And now, for my second edition of blog-on-the-bus! We left off at my last-minute job switch from DIT to Boom Operator — and the terrible realization that my new responsibilities were going to be a lot tougher than I thought they’d be.
I showed up the first day with my brand new Direct Sound EX-25 headphones — I mention them because they’re inexpensive and awesome, and came highly recommended by my audio engineer friend Jessica. Anyway, I showed up feeling pretty good about having come prepared with my own high-quality headphones, thinking maybe that’d score some points with the Sound Mixer. And it WAS a good move, but more on that later.
The first shot of the day was a static wide angle on the back of an audience watching a movie screen. All I had to do was stand off to the side and hold the boom mic using the “snowman stance”. This obscenely easy first task lulled me into a sense of how smoothly the rest of the shoot would go. That whole day was pretty simple, come to think of it. The only other setup was a handheld shot following a bunch of frantic audience members. Easy-peasy.
“Max, you’re not staying with the camera. Move with the camera.”
“No, you’re not. And you’re holding it wrong.”
“Now you’re too tense. Relax. Booming requires you to be smooth and to flow with the movement.”
“Pretty much – it is kind of a dance.”
Fun Fact: The most determined of dancer friends have given up on teaching me even the simplest steps. When I worked at Johnny Rocket’s as a 16-year-old, customers tipped me extra for my hilariously bad attempts at boogying with my co-workers during our hourly disco-performances. No, I will not elaborate further on the humiliation endured for $2.13 an hour. My point is that I’m the most uncoordinated, rhythmically-challenged person I know. Besides my dad, anyway.
Rather than give you a day-by-day account of how I spent my 12-hour-days in the Mojave desert, I shall offer a small list of commandments based on the mistakes I made.
1. Do not let your boom shadow be seen in the frames. Always ask the camera operator what your frame line is.
2. Do not get the mic in frame — always ask the camera operator where your frame line is.
3. Keep the mic as close to the dialogue as possible. Ask. What. Your. Frame. Line. Is.
4. You don’t need to keep the mic so high — the closer you are to the actors, the better the sound. Really, you can go lower. A lot lower. Did you check with the camera operator where your frame line is?
5. Jesus Christ, you hit the ceiling AGAIN?? Why the hell are you all the way up there? What did I tell you? Ask where the goddamn frame line is!
6. Okay, here’s how the mixer works. Just keep the levels happy and warm with these knobs. Got it? Great. I’ll take that boom, please.
And y’know, I did much better when I was, um, promoted to sound mixer. Less dancing, more…buttons. Hmm.
“Ashley, I just don’t know how to get this thing to work.”
‘You mean the REMOTE?’
To be fair, Ashley had, like, five remotes. I was just using the wrong one at the time.
And to be fair to myself, I’ve never worked so many mics from different channels before. I had to monitor the boom as well as two or three lavalier (clip-on) mics at a time.
And I had to make sure the battery power on each device was strong enough to last the next scene. That meant powering things down and keeping them off until right before roll-time. Which resulted in a few embarrassing slip-ups when I forgot to flip a couple power switches during slate-time.
“Apologies, everyone — second sticks, please?”
You call second sticks when camera or audio didn’t catch the CLACK of the slate when it shuts. In that super-quiet moment where every second counts, that call can trip everyone else up just a bit. I always poured sweat when that happened, trying to maintain composure and focus extra hard on not screwing up again.
Which I invariably wound up doing anyway.
So could it be that my inexperience forever burned these professional bridges? Find out on Part 3 of this Feature Shoot Aftermath! This bus ride is over.