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How important is it to have been a boom op before becomming a sound mixer?

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I came in the biz as a mixer, moved to booming, and then to cable as i moved up to better and better films. I then worked my way back up to boom op, then to mixing, so one may guess my POV. But I've worked with great mixers that never boomed a day in their lives so I'm not so sure. Just thought I'd throw it out for your POV's

Thanks old school

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I came in the biz as a mixer, moved to booming, and then to cable as i moved up to better and better films. I then worked my way back up to boom op, then to mixing, so one may guess my POV. But I've worked with great mixers that never boomed a day in their lives so I'm not so sure. Just thought I'd throw it out for your POV's

Thanks old school

How important is it for a coach to have been a player?  Not vital, but would have to help in understanding what the boom op is up against.  Most of us around here (SF) still do a lot of one-person sound crew jobs, so we are still booming ourselves often enough to understand all the issues.

Philip Perkins

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Excellent question! I have pondered this most of my professional life since I came in as a Sound Mixer right from the very start, having done ONE day only as a boom operator. The first job I ever did in sound was booming for Bruce Bisenz on a commercial that my father was shooting. It didn't take me more than a few minutes to realize that this wasn't a job I wanted to do (or was even well suited to do). So, when the opportunity came up to do another job, I declared myself a sound mixer (even though I had never mixed and had never really boomed properly either). This is a very good question at this time as so many things have changed in the business, in the jobs that we do, that there isn't a logical progression of skills or job descriptions, and there is also a total lack of training ground, internships and so forth, for people to progress in an organized manner. Fortunately for me, there were many jobs in the beginning that were documentary type jobs where I had to boom and mix. This helped me get a really good grasp of microphone characteristics, how something should be miked, how it shoud sound. I was also fortunate that when I finally solved the union problems and I was able to do bigger movies, it was then possible to work with really experienced boom operators. So, by working with people like Pat Suraci (Pat had 25 years experience working in New York, did the Godfather movies, French Connection, The Excorsist, etc., etc.) I not only benefited from the good boom work, I could watch, observe and learn, what good boom opertators are supposed to do. Around this time I had realized that absolute importance of the boom operator and went on a campaign (that continues to today) to always try and make everyone else realize what an important position it is. No matter how skilled I may become as a mixer, there is almost nothing that can be done back at the mixing panel if tihngs are not right at the microphone.

The simple answer to the question, I believe, is at the very least, the sound mixer should have a very deep and fundamnetal understanding of what boom work is all about and if this can be acquired while having never actually boomed yourself, this is okay. I think there is a distinct advantage to be had if as a sound mixer you have had the actual experience of not only booming but BEING the boom operator --- by this I mean learning first hand how to handle the set, work with the rest of the crew and so forth.

I might turn this question around and put forth the notion that one can be a better boom opertator if there has been some experience mixing jobs. I know for a fact that Old School (who originally posted this question) was able to do such good work, even in the position of cableman, because he had mixed and boomed. So, when finally moving up to full time mixing, having done the other jobs was a real asset.

Regards,  Jeff Wexler

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In my area, there are so few boom jobs that that position really isn't a stepping stone to becoming a mixer.  Most jobs in sound are one-person deals, so one learns to boom for oneself.  When I need a boom op, the last thing I want is a newbie--the idea that  PA can be drafted into working the boom while I sit back at the panel always struck me as a very odd notion.  When I did low-budget dramatic films and the above was the proposed solution to having a boom op, I would usually tell them that I would do the whole job myself, and they would have to settle for what I could do alone.    I was very fortunate to work for 10 years+ with Gary Dowling, and what was really great is that he had more big-job experience that I did and advised me in many subtle and not-so subtle ways about how to navigate the set, the job and the problems.  There isn't a union structure for production sound around here, so, like you Jeff, I declared myself a Mixer one day and then set about proving it to everyone else.  That still seems to be the way, just about everywhere, now.

Philip Perkins

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Guest repete86

I tried boom operation, but that was after I had some experience mixing.  The boom operation was a disaster for me and I was only booming because oit was a no-budget student film and I was a one man sound crew.  That didn't last very long, and I recruited someone else from the crew to boom while I mixed.  He caught onto it very quickly and actually ended up being extremely good at it, so I ended up sticking with mixing. 

