and my shifting captures her dialogue unevenly?"

That is what the ISO lav is for

" "You need to turn the microphone and follower her!" he'd say. "

I'd say, too...

" but I also won't ask for a 4th take if a plane came in on the third of that coffee mug being set on the table. "

when you are the mixer, it will be your call... but sometimes...

" My experience has always been that sound designers throw away pretty much anything that isn't dialogue. "

Maybe, and maybe that isn't this mixer's experience... especially on lo-no budget POS's...

" Hey, this isn't even a union shoot where we're going to make overtime. "

you took the gig... I figure you are lucky to be a 2 person crew...so should you!

post is always questionable on shows like this that will no doubt be over their budget when they finish shooting...

" Is this worth making a big deal out of?" I'd shoot back. "

this is where you got yourself replaced... you weren't the mixer!

Edited by studiomprd

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Your fatal mistakes were second guessing the mixer and assuming that post would/could do what you think they should. Common sense on your part could have saved your job.

Eric

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I agree that sometimes mic perspective is important or changing position of the mic which would in turn cause phase changes in a boom / lav mix or even just the boom sound. Perhaps when doing indie films that have near zero post sound work, this is more critical. In other situations, where there will be a real post effort, the perspective is created in post and dialogue is heavily edited. In these more typical situation an actor walking down the hallway you would want to capture the footsteps on axis and follow them. Post will add reverb, fade out, or perhaps just key the production sound with sound library samples. For dialogue, you really just need to capture the dialogue on axis, with the boom as close as possible, to the safe line. You may have whooshing noises, boom handling, cable noises in there... of course you want to minimize them, but that is acceptable if it is required to get the line. (examples, there is no "one" right way, and mixers will have differences in opinion.)

You were likely fired, because on set, instead of saying "roger that" and adjusting, you created a dialogue which should have been saved over a beer after the days' work had been done.

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It seems you were never instructed how to boom properly, and also never instructed how to behave on set with a mixer. It might be, as Senator pointed out, why you are still on these sorts of projects after having six years on the job.

I hope this is a good learning experience for you, and that it helps you to move on and up.

Robert

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I have to agree with the Senator on every point he makes.

Having been on boom for many years and mixing on narrative stuff for a few I learnt as a boom op that what the (experienced) mixer wanted, he/she got - no questions (within reason). Who are you to think you know better than your sound mixer? He/she is ultimately responsible for the depts output and will carry the can when things aren't to the producer's or director's liking even if it wasn't his/her fault.

Another thing to consider is that you are showing disrespect and disunity within your dept for all others to see - not a good work plan.

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What everyone said. I would be the last to let a boom op go - unless he/she argues with me on set, which is what you did. The mixer is your boss. You do what he/she wants you to do. Once you get to know each other better you can politely ask why he wants something the way he does. Good luck!

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The film set is military in structure. The mixer is the commanding officer. Despite your opinion that the mixer is "wrong" he is right. Disagreement on set or open mic are unacceptable. As for some of your techniques like hanging the boom and splitting the difference: if the mixer was using the boom to air a lav, maybe that would work but to make that assumption and act on it without consulting the mixer is imho ridiculous. Assuming post will foley or fill in the gaps... Well, you bet your job on it and lost. As for asking for another take for an fx shot you already had gotten, yes, I agree with you it's silly, but if I was booming I'd do what the mixer asked.

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...I'll get room tone after every scene (though most I've talked to say that's pretty unnecessary too in this day and age of ProTools)...

a-Anyone who tells you room tone is unnecessary has never struggled to cut DX without it.

b-how does Pro Tools eliminate the need to "fill in" DX tracks with room tone?

...it ain't easy bein' green.

Steven

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As part of the sound mixer's team, your job is to support them. Willingly! The way they want to do things is the right way.

Challenging your department head at every turn? Unacceptable behavior.

Like any person in charge of anything, what they want, and need, most is someone who doesn't just go along with them, but someone who gets on board and supports what they're doing wholeheartedly. To put it another way -- the exact opposite of how you handled yourself.

By thinking you knew his job better than he did, you failed at your job. Hopefully, that lesson will stick.

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a-Anyone who tells you room tone is unnecessary has never struggled to cut DX without it.

b-how does Pro Tools eliminate the need to "fill in" DX tracks with room tone?

...it ain't easy bein' green.

Steven, shouldn't you be changing diapers?

Despite your temporary dereliction of fatherly duty <g>, I agree with the above. People seem to think technology now does our jobs for us. ...Still just tools.

