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Old August 31st, 2008, 05:58 AM   #1
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Boom Operators

Are boom operators, in the strict sense of the phrase - operators of Fisher or Mole booms - a dying breed? Is there any work for such booms outside studios now? And even there, how often are they used, even for multi-camera work such as soaps? It would be a very great shame if this skill were to disappear, because once gone it isn't coming back, and neither will lighting directors and DOPs who know how to light for them. Has technology moved on and are these once indispensable tools completely unnecessary, for ever? If not, the pool of people sufficiently talented to use them seems to be shrinking to the point of irredeemable evaporation. This seems to be the position in the UK: are things better in the USA or elsewhere?
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Old August 31st, 2008, 07:00 AM   #2
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Why bemoan progress? If technology has made a certain piece of equipment, as well as the skills required to operate it, obsolete by doing the same job faster, cheaper, better, why hang on to the old ways? Nostalgia doesn't pay the bills. If the technology has evolved so that something better is now available, what's the advantage of hanging on to the traditional way of doing things? Now if you're saying that the classic mechanical boom is, in fact, the BETTER way to mic the set than its replacement technology in that it enables you to get a better recording, then that's another matter. But the bottom line is the quality of the recording and the tools used to make it are irrelevant. Just because something was once the best game in town does not mean that it should be retained once a better way becomes available.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 07:54 AM   #3
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Sign of the times, Nick... Sign of the times... We don't have to like it, but it *is* happening...
So maybe a better phrase would be 'sigh' of the times :D
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Old August 31st, 2008, 07:56 AM   #4
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I think we are just getting old farts ;-)
My day job is recording engineer and producer. I remember to slice 2" analog tape like a guru... Now I slice audio regions in my ProTools HD rig... sign of the times :-)
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Old August 31st, 2008, 08:08 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Flowers View Post
Has technology moved on and are these once indispensable tools completely unnecessary, for ever? If not, the pool of people sufficiently talented to use them seems to be shrinking to the point of irredeemable evaporation.
Outside the studio, I don't know of many (any) boom ops using fisher booms. Local 695 in L.A. has training sessions still, but outside of that, I'm not aware of a lot of that work or training being done.

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Old August 31st, 2008, 08:30 AM   #6
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I take all your points, but are we not pouring the baby out with the bath water? I concede that Fishers on location are now almost certainly relegated to the past, but it would seem that we are denying ourselves a useful - if seldom used - facility for studio based shoots. I DO believe that a skilled boom operator on a Fisher will, on occasions, give us better quality audio than radio mics or ADR, if natural perspective is still what we are after...we ARE after that, aren't we? Just because it is easier and cheaper to use radio mics doesn't make them sound good, especially if the wardrobe department has decided to use materials that are unhelpful with hiding personal mics. I suppose the point that I was exploring was that there will be occasions when boom is best. The booms themselves may well be there, in the corner of the studio, but what a pity it will be if no one can operate them.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 10:07 AM   #7
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Is that why the intelligibility of modern dialog has all the clarity of somebody speaking with their head under their own armpit. I was blaming digital audio.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 10:07 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Flowers View Post
I take all your points, but are we not pouring the baby out with the bath water? I concede that Fishers on location are now almost certainly relegated to the past, but it would seem that we are denying ourselves a useful - if seldom used - facility for studio based shoots. I DO believe that a skilled boom operator on a Fisher will, on occasions, give us better quality audio than radio mics or ADR, if natural perspective is still what we are after...we ARE after that, aren't we? Just because it is easier and cheaper to use radio mics doesn't make them sound good, especially if the wardrobe department has decided to use materials that are unhelpful with hiding personal mics. I suppose the point that I was exploring was that there will be occasions when boom is best. The booms themselves may well be there, in the corner of the studio, but what a pity it will be if no one can operate them.
Back in the old days, when I was at film school, I recall getting exactly one lesson on the Fisher. I too really liked the Fisher although I can't say I ever was on more than a handful of shoots where one was used and that was many years ago.

