Mike Duddy is a freelance Sound Recordist / Post Sound Mixer / Audio Engineer, based in the North East of the UK. His recent projects include working on ITV’s Beowulf, the BBC’s Dumping Ground, and on various feature films.
Mike taught two sessions with our first year radio production students yesterday (where I lecture on audio production & journalism) on how to use boom poles effectively, and what to expect from a career in sound recording.
So, the essentials. “Being a boom operator is all about creative problem solving.” Mike explained the art of being as discreet as possible whilst carrying out the role on set, whilst seeking the best quality audio possible.
“A little difference in space makes a big difference in sound, so you have to get as close to the dialogue as possible, without getting the boom in frame.” They’re the very basic principles, of course, but the more you research and the more you practice, the more skilled you can become. Down to memorising the spacial qualities of each lens being used. That way, “if you hear a crew member shout out for a specific lens change, you’ll know instinctively how close you need to be.”
Mike asked the class what qualities they thought were essential to boom operation. Second suggestion in both groups; being tall. “Being tall is helpful, of course, but it’s not essential.” What’s more essential to the profession is patience, steadiness, an ability to pick up scripts and sequences, and most of all, top-notch stamina.
“You’re always chasing the best “polar pattern” (each different kind of microphone picks up a different shape of sounds around it). It depends on the actors, of course; Hollywood types are professional at repeating movements and delivery in the same way with each take.” But that’s not always the case, and a lot of the time he’s just acting on instinct to best capture the dialogue.
It must be a difficult task, to predict the movement of actors, but I was even more surprised when Mike revealed how he achieves this: “I’ve learned to read neck muscles, they’re usually the first sign that someone is turning their head.”
We’ve chatted about some of the fundamentals of recording sound, but what about the business end? Some students asked Mike about how easy it is to pursue a sound career in the screen industries.
“Broadcasting companies like ITV and the BBC take on very few staff across their TV projects, and mostly use freelancers. It’s standard to get on board with a fixed term contract, for instance my work on Beowulf was a 27 week contract.”
His advice mirrors Joanna Makepeace‘s recommendations in the latest episode of the 99% Perspiration podcast; “It’s mostly ad-hoc work – you’ve got to email producers, email line producers. You’ll often get work from knowing people, knowing sound mixers, knowing boom operators, knowing film crews; so get out there and meet people.”
“It is quite a competitive industry. There’s a lot of jobs, but a lot of people. Stay professional, keep emailing. Don’t pass up opportunities to meet people, to do work experience.”
“A lot of people say they’re keen to get into the industry, but many of them don’t get out there, aren’t proactive. You’ve just got to do better than the guy next to you.”
“I watch a lot of TV shows, and you can get names from the credits and shoot them an email. And then put yourself forward for shadowing, ask if there are any opportunities going…”
And finally, one of our students asked the all-important question of how much you can make from a sound design career working in TV.
“You can get up to about £300 a day working with TV crews as a boom operator. Which is better than a lot of professions!”
“And there’s a lot of work in commercials as well – there’s massive companies who spend millions on 30 seconds, so that’s great to get into; not just for sound, but for other industries too.”
If you want to find out more about Mike Duddy, and what it’s like to have a career in sound recording, make sure you check out his website.
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