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As someone who came out of filmschool in the mid 70's, I thought everyone should know as much as possible about all aspects of film making, that was the ideal. When I got into the real world hollywood system, I was suprised to find out how compartmentized(sp) the system was/is. Now after 29 years in the IA I have met many people in all departments. The best have a total understanding and respect of all  the crafts. The others are just collecting a check. Also a good boom op by definition has to know all the concerns and needs of all the crafts to do the job of at hand. Going back to the original question, I would say being a boom op before becoming a mixer is a good thing, but is less important than understanding the job and its importance in the big picture.

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Just as being a sound-editor made me a better location sound mixer, I'd think doing some mixing would make boom ops much better, or at least understanding of the totality of the task of location sound.

Philip Perkins

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I believe that my experience as both a sound utility and boom operator has given me greater perspective as a mixer.  I don't think it is entirely necessary, however it has really helped in my understanding and resolution of difficult situations.

For some reason, with the exception of my current project, my shows have been very difficult...lots of 2 boom and multiple wire situations, not just occaisionally, but every day.  When things get very difficult, I can really help when my boom operator is figuring out how we are going to handle this mutha.

My 2 pennies...

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I started out life as a sound editor cutting 1/4 tape, then moved to 16mm and 35mm.  During all this time I was also working as a boom operator and then moved to mixer. My first booming job was on a Fisher 16' boom with a Sennheiser 804(!!).  Talk about learning quickly under fire.  You were either on target or it was unusable.

I've found that every position helps you somewhere else down the line.

As a sound editor I had to constantly make things work that were shot under less than ideal conditions and learned the importance of getting as much as possible... yes, mike the off screen talent whenever possible and practical, you might be able to use it to save a take; yes get the chicken clucking and running around, do you know how hard it is to invent that at 3:30AM in the editing room??

Knowing good booming techniques also involve a knowledge of lighting, camera angles, etc and vice versa.

I've been blessed to work with several great boom ops and I really appreciate their work, knowing myself how much a ball buster the job can be.

And the other thing is that when you go out on an ENG shoot and have to do everything yourself (like many of us did in the film doc days) you'd better have your  booming techniques down cold because you often don't have time to analyze a situation... shot framing, shadows, anticipating talent all have to be instinctive.  I am starting to graduate to putting the boom up on a c-stand for those hour long interviews, though... that started getting old.

Tony

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Interesting Topic

Although I am a mixer I find that myself - I am a pretty good boom operator.  Though, I could be a lot better.  But the fact is, I got into mixing more films because I boomed on a couple short films (mixed too - straight to camera) and continued those relationships from then on.

Now, I enjoy booming - and on some recent projects, will let my boom op mix a scene, while I go out and swing. 

I think that one problem I face as a boom op is that I drink too much coffee and don't work out enough to face a whole day holding up a boom.  :)  (mental note - have to free up some time for the gym...)

But I digress - I've certainly come across those times when I wished the boom op I was working with new more about what they were doing, and realized why it was I was sending them a headphone feed!

I think that a sound mixer can benefit a lot from having done boom work.  It's all part of the process of capturing great sound.

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I started out when the Nagra III and Sennheiser shotgun was new.  For documentaries we hand held the 804 (no shockmount, no pole because we were always running-in and out of the back seat of cars etc).  The (new) experience of moving the mic and listening to the results was very valuable. 

Later, the first time I worked with a Master Boom Operator (Pat Suraci) he astounded me.  On our first ever shot the director blocked an extremely difficult 50' dolly down a hall with a character ducking in and out of  4 offices to talk.  What made it impossible was that everything was glass with multiple reflections. 

Trying to quell my growing panic I asked Pat if he needed any "help" (I had a complicated matrix of wireless and plant mics in mind).  Pat said "No, I've got it all."  I thought "Great, this guy is crazy.  He will blow the shot then I will have to alibi and install a complicated setup while everone watches-again and again over the next 8 weeks."  Needless to say Pat "Got it All" and went on to do much more than I ever thought possible.  I learned a few tricks from him that I showed new and skeptical boom operators to good effect.

One thing that a boom man must know is lighting.  The best of them could light a set as well as, or better than, may DPs/Gaffers.  As a mixer you must know lighting also because this affects your microphone techniques.  You must know what is possible.  You can't ask for a cutter or some changing in lighting for (say for instance) a "News Shot."  An on/over the camera sun gun is the look and you are stuck with it.  You always have to anticipate.  If you haven't come up from booming then pay special attention to learn lighting. 

