Boom Operator: Everything You Need to Know

On a film or TV set, a boom operator — also known as a boom person, a boom man, or a boom woman — holds and operates the microphone. Boom operators are responsible for capturing the actors’ dialogue and other sounds on the set. These professionals also assist with operating other sound equipment, such as stationary or wired microphones, throughout the filming process.

What Does a Boom Operator Do?

The boom operator is responsible for several important tasks:

  • Recording high-quality sound. Boom operators hold microphones on long, adjustable arms to record sound as clearly as possible while minimizing extraneous noises. They also place microphones in stands around the set or clip them to actors.
  • Knowing the script. To ensure that they place the microphone in the best possible position for capturing dialogue, boom operators must be familiar with the script, including the sides, or the list of planned shots for the day.
  • Keeping the microphone out of the frame. If the microphone or its shadow is visible on the screen, directors typically need to reshoot the scene. That means boom operators have to know where they can place the microphone while keeping it out of view.
  • Collaborating with other members of the film crew. Boom operators work closely with sound department colleagues, camera operators, and other members of the film crew.

How to Become a Boom Operator

To become a boom operator, you need a unique combination of skills and experience. Follow the steps below to build a career as a key member of a film crew.

1. Educate Yourself: Skills and Education

Although a film degree isn’t a requirement for boom operators, many complete film school before starting out on this career path. That’s because going to film school can give you a solid background in filmmaking and introduce you to various film and TV career paths to consider.

As you learn about this industry, cultivate skills like:

  • Attention to detail: As a boom operator, you constantly have to watch for potential issues, such as jewelry or costumes that make noise and affect the sound quality. To help the production crew film efficiently, it’s important to know how to identify and address these concerns before they cause problems,
  • Audio: Knowing how to listen to and process sound is essential for boom operators. Working as a DJ or volunteering in the radio industry can also help you learn how to mix sound.
  • Organization: Boom operators have to understand and manage a wide range of sound equipment. To do this job well, you have to be organized so you can find equipment and address issues efficiently.
  • Teamwork: Boom operators need strong collaboration skills to get along with everyone on the set. For example, you’ll need to work smoothly with script supervisors, gaffers, on-set electricians, and any other sound mixers or technicians involved in the project.

2. Be Physically Fit to Be a Boom Operator

As a boom operator, you also need excellent physical fitness and stamina. When you’re on set, you may have to hold the microphone in place for extended periods of time without moving. After all, movement can compromise sound quality and create shadows, both of which can ruin the scene and require retakes.

3. Demonstrate Your Expertise

Most boom operators start out in the field with little experience and learn essential skills on the job. In this line of work, experience is key. The longer you work in the industry, the more quickly you learn how to resolve issues and become an indispensable member of the crew.

4. Know What to Expect: Work Life

Workdays can be lengthy and demanding for boom operators, but being patient and resilient can help you do your best on the job. You may have busy seasons and periods of time with very little work. Many boom operators also have to travel for work. Having a flexible side job or taking classes to improve your skills can help you manage the inconsistencies that come with this profession.

5. Have the Right Personality

The best boom operators know when to speak up and when to remain quiet. For boom operators, maintaining strong interpersonal relationships with crew members is essential. Yet boom operators should also be able to stay in the background when necessary and be respectful of actors and movie directors at all times.

Getting Started: Finding Work

In many cases, boom operators get their first on-the-job experience through volunteer roles. Although these gigs are unpaid, they offer excellent opportunities to learn the basics. As you master essential technical skills and become familiar with sound production equipment, you can start to look for paid entry-level positions.

In this field, your first paid role might be as a second boom operator or a third person. These roles assist the main boom operator and can help you gain the skills you need to do this job well.

Advancement: Years of Experience

For boom operators, building an impressive resume and a strong professional network are two of the best ways to advance in the industry. Making connections with boom operators can help you find great jobs and advance in the industry. As you gain experience, you can become the main boom operator and ask for higher wages.

Overall, the job market for broadcast and sound engineering technicians is expected to grow by 9% through 2029. That’s much faster than average and suggests that this field has significant potential for growth and advancement.

Unions, Groups & Associations

Most boom operators join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 695. This union provides support and labor protections for skilled technicians who work for the film and TV industries. In addition to boom operators, Local 695 welcomes:

  • Production sound mixers, who oversee recording levels and manage operations for the production sound crew
  • Utility sound technicians, who assist production sound mixers and boom operators
  • Recordists, who operate specialized sound equipment
  • Audio and video engineers, who record sound and video on the set for film directors to review later
  • TV broadcast engineers, who oversee recording equipment on TV sets
  • Projection engineers, who operate equipment in projection booths on set or at filming locations

You can also benefit from joining professional networks and online groups. Organizations geared toward sound professionals and boom operators often provide helpful resources and advice that can help you make connections and advance in the industry.

How Much Does a Boom Operator Make?

The salary for boom operators varies widely based on experience level and the type of production. On average, boom operators make about $72,000 per year. However, the salary range for this position starts at $37,000 and tops out at $121,000.

When you start out as a freelance or contract boom operator, you can expect to earn a salary on the low end of the range. After joining the union, however, you can expect to earn higher salaries and work on productions with bigger budgets. By joining the union, you can access additional perks like paid time off, retirement savings, and health care coverage, which increase your overall earnings.

If you’re interested in becoming a boom operator, you can learn more about film and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute.