Jump to content
NewEndian

Set Philosophy: Being pulled between departments

Recommended Posts

You're booming a scene with handheld cameras. Your mixer is pushing you via intercom closer to the frameline than allows for proper reaction to the tilts that occur during the scene (due to actors standing up or other actors walking in). Some takes you anticipate the move too late and bounce in; others you anticipate too early and lose dialogue; others you restrict the cameras' movement and the cameramen say so. What do you do?

 

- Ignore the cameramen and squeeze the frame

- Ignore the mixer and give the cameramen space

- Tell the cameramen they just have to wait for you to move

- Tell the mixer he's just going to have to accept more space

- Tell the cameramen to talk to the mixer

- Tell the mixer to talk to the cameramen

- Insist that you get monitors just like the focus pullers have
- Write an app that fixes this problem

The deeper question here is how much responsibility does one have to keep an amicable relationship with departments at the expense of your own responsibility for any given moment, and how does that balance with your ability to work with other departments to meet your responsibility in the future?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's all a balance.

Getting in the shot isn't the worst thing in the world if it's a fluid situation. They'll catch each other or equipment, they'll have focus issues, etc.

As a mixer I have to evaluate the "importance" of a shot and where it fits into the story. There are times when capturing the words perfectly is critical, and other times when a looser overall approach is better to let camera have a bit more freedom.

In my experience, with good boom operators, if the mic is in it's because the operator made a mistake or changed focal length in the middle of a take.

It's important for a boom op to have a good relationship with the operators, but ultimately our job is getting good sound. I expect my boom operators to understand they work for the sound department, and I don't want to record bad sound to protect the failings of the camera department.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Shut up, quit trying to override your supervisor (the sound mixer) and do the job the way he, or she, instructs you to. Otherwise, you should be replaced.

While being a team player is important, it's the sound mixer who is responsible for how the sound department is run, not you, or the camera crew. If it were up to camera, the boom would often be positioned in the rafters, or somewhere in an adjoining county.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At the end of the day the shot has to work for everyone (ie the movie) as best it can.  Usually the pecking order is director, then actors, then camera+art (incl lighting) then sound.  This order is based, I think, on everyone's perception of what's easiest to fix in post, which may or may not be true for a given situation.  As a mixer thinking of asking your boom ops to "bang the frame", consider that unless you are on the last shot of a project that you will continue to have to work with all the other depts and people, so is this the shot where it's important enough to the movie that you risk compromising the work of others?  It might be, but it more likely isn't.   Re the boomist and cam ops dancing around each other, it has to be just that: a dance, where there is some consideration of each other and a whole lot of "situational awareness".  This is a situation in which a good boom op really shows their worth.  A last thought: mixers who throw their boom ops "under the bus" vis a vis other crew and depts deserve the lousy sound they get.

 

p

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Shut up, quit trying to override your supervisor (the sound mixer) and do the job the way he, or she, instructs you to. Otherwise, you should be replaced.

While being a team player is important, it's the sound mixer who is responsible for how the sound department is run, not you, or the camera crew. If it were up to camera, the boom would often be positioned in the rafters, or somewhere in an adjoining county.

While you have some valid points, this is, at times, far from the reality of how the set runs. Relationships with other departments MUST be nurtured. It's a give and take. It's also the boom op who is working the floor with the operators/dolly/etc.

It's often the case that the Mixer is not even aware of certain obstacles that the boom is forced to work around. It is, at these times, the duty of the boom op to let the mixer know why they may not be able to dig out a certain line, or whathaveyou.

It's not fair to assume that a question like this is meant to undermine the Mixers position. There has to be mutual respect for the department to work in a heathy and productive manner.

While the final decision should come down to the mixer, I don't believe in this subservience/pecking order BS. It's my view that we work as a team to achieve the best sound possible, given the circumstances we're presented. Each member of the team has their own roll, each as important as the next in creating the whole.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe I misread the original post. It sounded to me like, "what if the sound mixer tells me one thing but camera tells me another -- what am I to do?" Sorry if I misunderstood the question.

While I wholeheartedly agree with what others have said about cooperation, the importance of doing "the dance," and add how critical the consistency of sound can be, I stand by my statement that you shouldn't second guess your sound mixer.