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ProTools and Nuendo don't eliminate the need to fill tracks. But they make it a heck of a lot easier to grab small sections of tone from the OMF's handles, pauses within dialog, or (if need be) production files before the action starts... and then c-loop them to what you need. A lot of times you don't even have to open the "room tone" files.

Which is good, because on a lot of practical sets (and almost always on non-narrative projects) the background has changed slightly between the take and when they get around to recording room tone... so using pieces from the take itself make the mix easier.

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Steven, shouldn't you be changing diapers?

Despite your temporary dereliction of fatherly duty <g>, I agree with the above. People seem to think technology now does our jobs for us. ...Still just tools.

John, she's napping, laundry's done, on my way out to do the shopping...I protest my innocence.

ProTools and Nuendo don't eliminate the need to fill tracks. But they make it a heck of a lot easier to grab small sections of tone from the OMF's handles, pauses within dialog, or (if need be) production files before the action starts... and then c-loop them to what you need. A lot of times you don't even have to open the "room tone" files.

Jay, that's what I suspected might be behind the OP's "I heard...", but for a newer cutter like myself, I feel like I can't afford the luxury of that attitude. I want the room tone, and if I don't have it, or it doesn't match, then I can cobble together my own, load it into the right click of my track ball, and fire at will.

(PS..."Audio Postproduction..." is a screamin' good tome!!!)

Best,

Steven

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So you get the message (remember this a forum full of MIXERS)--the mixer tells you what they want, you salute and follow. I am interested in practical solutions to the problems set forth for us, I am not interested in a theoretical discussion of perspective and ambiance. Those are a matter of sound recording aesthetics and as the dept. head my aesthetics prevail. Save the opinions for Miller-time. There is probably more to what was or wasn't going on in your personal relationship and on-set chemistry, but in any case you did yourself no favors by repeatedly questioning your orders.

phil p

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Hats off to you PLo238 for coming on here and taking some pretty tough advice in productive way. It's hard to admit when you screw up, but doing so and learning from it the key to it all i think. Which is just as well considering how often i screw up...

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To me it seems like there was poor communication on both our parts. I wish the mixer and I had talked more in the beginning about what he expected in an assistant. My suspicion is that my firing didn't entirely have to do with booming a few scenes poorly (I did follow his directions once he pointed them out to me), and for the record I NEVER once challenged him in front of the crew. I already well familiar, appreciative, and respectful of the chain of command on sets. I also wish there was a meeting with the director during pre-production where we all could have been on the same page as to what was expected for the budget provided.

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To me it just seems like poor communication on both our parts--and for the record I never once challenged him on set in front of other crew members. I totally get and respect the chain of command and know how to play dumb even when my gut tells me differently. I wish we had a meeting with the director/editor to discuss what's realistic to achieve within the budget. I wish the mixer and I had talked more about what he expected in an assistant.

I think there is something your not getting with respect to the concept of "chain of command". Although film making is viewed mostly as a creative and even collaborative process, our jobs on set, mostly, is as the role of a technician and when it comes to a department, as a team. It has nothing to do with "playing dumb". I'm a fairly junior mixer and will at times work with boom ops who are more experienced than me. All people make mistakes and junior mixers will tend to make more mistakes than others. I would consider it extremely disrespectful if an operator didn't immediately make an adjustment when I asked, not so much because it disrespects me as a person, but the position of the mixer as a billet. I suppose it would be possible that a mixer could make such an egregious error that the boom really is doing the best thing for the department in 2nd and 3rd guessing his mixer, and in such situations, the mixer should acknowledge that his boom op was looking out for him and thank him. Guessing what post might do or want is most definitely not a justification for 2nd guessing him, though. You haven't likely attended department head pre-production meetings, been part of workflow email chains, etc... It is simply not your place to be attempting to flesh out these ambiguous (in your mind) questions while on set actually working. Perhaps it would be appropriate prior to the shoot or in the form of an AM pre-call chat. "Playing dumb" is incorrectly summarizing the importance of chain of command and how to play your role in that context. You really need to have a keen sense of set awareness and be extremely pro-active. It is not that mixers are asking you to be a flesh mic stand. Communications in the context of chain of command go both up and down, so it is certainly not a 1-way relationship. Just learn the protocols of coms in this context, and realize it has nothing to do with seniority, ass-kissing, or subduing your own initiative.

Every individual has flaws, including those that you will some day work for. If you remember it is really the position that your filling and how that position is supposed to interact with the department head - not the person as an individual, it helps to remove your ego, along with the potential ego of your department head out of the equation, which is really... a great thing. I've worked for some real shitheads in my life (military service). I've made them look great. I deserve no more of a pat on the back than any other Joe just doing his job.

