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Pro Video Tips is designed for busy videographers like you. This series brings you a new tip every week, on everything from controlling reflections to hiding mics. Host Anthony Q. Artis covers shooting techniques for particular video challenges like portraits, tools to help you control light and judge exposure, and advice for the traveling videographer, such as putting together a great lens kit or packing a truck. Come back every Tuesday for a new round of tips.
This week on Pro-Video tips, I want to talk about a often ignored position on the film set. And that's a position of boom operator. Now, on the surface, the job might seem pretty simple. To just hold the boom. And because of that, people often, you know, your little cousin's visiting from out of town for the weekend ,and you give them the boom, so they can help out on the set. Well, that's okay, but it's not really something you want to do if you care about your production because while this job isn't rocket science, it does require a certain amount of knowledge and understanding of boom positions, audio technique, as well as what the cameras needs are and also microphone patterns.
So I'm just going to start off by just showing you a couple of different boom positions. Now, in my book and it's called The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide, by the way, but in my book there is no right or wrong way to hold the boom. There is only a position that will or won't work for the particular recording situation that you happen to be in. So these are all situational positions, but I feel like it is important that all film-makers have a deep tool belt of techniques and tricks up their sleeves, so let's start off with a traditional boom position right here. So this is a traditional boom position, overhead, nice and long, plenty of reach lots of advantages to this position.
So the big advantages of this, the pros I would say, are that it's up nice and high, very little danger of getting in the frame. You just gotta hold it up. You can move it very quickly. So if I need to get from one part of the set to another part of the set, no problem with this position right here. And it's got plenty of reach right there. And I can also pivot very easily from being in this position right here. However, this position has one big con. In fact, I would recommend you use this position all the time if you can. However, most of you, unless you're going to you know, Planet Fitness to work out all the time, this isn't something you're going to be able to hold for very long, because unfortunately the boom gets very heavy, very fast.
So even though I've been holding this boom up for only about 30 seconds, and the whole apparatus probably weighs maybe 10 pounds or so, it feels like it weighs 15 pounds right now. And for every minute that I hold it, it'll basically put on like another five pounds or so, so this gets very heavy, very quickly and if you pay attention when you see behind the scenes things, and you see people holding the boom, you usually see guys with big, muscular arms that are holding the boom because they are the people who have the stamina to do that, so this is a great position, but unfortunately, many of you aren't going to be able to hold this for a very long time.
So because of that, we have plenty of other positions. So from here, I'm starting to get a little tired, it's a long scene, well, I can make an easy transition right here, into the shoulder position. That's much better right there. Now the shoulder position has many of the same positions as the overhead position that I showed you before, but it does have a few drawbacks and limitations, so. Now that I've gone from here down to here, just to give it a little bit of rest right there. You can see that I'm sacrificing a little bit of height. It's going to be a problem if you're a shorter operator like me.
And by the way, if you are a shorter operator like me, if you don't have to move, a good strategy, and I have to do this all the time, and that's to stand on an apple box. So you might have to have an apple box or even a platform of apple boxes sometimes just to get up enough height. So if you're a little shorter, and your actors are standing, that could be problematic. So the shoulder position right here, we sacrifice some height. We also sacrifice mobility. So before in this position, I could move it around really quick, get exactly where I need to be. However, now that it's on my shoulder, I have to move my whole body. So a lot of times, I'm standing in a position kind of like this.
When I'm doing the shoulder mount position, right here, if somebody moving across the set, this isn't going to be an effective position to really follow them. So this is really something more for stationary subjects. Something else I have to worry about with this position, two things. One of them, a little bit smaller, and that is clothing noise, right here. If this starts rubbing against the back of my shirt, like this or anything like that, that's all going to be picked up on the audio soundtrack. Keep in mind that this entire boom pole is now a conductor of audio. So if I'm wearing rings or, you know, playing tiddlywinks or something like that on the boom pole, all of these things are going to be heard on the microphone and even this little grip.
Things like that, your hands are a little bit sweaty gripping this. When you ungrip it, it's going to make a noise, so you want to use a very gentle touch whenever we're handling the boom pole. And then the last con or drawback, potentially of this position, that you have to be careful of sometimes, and I've seen this happen on set, and I've done it on set a few times. And now as you get really comfortable holding the shoulder position and somebody calls your name. And they go, hey Anthony huh, I spin around. I just knocked over a light. Chipped an actress's tooth. Could have done, you know, any number of things on set. So you want to be very careful whenever you're holding this shoulder position of the three stooges effect, I like to call it.