Yes, you're a team, and it should ideally be teamwork at its best, but by overriding your department head, you're not doing your job properly. It's not about subservience, it's about proper protocol. But, again, this was based on my (possibly wrong) reading of the initial question.

What if you're working for an incompetent sound mixer? Then you've learned a really important lesson about choosing gigs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Basically I agree with John. As a boom op, most often the guy who gets you the job is your mixer, not the cam op, not the actors, so your first desire should be to satisfy your mixer. In turn, if you dip in too many times, no matter how much it's the cam ops' fault, you'll be in the line of fire, not your mixer. It's not easy, that's why good boom ops are a great value to any production.

As a mixer I try to trust in my boom op's judgement. I will at times try to push him when I feel he could get more but basically the boom op knows best what he can or can't get. I don't need long explanations, just the info, so I can try to work around the line(s) in question. I also don't really need suggestions who to talk to about a booming problem. If the boom can't get anything in a scene then I will be the first to approach DP/light/director or whoever I think appropriate and discuss how the situation could be made more boomable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now that I'm not constrained by the clumsiness of trying to peck out nuances on a tiny cell phone... I feel the need to elaborate a bit on why I answered earlier the way I did.

First, I want to make totally clear, my answer is not intended in any way to reflect on the O.P. or their ability. Like the dynamics of many conversations here, I see that post as a catalyst for what has followed, as many issues take a life beyond the original question. While I'm using the post as a basis for my answer, I intend that my comments are not in any way a personal remark aimed toward the O.P. or their professionalism.

Having said that...

I can't imagine in any way on this good green earth that Jeff's boom operator, Don, would pose this question. They have an established and highly successful team relationship and such issues would never be addressed in a "who do I listen to" manner. Nor can I imagine any established boom op posing it this way. I certainly can't see any experienced boom op I've worked with doing so. Even if collaborating with an established boom op for the first time, the understanding that comes with experience would cause this to be seen from an entirely different perspective. This question doesn't really address how the sound department operates. It's a team sport and it's largely about sharing information and each person doing their respective job well.

Therefore I see this thread as posing a beginning boom op dilemma. "The sound mixer is telling me one thing but the big scary camera guys standing right next to me are demanding something else! Whatever do I do?!" The correct answer to that question -- in that circumstance -- is, "You listen to your department head."

This comes from the experience of having worked with several beginners, and having compared notes with other mixers who have done likewise. By far the most egregious mistake made by neophyte boom ops is misplacing the microphone -- and almost always, way too far from the frame line. As a beginner, they're timid, and a person standing next to them with an intimidating glare is a strong motivator for shaking knees, damp under drawers, and raising the boom into the stratosphere. That is why it is important to establish first and foremost that the boom op is answerable to the sound department, not the scary camera people.

A professional boom op knows that the sound mixer is giving important feedback from his, or her, perspective, and the mixer knows likewise with feedback from the boom op -- therefore, teamwork -- but that's not what I was addressing earlier. I was addressing that a beginning boom op first needs to learn that the sound mixer's instructions must be their primary focus. If this isn't established, it can cripple their sound education and will likely be a liability to the sound department.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Therefore I see this thread as posing a beginning boom op dilemma. 

And I can relate to it.

If I may share from my own failure, it sounds like the OP should be talking a lot more to their mixer, and sharing their anxiety/fear.

Even if you feel like you can't trust your mixer's abilities, a lack of communication can lead to resentment, and it's all downhill from there...zero learning and a deficit in growth.

 

What if you're working for an incompetent sound mixer? Then you've learned a really important lesson about choosing gigs.

And again, it becomes incumbent on the boom op to turn down the next gig, before resentment sets in.

best

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thought experiments, Constantin. ;)

I really mean to pose the question in a larger metaphysical context. I understand that in principle following your boss's orders in paramount. But it doesn't address the practical issue.

One might conceive that the mixer is really just a proxy for the ultimate priority, sound quality. But is that really a practical ideal?

As the head of the department, the mixer acts as a kind of manager. Of course every mixer would like to stop the entire planet when he calls "sound speed", but he can't. He has limited resources that he can expend to get a desired standard of quality: time and manpower being chief among them.