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Some very good comments above. I see PLO's side of it, and also the mixer's side. At some point, the boom op and the mixer have to have a "meeting of the minds," and the smart ones will say, "there are several ways of doing this right, and hundreds of ways of doing this wrong. Let's agree on this way and move on."

On sound perspective, my observation is that a lot of that is created by the re-recording mixer, not necessarily by the mixer on set. For all we know, they'll foley the footsteps anyway. Heck, you could ask to do some wild tracks just of the steps if you wanted to. Tilting the boom mic back and forth is not a big deal, and as long as it's scripted, you have some warning when the other person's going to talk. There will always be situations where you just can't cover two people on a boom, and one hopes you can get all the coverage in close-ups later.

I'll get room tone after every scene (though most I've talked to say that's pretty unnecessary too in this day and age of ProTools)...

To clarify PLo's comment, what is true is that sometimes, dialogue editors can get more useful "real" roomtone just by using Pro Tools' Strip Silence function and using the option to take out the dialogue and keep only the background noise inbetween words and sentences, then stitching the background noise together and crossfading it to form perfectly smooth room tone. But you can't depend on all shoots to have the luxury of a sophisticated mix, and I think it's best to still make the effort to give them room tone on every scene, even if it's compromised. At least it will give the picture editor something to work with in the initial stage.

On a recent shoot, I started to do room tone and the (very helpful) DP, operating his own Red Epic camera, said, "wait -- let me run the camera so you get the fan noise, too." I gave him the thumbs up -- he was 100% right. Not many DPs understand what room tone really is, and how the camera is part of that (especially film cameras and cameras with fans). This one understood.

I also wish there was a meeting with the director during pre-production where we all could have been on the same page as to what was expected for the budget provided.

Doh! That's the bane of my existence. I'm currently mulling over writing an angry, cynical article citing the lack of "PIP" -- permits, insurance, and production assistants -- in many low-budget shoots. Heck, I've done $100,000 2-day shoots that lacked PIP. You'd think they would know better. I agree that producers and directors with high expectations are very difficult to deal with, especially in poorly-chosen locations with tons of ambient noise.

I'm sympathetic to PLo's comments, and I agree that communication is a key thing, especially if you haven't worked with a particular mixer before. Me personally, I'm not as concerned so much where they put the boom as long as I like the way it sounds. I listen first and look second. The moment I hear something wrong, I'll be on the comm to tell the boom op I heard something wonky, and see if we can correct it. As far as I'm concerned, we're both fighting the same war, on the same side.

Edited by Marc Wielage

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I'm gathering that what the O.P. doesn't get, is that, while trying to think like a mixer, they're neglecting their job as a boom op. Perhaps he, or she, is not experienced enough to know that to be a good boom op requires full, and undivided, concentration on the job at hand, not on someone else's job.

I also don't think this person gets that it's not just an issue of doing what they're told. "I did follow his directions once he pointed them out to me" is not what I want in a boom op. It's an issue of accepting that the mixer is the department head, and therefore his, or her, aesthetics are those of the entire department, and willingly and enthusiastically booming in a manner that suits those aesthetics, with full focus on the job of booming, and not to divide that critical attention by second-guessing someone else's job.

The O.P. doesn't know what it is they don't know and is blaming the mixer for it, evidenced by the following statement, "I wish the mixer and I had talked more in the beginning about what he expected in an assistant."

I think he expected this boom op to (1) know how to do the job, and to (2) know how to accept minor course corrections without them becoming an issue. It appears the O.P. didn't have the chops for either.

While I'm a strong advocate for good communication on set, I feel the need to point out that most professional boom ops would be able to walk onto set with a professional sound mixer and be able to do a quality job without a word being spoken beforehand.

If PLo128 learns from everything said here, this will become a major boost to his, or her, ability. However, based on some of PLo's responses I think that learning may be slower than necessary. PLo continues to tell us how respectful they are of the chain of command on sets while still exhibiting exactly the opposite. He, or she, contends that the mixer was partly to blame because PLo didn't know how to do the job PLo was hired for. Wrong!

(Also, most professionals would sign their real name so we know who we're talking to.)

Thanks to PLo for hanging in here for a decidedly direct discussion.

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" I also wish there was a meeting with the director during pre-production where we all could have been on the same page as to what was expected for the budget provided. "

There may have been a production meeting, but the boomer is not typically invited to these...

I get the feeling there is also some regret about the rate PLo accepted

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