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Great post SoundHound. A lot of great boom men have advanced the craft of sound recording for film, it's job one. Pat Suraci is a classic, just IMDB him. Don Coufal, another great boom op. He is teaching a class 6/17. Check it out. Learn the craft of recording sound for film. i will be there.           

Regards,

Old School

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I agree -- it all helps.  I started out in the post side of sound, as well as music recording and all that.  I also have an electronics background.  I feel that the experience of miles and miles of edited 1/4" tape, late night hours of 24-track mixes, and even designing specialty circuits adds greatly to my understanding of location sound -- sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. 

There are so many subtilties to booming yet it's all too often viewed as just a person holding a stick.

Even on many projects originating on film, I often don't have the luxury of hiring a boom op.  Since I really don't like doing a one-man-band when I mix double system, I am often at the mercy of having a grip or PA assigned as a boom op.  Here's where it gets interesting.  If I have any choice in the matter I will look for someone who is inexperienced.  Someone who appears to be on the ball, but green enough that they will work diligently to follow instructions.  What can be a problem is when a grip raises his hand and says, "I have experience booming."  That's when I know I'm probably in trouble.  Usually, if someone thinks they are "an experienced boom op" it's much harder to get them to listen to instructions or advice.  They think they already know everything they need to know.  The newbie, on the other hand, if he's (or she's) really sharp and well motivated, will listen to, and absorb, all the input and even appreciate the opportunity.

Someone like this will actually listen when I tell them that I want them to dip the mic in and let the camera operator talk them to the edge of the frame rather than just to swing it wide and hear, "yeah, you're out," knowing that in the latter scenario, the mic is probably twice as far from the frame like as it should be.

I've often told people that if I had the choice of a superb mixer and an adequate boom operator or an adequate mixer and a superb boom operator, I'd take the later.

Booming is where you get the sound.  Everything else is just dealing with that sound.

JB

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Don Coufal, another great boom op. He is teaching a class 6/17. Check it out. Learn the craft of recording sound for film. i will be there.             

Regards,

Old School

Damn.  I'd so be there myself if my schedule permitted and I wasn't on the east coast...anyone wanna video tape it for me!?

-Greg-

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Hi All.

we can very well figure out from own experience and statements of senior pros in the forum the importance of a boom,which is very well substantiated by the lucid reply of John Blakenship

i was just thinking why dont we have a web link to the boom operator s workshop conductedby Mr Don Coufal , so that the less fortunate people can know and learn what was taught there,

i quite believe that this particular thread should have replies and article sby experienced boom ops starting with Mr Coufal and subsequently others can chip in with their suggestions/advices and stuff from their long experience of working in the indusrty

i personally believe such a thing can benefit all of us

would like to know the reactions of all

it is a great thread and a beautiful place to hang around and learn

regards

Harry

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I started this thread way back when @jwsound.net was new and many of our members were not around. So in light of "Angle of attack" I thought I would reopen it as a companion piece and see if we have fresher thoughts some 2 plus years later. I have stated in many posts that I believe booming is the art of most recording for picture, but the mixer is as key a component. I am glad I did it all, but I have tremendous respect for many great mixers who seldom if ever swung a boom.

CrewC

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I started out cabling then pushing the paramulator on The Jeffersons Then got my chance on a soap when the boom op. got sick thrown into the fire. Operated on alot of sitcoms & had the privilege of opr. for 9yrs on Murphy Brown from the greens. Fish poled scenes on other shows.There is alot to understand when operating a Boom. I have had some Mixers tell me to get the boom in closer but for the lighting or cam.  angles you can not,especially when you are dealing with 4 cameras & know with 2 one wide and the other tight hopefully they will give one to sound. A boom opr. must know Lenses, lighting Etc, Etc.

              Everyone take care and stay busy

              Keith

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FWIW, I submit my POV:

I went to film school.  I handled camera and lighting gear as an employee of the checkout room.  I had privileged access to anything that wasn't reserved for the weekends.  I worked on student productions as the sound guy, sometimes that meant the all-in-one sound department.  I spent more time than anybody in my class editing post sound, recording ADR, Foley, and doing the mix in our Pro Tools labs.  I've been a camera operator, an editor, an actor, and a director.  Every film position I've played with serves to inform my decisions today. 

