Sound Department

Recording all sound on set or on location is the work of the Production Sound Crew which includes Production Sound Mixers, Boom Operators, and Sound Assistants; on bigger films, Sound Trainees may also be employed. Although film is considered a primarily visual medium, much of the storytelling and emotional resonance of a script is conveyed through dialogue.

Ensuring that the dialogue recorded during film shoots is suitably clear is a complex job; most film sets are challenging for the Sound Department as there are often unwanted noises to deal with, or the desired camera shots hamper the placing of microphones.

Although it is sometimes easier to re-record dialogue after the shoot (post-syncing), most actors and Directors prefer to use the sound captured on set or location. Production Sound Crews also record atmosphere (without dialogue) or “wild” tracks on set or on location to assist the Post Production Sound department during the editing process.

Production Sound Crews work closely together throughout the shoot. Production Sound Mixers are usually positioned off set and record the sound captured by microphones onto DAT (Digital Audio Tape) or increasingly, onto hard disk recorders. Boom Operators are responsible for positioning various microphones so that the best possible quality sound is captured, and for ensuring that the boom microphone is not in shot.

Sound Assistants check all equipment and batteries, and on larger films may also swing a second boom. Where they are employed, Sound Trainees perform general running duties and learn on the job. The recorded sound files are the raw materials used by the Post Production Sound department to help create the sonic identity of each film.

All members of the Production Sound crew need a thorough knowledge of acoustics, electronics, microphones and digital sound recording equipment, precise attention to detail, and excellent communication skills. They usually acquire some basic sound recording skills before starting out at junior levels within Production Sound departments and eventually progressing to become Production Sound Mixers.

1. Production Sound Mixer

Production Sound Mixers are responsible for the difficult job of ensuring that dialogue recorded during filming is suitably clear. Although much of the storytelling and the emotional impact of a script are conveyed through dialogue, most film sets are challenging environments for Mixers because there are often unwanted noises to deal with, or the required camera shots hamper the placing of microphones.

It is sometimes easier to re-record actors’ dialogues after shooting (post-syncing), but the majority of Directors prefer to use the actual lines of dialogue recorded during filming by Production Sound Mixers, Boom Operators and Sound Assistants using multiple microphones and DAT (Digital Audio Tape) or hard disk recorders. Production Sound Mixers work on a freelance basis on features and drama productions. The hours are long and the work often involves long periods working away from home.

What is the job?

Approximately two weeks before the first day of principal photography, Production Sound Mixers meet with the Producer and Director to discuss their creative intentions, (is the sound naturalistic or stylised, etc.), technical requirements and budgetary issues. They also meet with the Costume Department and Visual Effects Supervisors to discuss the placement of microphones on or around the actors, and visit all locations to check for potential sound problems.

When filming begins, Sound Crews arrive on set half-an-hour before call time to prepare their equipment. During rehearsals, when the Director, Director of Photography and actors run through all camera moves and lighting, the Production Sound Mixer and Boom Operator plan where they should place microphones to obtain the best possible sound quality. After each take, Production Sound Mixers (who are situated off set, but close by), check the quality of sound recording and, if necessary, ask for another take.

In the same way as Directors endeavour to ensure that they have adequate overall coverage of each scene, Production Sound Mixers work with the Boom Operator to select suitable types of microphone (e.g. close-ups or extreme angled shots may require clip microphones that do not appear in frame), and carefully reposition these microphones for each set-up, to ensure adequate sound coverage.

If music is required in a scene, Production Sound Mixers also set up playback equipment and speakers for the actors. At the end of each shooting day, Production Sound Mixers may send the day’s sound recording files to post production via ISDN as well as handing over the meticulously labelled originals to the Camera Assistant, who packages them up with the camera rushes. Production Sound Mixers finish work when the film wraps (is completed).

Essential knowledge and skills

Production Sound Mixers must have a good understanding of electronics and an expert knowledge of acoustics and all sound recording, playback and editing equipment (analogue and digital). They must understand the requirements of the other departments on feature films, including: Camera, Rigging, Art Department, Wardrobe, Hair and Make-Up. They should also be aware of, and comply with, on set protocols. Production Sound Mixers must be computer literate.

Key Skills include:

  • Excellent aural skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Diplomacy and tact
  • Ability to give and to accept direction
  • Precise attention to detail
  • Ability to make decisions under pressure
  • Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures

2. Sound Assistant / Trainee

Sound Assistants are the third members of the Production Sound Crew and provide general back up and support to the Production Sound Mixer and the Boom Operator. They are responsible for checking all stock, microphones and batteries and making sure that the sound department runs as smoothly as possible.