So sometimes you forget it's there, and you forget that you have a 10 foot extension of your person. So remember that. So from there, we can go we have the overhead; we have the shoulder position, so that's a little more comfortable. Then another position we can use is this one right here. So down low. So this position right here from down low is good for one big thing, and that is that it's very easy to hold. So now that I'm working with gravity instead of against it. I'm not trying to hold this up; I'm holding it down. So it's very comfortable, and I can hold this for a long time. But a couple of drawbacks to being down in this position.
So the first one is that where the microphone is pointed. Now if I'm pointed at my subject's mouth, audiowise that's all going to be cool. It's pretty much going to sound the same as it does for the other positions. However, one big problem with this audiowise is from outdoors, might be airplanes passing by. And when you're using that shotgun mic, it's very directional. So if a plane is coming from the sky, it's going to be heard a little bit sooner when I'm pointing it up like this, then down like this in a extra, you know, few seconds might have been all I needed to get the last bit of the dialog that I was trying to capture before it went bad. So just something to think about.
Another thing when you are indoors in a studio environment like this, is that pointed up, sometimes lights when they are dim have a little bit of buzz. So that buzz that might not have been as noticeable as before, might be a little more prominent on your sound track, so just things you want to think about. Another more practical drawback of this position that you have to look out for is actors and blocking. So now that I'm holding this thing out on the set, I'm effectively holding the big limbo stick out in the middle of the set, and my actors are going to have to dance around it. The last thing I want to do is be a, a distraction to my actors in anyway so down low position has those cons, but it is something that you can hold for a very long time.
So you get really tired, you might need to switch up to this for a while for a stationary subject. Another positions I'll show is this one right here. I use this one a lot for documentary work when I'm doing longer interviews and man on the street interviews, and that's a pelvic position. So in this pelvic position right here, I pretty much have the pole just resting to either the left or right side here on your upper thigh, pretty much right about where your pocket is, and I'm using my hand here to hold it. Now what's great about this even though it might seem like it's similar to some of the other ones is that I can hold this for a very long time.
And I want to point out something here. I'm not really holding the boom pole here as much as I am balancing it. I would say at least 75% of the weight is now being distributed right here to my leg, and it's resting here. I can hold this with one finger, switch up hands because I'm not really holding the boom pole. I'm resting the boom pole and balancing it. And the big advantage of this particular position is that I can hold it for a long time. And the other advantage of this that no other position, at least that I know of shares for the most part and that is that this is a one-handed position, so I could do this with one hand.
What does that mean? It means that I'm freed up to do simple things like signal the camera operator, hey, you're standing on my cable, or something like that. I'm freed up to do something as simple and practical as scratch my back. That's the kind of thing that this position could allow you to do. Also, if I'm working solo, by myself, and I'm mixing, this is another position that I might have to resort to. So now I've got the mixer right here and, I might want to write and take a sound note. Anything like that, this position allows me to do. But more importantly, this is the position you can, and I have had to hold for 45 minutes straight, not a problem very good for stamina.
So this is another good position to take a rest and to still keep it kind of up there high. Now one of the cons you gotta worry about with this position is that you want to make sure that you stay on axis with the camera man. So wherever the lens is, that's the same axis I'm going to be on. Otherwise, I run the risk of potentially diagonally cutting off the frame, and that's particularly dangerous. If a boom pole dips in from the top, it tends to be much more noticed by the camera operator, but if something is just subtly creeping in from the corner, right there, it's a lot harder to catch, especially a black object, so every now and then you might get in post and see that.
The way to avoid it is to stay on axis. And so the last one I will show you isn't as much a position as a different type of technique. And that is the pistol grip. So I'm going to go ahead and just take my boom zeppelin that is off of here, and I don't actually have a microphone in here right now for purposes of this demo, but you'll get the point. I'm going to put the boom pole down. And I just put the back back on there. So now, I have a pistol grip position, so this is a position without the boom. So this position, the big plus of this position is that you obviously have a much lower profile, so if you're in a situation where waving around, you know, a giant, you know, the thing of the end of a pole might draw too much attention.