But much of the manpower needed is largely dependent on relationships. So the question is how do you optimize the relationships in this situation?

Personally, I wouldn't tell anyone to unilaterally accept or reject anyone's concern, as that would likely damage a relationship considerably. But balancing relationships and getting the job done can be quite tricky at times.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I learned something a year ago, but I don't know if this helps to you:

 

"All I want to hear is the boom. Find a way to collaborate with cam op, but both sides will not damage the result. If something is not workable for boom for serious reasons and I need to collaborate with director and DoP to change something; I need to know". Then at the hotel room he teach me the most important life and business lessons; far away from "what mic, what mixer, what wireless" story. My first and important mentor and now we can work with eyes and ears closed.

 

After this lesson; I learned something: The importance of 4 man sound crew, but this is other story.

 

:)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some years ago, I had a film that started a day early and my regular boom operator wasn't available that day. I hired someone with limited experience who had been contacting me about work. He had set experience (as a grip, I think) but not much as a boom operator.

 

Early in the work day, we had a shot with people exiting a car and talking. We established a workable frame line and began to film. Suddenly, the boom operator moved the mike up by at least two feet. I immediately got on the PL and asked for the lower frame line but he shook me off. Before doing another take, I had him reestablish the frame line with the DP/Operator and we proceeded to do another take. Again, right after the slate the Boom Operator moved the mike up several feet and refused to budge.

 

I think we may only have done the two takes so I had to accept less than good mike placement. After we moved on, I was able to ask him to explain. It seems that the cameraman, Hanania Baer, was catching a reflection of the mike in the car door. He needed to have the mike clear for the first few moments of the shot but the lower mike position was just fine once the actor exited and began dialog. The boom operator with his limited experience, didn't understand the circumstances and Hanania (not a bad guy generally) was insufficiently communicative. I was stationed close but just far enough away to not see the reflection issue.

 

That taught me to not accept poor placement if I don't know the reason. You may have to accept the first bad take when you haven't yet had an opportunity to confirm a mike placement. But, if chased away on the second take, I would now bust the shot - walk onto set if necessary - to find out what was going on before proceeding. (Always assuming the Director isn't known for antagonism)

 

Of course, having a skilled and experienced Boom Operator is the best defense. I would not be so assertive if a skillful operator were working the shot; I would trust that he had good reason for his behavior.

 

David

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bingo, David. Between a professional mixer and boom op there should be a mutual trust and the teamwork kicks in. To me, good teamwork is the most enjoyable aspect of what we do.

I sometimes work on commercials that won't opt for more than a one person sound crew and if a boom op is needed they draft a PA or a grip. All too often it's someone who says, "I've done sound before," with the problem being that they're often less apt to listen than someone who admits a total lack of sound experience. Put another way, a little bit of experience can be a dangerous thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am lucky to work with some really good boom ops. I know I am recognized as a department head, but many times I am more of a tag-team partner with my boom op. With the workflow these days usually involving two or more cameras, my boom ops after blocking and rehearsal usually tell me "with the lenses and movement we are dealing with, this is what we hope to get out of this scene boom-wise". I seldom tell the boom op to get tighter, many times they are much more aware of framelines and shadows than I can be from my position on set. They tell me what they can and cannot hook with the boom and this lets me know when to rely on wires. Truly a tag team situation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Talk amongst yourselves before "roll sound" is called, after that, listen to your mixer.  It has nothing to do with seniority or knowledge base, simply the fact that the mixer is responsible for the department.  I have worked 3-man departments where I was the junior person. I even told the boom op, "I'm just your mixer, tell me what to do", but when it came down to making snap decisions, at that point my word sticks, not matter what the boom op's opinion, and a good operator will know that.  This job does not afford us any reduction in clarity of our roles.  There are bad mixers out there, who yell and demand impossible things from their department, again, has nothing to do with you or change the boom op / mixer relationship.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This of course wouldn't be philosophy if the mixer, boom op, or cameramen were incompetent or obnoxious people. That said, here are two follow up questions:

- is it the boom op's responsibility or the mixer's responsibility to maintain the boom ops relationship with the cameramen?

