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Do you want a mic that captures only what it is looking at/pointing at? Or some other mic that captures a bit of side noise? Obviously a shotgun is essential for this.

Is it best to aim the boom straight down between the two actor/actresses? I don't feel ready to swivel constantly between people.

Is it ok to aim the boom with the pistol grip instead at the group or is it technically best to have the boom overhead, capturing a median point between the talent? What about booming from underneath? Is that ever acceptable in serious productions?

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7 Answers 7

As a wise man (or woman) once said: It All Depends.

Generally, yes, you would boom from overhead for a variety of reasons. It puts the mic closer to the mouth, the ground reflects less sound, it avoids the talents' hands knocking the mic, and there are usually less physical obstacles.

However....sometimes the lighting or the camera angle make it such that booming from below is the best/only option.

Dialogue is the reason you're there. Capturing sound on location is all about the words. You want as little if everything else as possible, especially on a film. Reality TV shows have a bit more flexibility but in those situations lavs are usually picking up your primary dialogue and the boom is there to get random people that enter the shot and interact with your main people. The shoot I'm on right now is all about the lavs. I rarely swing the boom up.

And don't be afraid to move the mic into the right spot depending on who is talking. Keep one eye on who is currently speaking and one eye on who is speaking next so you know where to throw the boom for the next line of dialogue.

What is best in serious productions is whatever gets the best sound possible given the current set of circumstances.

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In my humble experience, and from my POV as a sound post guy, i want as little background noise as possible. Under no circumstances should you try to pick up anything along with the dialogue, as you want things as separate as possible for maximum control in post.

Mic type depends on the situation, to an extent. I've heard good things about using supercardioids indoors, and a shotgun is ideal outdoors. If you have an extra wide shot and a long shotgun (like an 816) around, then i'd go for that.

You really should try to swing between the actors, that's why having a good boomie is so important. From a post POV, wouldn't you want your dialogue to be as on-mic as possible? What you can do is try to learn the lines and practice your swinging in the rehearsals.

The reason for why booming from overhead is such a common practice is, IMHO, that the mouth is often closest to the top of the frame. This means overhead is the closest point to the mouth, and gives you the best signal to noise ration. As far as mic position, what you want to do is push in until you're in shot, then back out until the camera op gives you the thumbs up. For this reason, it's a great idea to develop a good working relationship with whoever's looking through the viewfinder.

DOPs and gaffers will sometimes, in setups with complicated lighting (or outdoors), not want to bother helping you find a good position that avoids boom shadow. They do this by telling you to "just boom from underneath" (i used to get this all the time in TV). Booming from underneath is just not desirable. It'll eliminate any risk of boom shadow, but it probably won't get you in as close as you can be, and you'll pick up more chest resonance, which is not so good.

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I don't much about this myself but I found this interview with the production sound mixer on King's Speech to be very informative (I don't think talks about booming much though):

[vimeo]19920118[/vimeo]

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I've checked that out. The sound in that movie is amazing. All the different mic setups? It's like sound design in mic placement. –  Chris Jun 4 '11 at 21:22
    
Love the video. –  Bruce Jun 6 '11 at 4:24
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In school, We were taught a hierarchy of importance for location sound: Booming from the top is definitely preferable. If it is impossible for the shot, boom from the bottom. If for some reason you can't use a boom mic, a wired lav is preferred. If a wired lav is impossible to use, use a wireless lav. If all of these are impossible, there are a couple things I would say. First off, sucks for you. Secondly, you could plant a mic close by. This is far less preferred than any other method, but if you must, you must.

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Thanks man, good points. –  Chris Jun 5 '11 at 21:04
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I second what everyone else has said.

Ideally I want to boom from above and be inches above the talents head(rarely do I get this). Sound travels up. When you come from above you put the atmosphere/room and all the nonsense sound that comes with it, into the dead side of the shotgun. I aim for the solar plexis for a couple reasons, one is it gives me a bit more full sound in my opinion and two, it is much easier to aim for a larger target than the mouth, especially when your are using your peripheral vision many times. I generally am above the talents head and a bit in front of them to where the angle of attack is about 45 degrees, this allows for better flexibility for moving around and compensating for the unexpected.

Always try and swing the boom. If you just plop it between the 2 talent, then both are off axis. If you try and swing, they still may end up off axis, but you have a much greater chance of being on axis when you try and put them there :)

I think booming from below is a technique invented by camera or the ad, and I avoid it at all possibility.

As far as mic selection, that is highly situational, and depends on your budget. If you are just learning how to swing the boom, a mic with a wider pattern might help out because it increases your chances of putting them in the pattern. If you have a very tight pattern, being a couple inches off will make a huge difference.

Also be very aware of your surroundings. That goes for what is happening dialogue wise, where lights are, where you can be, and what is happening at the location. Make sure you LISTEN, turn off the AC units, Fridges, make sure G&E parked the grip truck an acceptable distance away, gels flapping in the wind. These problems are all easily adjusted when you do them while people are setting up and not once your rolling, nobody wants to work twice, many are willing to correct problems when you stop them before they get all set up. Many times I will take a portable pre like the little battery powered sound devices pre and just walk around with the headphones on and the mic, to pick out problems. It is also my experience that G&E crew are 1000x more willing to help you out than anyone in camera department. Making a movie is a team thing, so make sure you foster good relationships with someone in every department.

Booming is like a dance, ballet if you will. You have to move with the talent in the same time/space that they are and dodge every light and camera at the same time.

If you are also the recordist, aka one man band, learn to speak up when a situation happens. This is something that took me awhile to get over, but most of the time, you are the only one hearing what is happening, so you must have communication if something unacceptable happens in your opinion. If you are the boom op, most of the time you are also sound's communicator of problems, because your right there on set. Choose your battles wisely though.

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Thanks for your answer, I will use your tips on my next project! Very helpfull.

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The recordist should prioritise capturing dialogue at the best quality possible.

This is generally always from above;

  • you will pick up less low end resonance from the chest
  • you get a clearer dialogue recording
  • it will block more background sound out
  • aim the boom at the solar plexus, never at the mouth
  • have a lose grip on the boom and practice swiveling with the dialogue
  • lapel mic as a back up if the budget is there for it
  • get as close in as possible with the mic

BE on set for the blocking to see where you can boom from without casting shadows, if you do, ask lighting for a flag to block your angle out.

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