Throughout the year, our English class has learned about several technologies that were invented as the film industry developed. Many of these technologies dramatically changed how films are made and how viewers experience them. The most intriguing one for me is the boom microphone. The boom mic is a microphone that works independently from the camera so that noises made by the camera or operators are not recorded in the sound file. It is connected to a long pole that allows the boom operator to have easy access to the sound source. With the long pole, the microphone can be suspended above the actors and the operator can follow the sound source if it is on the move while staying out of the scene. However, there have been instances when the boom mic or the boom operator was unintentionally visible during a scene. Because of the boom microphone’s narrow pick up pattern, the operator can isolate unwanted sounds. Therefore, to prevented noises from being picked up by the microphone, the operator can just turn it away from the unwanted source. One of the first instances of a prototype boom mic was in 1929. Director Dorothy Arzner was directing Paramount’s first talking feature, The Wild Party. The star, Clara Bow, could not get used to the microphones. The microphone reportedly exploded during her first line, which caused a technical problem at the studio. To comfort Bow being nervous about the new sound generation system, Arzner created the “boom mic” to give actors more mobility than stationary microphones would. She did this by rigging a microphone onto a fishing rod. This way, Bow could move more freely on set. This invention changed the history of film. However, a year later, a sound engineer at the Fox film Corporation, named Edmund H. Hansen, filed a patent for a very similar sound-recording device. Another instance of a primitive use of a boom mic was in 1928 on the set of Beggars of Life. Director William A. Wellman instructed the sound man to put the microphone on a broom-handle and walk along with the actors just outside of the frame. This way, he could get a tracking shot of two actors walking down a street. Before the boom microphone, actors had to be static and the microphone had to be hidden and steady. Now, boom microphones are pervasive and are the superior choice for filmmaking due to their unrivaled sound and mobile qualities. Based on what I have learned about boom microphones, I have started to wonder how much is happening on set during filming. There are so many variables to consider when attempting to perfect a scene. The lighting, sound, angle, background, and many other things have to be perfect. I wonder how technology will develop in the future to minimize the effort necessary to cater to all these inputs. Maybe a device will be created to void the need for a boom operator. Still, the boom microphone transformed our ability to direct films more easily.
Barson, Michael. “Dorothy Arzner.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 July 1998, www.britannica.com/biography/Dorothy-Arzner#ref1181030.
“Boom Operator (Media).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Sept. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boom_operator_(media).
Moura, Gabe. “A Student’s Guide to the Fundamentals of Filmmaking.” Elements of Cinema, Gabe Moura, 1 Nov. 2015, www.elementsofcinema.com/sound/operating-boom-microphone/.