Importance?  Not so important.  The great names in production sound who've had little experience booming is a testament to that.  A sound mixer has his own set of responsibilities, his own talents to focus on.  Certainly, a familiarity with the performance art of booming is fundamental, if the mixer is going to make decisions about boom technique.  But I don't think the mixer should be.  That's one benefit why he has his boomer.  "It's the boom operator's job to bring the sound to the mixer" as my boom sensei Junpei Shinozaki taught me.  A superior team combines a mixer and boom op who can truly do both jobs well, who trust each other with each task.  Junpei never wanted to hear my takes when I was mixing, and I could see that his ninja skills were getting what I needed.  Doing one-man-band gigs gave me the ultimate control to help my ears learn the many ways good sound can be captured.  However, it wouldn't take long for a person mixing on a team to understand.

It's funny.  I came out of school having mainly mixed, or mixed and boomed.  I quintupled my experience within the first year out, and I'm finding in my second year that I really like booming better!  This crew position has to be the most intimate experience with the action.  Boom ops often stand nearest to talent, and sometimes must mimic (or follow) their movements.  I get a bit of exercise, I talk to everyone, and I'm treated with respect.  I had a magical moment in June, too.  I was so in tune with an actor's performance that we moved in synchrony, I could mouth her words, and I even felt sympathetic emotion.  Booming is technique.  Booming is dance.  I love it.

No, my arms don't get tired, but my feet sometimes do--from standing around all day!  Which reminds me of a joke a mixer told me:  How tall is a sound mixer?  Nobody knows.  They never stand up!

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My 2 cents is it's very important to climb the sound deptartment ladder. True in every dept. Learning the etiquette is harder to learn than the technical stuff and etiquette is best taught by someone with more experience.

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In my market (South East) North FL, Ga and Sc: Everything is a one man band sort of work. I mostly do News and Reality tv so I just declared myself a mixer almost 7 years ago and did some student films and low budget stuff then got my 1st paying gig on a short lived Style Network show and got my butt kicked because I had cheap gear and no idea what do to. After that I read everything I could and picked the brain of anyone I worked with. I get excited everytime I do a multi camera show with others mixer because I always learn something new. Last year I did a job with Paul Graff and I learned more about lav mic hiding in 5 min than I would have ever learned on my own. On the show I am currently working on the D.p/Main Camera Operator asked me if his camera assist could boom a few times if possible to help him learn the flow of some of the scenes we shoot and the rhythm as well to make him a better camera operator.  I told him I didn't think it was a good idea since we move so fast and everyone is on a lav, but I thought it was a good idea. So I think being a boom op or at least working as a boom op for alittle while because it can teach you more about the whole film making process than anything else

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Like a few other people have stated, I worked first as a mixer and boom op on alot of little doc stuff and then back at the bottom as a cable man. It's more of a promotion than anything else as I'm working on bigger and better things these days and learning more every time. The last feature I worked on I was fortunate enough to swing a second boom alongside Vince Camuto who showed me a few tips and pointers in the art.  Working with guys like this makes me more anxious to try out new little tricks when I'm out there on a one man gig.

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I think that as a department head, it is important to know what your team is doing, and in that sense, it's important. I also think that as an up and comer,the ability to work for many different bosses on many different projects is valuable as a network builder, a way to familiarize yourself with many diverse challenges, and also to work a lot more often than if you are the department head, responsible for landing the gig.

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While I wasn't a utility guy or boom operator for too many years, I was fortunate enough to work on many different types of projects and with many different mixers and boom ops.  I found the experience extremely helpful in the understanding of my job as a mixer.  This forum has also helped me to confirm and also to rethink lessons I learned along the way.

There are many mixers out there who have not boomed, and for some it works and for others it does not.  I have worked for both.  It is hard to deny the skill and lengthy careers of the success stories.  Those folks must have been smart enough to not only learn about what they needed to do, but smart enough to seek feedback about whether or not their choices were correct.

Robert

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My feelings are that for some it doesn't matter at all, and others would of been much better had they come up through the ranks. Naming names, some of the best like Jeff Wexler, Jim Webb, Keith Wester, Rich Van Dyke, Art Rochester, Roger Daniell, all of whom I had the good luck to work with and learn from, never swung a pole for a pay check, and their resumes speak for themselves. Not naming names, many of the others I worked with never got the big picture of things, or the art of working well with other departments, or the true value of our job. So for me, I am grateful for the experience of film school and all the mixers and boom ops and crew members and directors and actors for my education. If I was grading me as a sound man, I would say I was a good boom man, and a average mixer, but it took all the prior experience to get to this point. Still learning and earning and loving what I do.

CrewC

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