On large scale productions, Sound Assistants may be called upon to operate the second boom, recording all off-camera lines of dialogue, i.e., lines spoken by characters who do not appear on screen. Sound Assistants usually work on a freelance basis with the same Production Sound Mixer and Boom Operator. Most Sound Assistants work on both film and television productions, unless they work with a Production Sound Mixer who works exclusively on feature films. The hours are long and the work often involves long periods working away from home.

What is the job?

Sound Assistants usually begin work on the first day of shooting, arriving on set half an hour before call time, with the rest of the Sound Crew. They help to unload the sound van, and working with the Boom Operator, check that all equipment is prepared and fully operational. During the Director’s rehearsals with the Director of Photography and actors, Sound Assistants must pay close attention in case they are required to move positional microphones, or assist the Boom Operator to plan for difficult shots.

Sound Assistants also help to lay carpet if required to stop any unwanted noise being picked up from the studio or location floor. When other members of the crew or guests visiting the set use headphones with audio receivers to check for dialogue continuity, it is the Sound Assistant’s responsibility to ensure that they are in good working order, and that their batteries are fully charged. If there is unwanted noise during recording (talking, coughing, traffic, etc.), Sound Assistants are required to find the source of the problem and deal with it as quickly and tactfully as possible so that the shooting schedule is not disrupted.

Sound Assistants help the Production Sound Mixer to attach clip microphones to actors’ clothing. They also help the Boom Operator to negotiate cables on the studio floor during recording, and at the end of each shooting day, to ensure that all the sound discs containing the sound rushes are correctly packaged and labelled. They are employed until the end of the shoot, when they make sure that all equipment is carefully packed away and that any remaining sound paperwork is handed over to the production office.

On large scale productions where Sound Assistants are required to swing a second boom, Sound Trainees are usually employed to perform general running duties (making tea and coffee for the Sound Crew, helping with unpacking, cleaning and setting up all sound equipment, etc.). They also shadow the Production Sound Mixer and Boom Operator, learning while gaining invaluable on-the-job experience.

Essential knowledge and skills

Sound Assistants must have a basic understanding of electronics and sound recording. They must have a good, reliable working knowledge of a variety of microphones and how to position them for sound.

Key Skills include:

  • Excellent aural skills
  • Dexterity and agility
  • Ability to anticipate
  • Good timing
  • Precise attention to detail
  • Diplomacy and sensitivity on set
  • Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures

3. Boom Operator

Boom Operators are responsible for placing the microphone in the best position, without impeding camera operation, or hampering actors’ freedom to perform. Clear dialogue is expected by cinema audiences, and this is usually achieved by placing microphones suitably close to the actors saying their lines. This is part of the Boom Operators’ responsibility, and is a physically difficult enterprise, requiring a great deal of skill and experience.

Boom Operators work on a freelance basis, and report directly to Production Sound Mixers in Production Sound Departments. They usually specialise in either film or television, but may also work on commercials. The hours are long and the work often involves long periods working away from home.

What is the job?
Boom Operators assist the Production Sound Mixer and operate the boom microphone, which is either hand-held on a long arm or dolly mounted (on a moving platform). If radio or clip microphones are required, Boom Operators position them correctly around the set or location, or on actors’ clothing. Boom Operators are responsible for positioning microphones so that Sound Mixers can capture the best quality dialogue and sound effects. If this is done well, a great deal of money can be saved by not having to re-record (post-sync) the dialogue at a later stage.

Boom Operators are also responsible for all the sound equipment, ensuring that it is in good working order, and carrying out minor repairs where necessary.

Boom Operators begin work on the first day of principal photography, after reading the script several times, and familiarising themselves with the characters and their lines of dialogue. Members of the Sound Department arrive half-an-hour before call time, in order to unload and set up all the sound equipment.

Boom Operators are given “sides” (small booklets of pages from the script that are to be shot each day), so that they can memorise all lines of dialogue and anticipate when to move the boom during filming. During the morning rehearsal with the Director, Director of Photography and the actors, Boom Operators carefully note all planned camera movements and lighting requirements, so that they can ensure that the microphone does not accidentally fall into shot or cast shadows.

Boom Operators are on set virtually all day, positioned with the Camera Crew, with whom they must develop good working relationships as they are often asked to move slightly because of lights or camera angles; Boom Operators may also make similar reciprocal requests. They finish work when the film wraps (is completed).


Essential knowledge and skills
Boom Operators need a basic understanding of electronics. They should also have a good working knowledge of all sound recording equipment and the characteristics of microphones, as well as lighting techniques and camera lens angles.


Key Skills include:

  • Excellent aural skills
  • Physical stamina, dexterity and agility
  • Good timing and the ability to anticipate
  • A good memory
  • Patience, flexibility and reliability
  • Precise attention to detail
  • Diplomacy and sensitivity on set
  • Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.
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