Well, this is a position where this isn't drawing nearly as much attention as before. So you can be a little bit more low profile. Granted, I still have this big mic, but not nearly as big as waving it on the end of a 10 foot pole right there. So a little bit lower profile. This is good for tight spaces and crowds; I'm shooting at a crowded rally, doing man on the street stuff. I'm not necessarily trying to make my way through a crowd with a boom pole too because it's probably just going to get knocked around anyway. So this is great for that, shooting in cars, tight spaces. I'm shooting a documentary in the catacombs; anything like that, I'm going to go with something like a pistol grip.
One thing you do want to be careful of, depending on the nature of your subject matter, you wouldn't want to be someplace very dangerous say in a war zone, going around doing this, because somebody can easily mistake this for a weapon, so be careful of little practical things like that you want to keep in mind. But pistol grip is the fifth and final position that I'm going to show you as far as using the boom, and the last thing I do want to show you guys because I didn't touch on that yet, just in case your not fully tuned in, and that is our booming technique. So I'm just going to leave my cable dangling down there and talk about two different techniques.
Only two things that we want to do when it comes to booming. There is only two things that running in my head over and over again, and here's what they are. If you keep these two things in mind, I think you're going to be great at the job of booming. And if you tell your little cousin, when you have them come in, to keep these in mind, they'll also do great. And I'm just going to let that dangle down there for a minute. And that is the first thing that we want to do is, keep our boom pole on axis. So we want to be on axis means at all times it should be pointed like a laser beam directly at our subject. So I want you to imagine a line going straight from the end of the mic, and the end of that line should be going straight to your subject's mouth.
So that's the first thing on axis. And the next thing is, as close as possible, without being in the shot. So that's the only two things we're doing with our boom pole. Keeping it laser beamed on axis and as close as possible without being in the shot. Stop and think about that for a minute. You guys have all seen independent films, maybe even some professional films where occasionally, a boom pole might have sneaked into the shot. You would think that Hollywood and other people could avoid that, but here's the thing. I think it is much worse to get bad audio by not being close enough with the boom, than it is to possibly, occasionally throughout your film, or maybe from one shot, a broom probably ended up creeping in there a little bit.
So you can always take steps sometimes in post to cut that out a little bit. But one thing you can't do in post is replace bad audio. That's going to require reshooting the entire scene. So we want to be on axis and as close as possible. And when you're booming two people, last technique I'll show you. And that is that we want to pivot the boom. So this person is talking here, now I've got them. Other person's talking over here, now I'm picking them up. If they start cross-talking, I"m going to play the middle. But as soon as it becomes apparent who's taking over the conversation, that's the person that I'm going to aim at.
The biggest thing with booming and this is with a lot of audio in particular. And that is anticipation. So the job of a boom op, it's not rocket science. But there's a lotta stuff that should be going on in your head, and you have to anticipate what your subject's going to do. When I'm shooting documentary, I don't know that that persons going to get up and walk over there. I don't know, know per se, but I know because of their body language. If they're sitting down and their legs are crossed, they're going to uncross their legs first. They're going to lean forward. They're going to look in that direction. So I'm going to get a second or two of mental notification as to where they're going.
And what's going to happen over time is you're going to kind of develop a second sense. You will learn to anticipate where people are going, and more importantly than anticipating their movement is anticipating their level of conversation. One big job the boom operator has that will make life easier on the sound mixer is to back off the boom a little bit when the conversation's getting, you know, a little bit, you know, wild or louder. So if a character's sitting there telling a joke, and I know a punch line's coming. I'm going to wisely back my boom up a little bit, because I can see this is a really funny joke.
The people are giggling while he is telling it. There is going to be a big burst of laughter. Well, what would help my sound mixer out? Well, if I back up the mic a little bit more, so it doesn't overmodulate. Same thing, if things are going to get a little softer. And I have the room, then I want to come in a little bit tighter. So hopefully, these tips will help you guys get better audio results. Remember, as I always say, I think your audio is more important than your video, and that's primarily because your audio is unforgiving. So hopefully those tips will help you guys outt and you'll have a little bit better luck out there with your booms.
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