- is there a protocol possible that would placate the issue with the inexperienced boom op? Perhaps that the conflicting command from camera doesnt occur in the first place

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I totally trust my boom op to negotiate the rough sound waves balancing on top all of the following relative to mic placement and near-camera set politics:

  • Frame/operator
  • Reflections/operator/me/post
  • Shadows/gaffer/key grip
  • Who to wire unless I come up with a plant solution before first team walks.

I rarely...maybe once...asked if he could make the mic a bit closer and we discussed the proximity effect of the CMIT once too, among other similar through the years.

 

It's a zone offense/defense. He's got near camera down to a beautiful science. Understands angles of incidence like breathing: that natural and even. He does some wonderful work.

 

It's always a reasonable troubleshooting-in-action to hear him talk through the rare last-minute issue. He communicates like a champ. To the point with just the right subtext of assured, "We got this."

 

A poet of the boom and room both.

 

Such a pleasure to have finished this last season of "NJ" and first of "Happyish" with the man.

 

Never any decision conflicts as OP outlines.

 

Would not dream of breaking his concentration with a mid-take, "Closer." He knows where he needs to be to get the best he can get under the circumstances. Too many unknown circumstances for me to opine.

 

I treat other craftspeople with the same respect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Make an app I'll probably buy it. And buy your camera op a shot of their favorite whiskey and make friends with them. They'll help you out.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great advice here.

 

I would also add from a post perspective, it's not the end of the world for the post crew to erase the boom later on. Not that hard to do anymore. In some cases, it literally takes 1 minute. Of course, I don't mean hitting the actor on the head with the boom, but I mean a momentary blip a foot or two above the actor's heads. 

 

The last feature I did in post a few weeks ago, I erased at least a half-dozen boom mics at no charge to the client. I pointed out a few more that our VFX guy was able to do very economically. The one thing I couldn't erase was boom shadows, which are a much bigger problem. Ditto with reflections.

 

Mark Ulano's excellent "Art of Zen Boom" should be referenced here:

 

http://www.glennbach.com/ulano_zen_boom.pdf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As the head of the department, the mixer acts as a kind of manager. Of course every mixer would like to stop the entire planet when he calls "sound speed", but he can't. He has limited resources that he can expend to get a desired standard of quality: time and manpower being chief among them.

But much of the manpower needed is largely dependent on relationships. So the question is how do you optimize the relationships in this situation?

Personally, I wouldn't tell anyone to unilaterally accept or reject anyone's concern, as that would likely damage a relationship considerably. But balancing relationships and getting the job done can be quite tricky at times.

 

You got the relationships thing correct. Yup.

 

If your thought experiment includes GPS and has various food/drink establishments that deliver pop up so that your search for "grip" yields all the beer distributors nearby, THAT would be genius.

 

Further, user input to a database for Grip A's favorite brew and Gaffer B's fave wine might repeatedly save the day.

 

Can't wait to see what you're up to :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many times my boom people have kept ME out the line of fire by keeping a eye on the bigger picture that i could not see from my position at my cart that was not as close to set.  Waived me off from putting on my departmental hat and coming on set and making things worse.

 

We do not have a good perspective of the set dynamic from the cart.   We can see monitors and listen via the mics.  This does not take in the whole landscape.  The landscape changes quickly and at times erratically.   A good boom operator senses these changes acclimates to achieve the best possible sound not only on the day but on the next day and the next.   You can win a battle but loose a war very easily.

 

trust.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As much as possible I don't like to interfere in the dance/relationship between my boom op and camera ops. I trust they are working together to get all of us (picture and sound ) what we want. If there is a conflict they can't solve, meaning I won't get the sound I want because of framing, camera movements, whatever, then I will step in and include the dp and director to make a decision about how we approach the shot, I.e. where we want the compromise to be. It's not only about what I want.

I find the conflicting command can sometimes be misinterpreted. A camera op should be telling the boom op if they dropped in, or if they tilt up and catch them, etc... This is just good communication on set, but can often be taken or presented as a "you're doing something wrong" when in reality it doesn't need to be personal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


×