The sound crew are responsible for all recorded sound on set (and for minimising any unwanted sound) and operate a variety of microphones and playback equipment. A vital part of understanding and realising the director's creative vision for the atmosphere of a film, good sound recording can save a production time and money in post-production. The sound crew is headed by a production sound mixer, who oversees boom operators, sound assistants and trainees.
Skills needed to work in film and TV sound
- good understanding of electronics and sound recording, playback and editing equipment
- excellent aural skills
- good communication skills
- physical stamina, dexterity and agility
- good memory
- diplomacy and tact
- ability to give and to accept direction
- precise attention to detail
- ability to make decisions under pressure
- knowledge of relevant health and safety legislation and procedure
- understanding of the requirements of other departments including camera, rigging, art department, wardrobe, hair and makeup.
Ways into the sound department
Although there are no formal entry requirements for sound crew, courses are available throughout the UK including specialised short courses, City & Guilds qualifications, BTEC National Certificates and Diplomas, foundation degrees and first degrees, and postgraduate degrees and diplomas.
Short courses are available at a number of institutions, including the National Film and Television School and BBC Training and Development.
Many start their careers working in facilities houses, where they learn about sound equipment, subsequently progressing to working as sound trainees on the floor. As their work affects many other departments, learning about on-set protocol is crucial for all sound crew members, and this knowledge can only be acquired by experience.
Experience may be gained by working on commercials, short films and television productions. Once individuals progress to boom operators, they usually work with the same production sound mixers over a number of years, gaining extensive experience, before being offered the opportunity to head up the sound department.
Working with equipment manufacturers or hire companies can also provide the opportunity to learn about sound equipment and to make useful industry contacts.
Jobs in film and TV sound
Production sound mixer
Before shooting starts, production sound mixers meet with the producer and director to discuss creative intentions, technical requirements and budgetary restrictions. They also liaise with costume, make-up and effects to discuss microphone placement. When filming begins, sound crew arrive early to prepare equipment and rehearse with the director. Production sound mixers check sound quality after every take and work with boom operators to select microphones. At the end of each shooting day, production sound mixers may send the day's recording to post-production.
Boom operator or first assistant sound
Boom operators are responsible for operating booms as well as placing radio or clip microphones to capture the best quality dialogue and sound effects. They must carefully note all planned camera movements and lighting requirements to make sure the microphone is always hidden from the shot. A boom microphone is either hand-held on a long arm or dolly-mounted.
Sound assistant (second assistant sound, third assistant, cable)
Sound assistants begin work on the first day of shooting and help unload, check and set up sound equipment. They find and stop unwanted noise (including laying carpets) and check batteries for the sound crew. They may help attach clip microphones, negotiate cables on the studio floor and ensure sound rushes are correctly filed at the end of the day. Approximately three or four years as a sound junior or trainee is advised before moving into this role.
Sound junior or trainee
Trainees support the sound department personnel while learning on the job. They help set up equipment in advance of filming, including charging batteries, preparing microphones, distributing headphones, laying carpet and fitting tape to the shoes of background artists to reduce sound. They may also assist in minimising noise on set.
Find out more about working in sound
Organisations and websites:
- The National Film and Television School (NFTS)
- The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS)
- The Association of Professional Recording Studios (APRS)
- The Audio Engineering Society
- BECTU (The media and entertainment union)
- Community Media Association
- Hospital Broadcasting Association
- Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA)
- Scottish Screen (the national development agency for the screen industries in Scotland)
- Sonic Arts Network
- Film Sound
- Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects Cinema, edited by David Sonnenschein
- Film Sound, by Elizabeth Weis and John Belton
- Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, by Michael Chion
Some other job roles in technical
Grips are the people on a set who are responsible for safely setting up and manoeuvring the complex machinery needed to make a film or TV show
Electrical and lighting
Big film and TV productions need expert technicians and gaffers to light and wire the sets, assisted by trainees or juniors in the more entry-level roles