Yes, RIP Fisher boom, you have been mostly made obsolete.

Dan
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Old August 31st, 2008, 10:27 AM   #9
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Fisher Boom Test

During my time in TV, we were all sent on a 'multi-skilling' course. Electricians were taught to use mixers (both location and studio), cameramen were taught Ohm's Law and I had a terrifying experience operating a studio camera live. Part of the course was 'Fisher Booms for Dummies' or suchlike. The test, after about 2 hours practice, was to place paper cups in various parts of the studio. Having wedged a cup on the microphone end of the boom, we had to pick up each cup with the boom by wedging the cups into each other. A test of distance perception and dexterity which I failed, along with everyone else. (Even then skilled boom ops were rare)

These guys still exist, just, nearly all in TV studios now. I really do think a preservation order should be slapped on 'em.

PS. Bob Hart (2 above) really is in the right of it! Except that it is not just reliance on radio mics: it does seem that some actors are not taught how to speak intelligibly. Ah, but the passion is there! Oh, that's alright, then.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 01:40 PM   #10
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I was also trained to op mole and fisher booms and even swung a pole in the field on several occasions but one I wimped out and went into post prod havent touched one since the early 90's.

Corrie and emmerdale mainly use booms and a good friend John Emmas has gone from post back to boom on corrie.

Most of the studio dramas still use fisher booms and virtually all location drama still has a 416 hanging out there. The Bill is also done mainly on a 416 pole but radio mics are also available if needed.

Another mate Steve Phillips is doing husstle at the moment and I know he always has preference for booms, I dont think it is dying out as it is still the best way to get tight dialogue that matches the shot size.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 02:31 PM   #11
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Confidence

It was also their knowledge of lighting that impressed me so much with boom ops. On one picture I was on, the boom operator had a rostrum constructed by the stage hands for his Fisher, utterly confident that it would be in the right place not only to reach all the action but to avoid casting shadows. Imagine the cringeing embarrassment if he'd been wrong and had to get the whole thing dismantled... but he wasn't. Again, I think on the same picture, he got the Fisher arm hoisted up to the lighting rail on top of the set to angle downwards. As in the first instance, quite early on in the lighting rig. When boom op and Lighting cameraman understood each other, wonders could be performed. Colin Wood it was- genius!
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Old September 1st, 2008, 06:41 AM   #12
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I've often wondered why no-one is putting a small camera in place of the mic? All the things that make them so good for accurate audio 'collection' would be brilliant for a camera - kind of a polecam with adjustable reach?
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Old September 1st, 2008, 07:41 AM   #13
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I think that's an excellent idea! It would provide training for boom ops who so far have used poles only, and provide employment for the guys who know how to work 'em. One thing though, is there video cable in existence that is flexible enough to go round the pulleys?
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Old September 29th, 2008, 10:41 AM   #14
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Of the several hundred varieties of 75-ohm coaxial cable that exist, some are very flexible indeed. The range is rather reat, from 1.5 inch Heliax that almost won't bend at all, to very skinny cables less than 1/8 inch diameter. Take your pick (from many suppliers, perhaps The Wireman), acquire the appropriate connectors (perhaps from Pasternak), and build whatever cables you need. You may sometimes need a special tool to attach the connector, but it's rarely as expensive as just a few commercially-made cable assemblies would be -- and you can make all the cables you need, in the lengths you need, of highest quality, at pennies per foot and a buck or two for each connector.
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Old October 12th, 2008, 05:43 PM   #15
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Melbourne, Australia, fisher boom ops

I currently work on a fisher boom, rotating between a team of about five of us. Yes, there are not many who can do it, and training people appears to be rare. However, I myself was trained up early this year.

As far as radio mics go: I think that with props noise (like a boiling kettle, creaking chairs, or a 'buzzing' light,) the last thing we would want is more rustle from the talents clothes and accessories rubbing on the radio mics.

When using the fisher, all we have to deal with is boom shadow.
I think the fishers are there to stay, as long as drama is still around!

Jess
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