The film is over; credits roll across the screen. Actors, producers, directors, costume designers, and ... boom operators? "Gaffer and best boy are some others that people latch on to," says Tommy Sturgis, known to his crewmates as "Sturge." He is one of the premier boom operators in town, and today Tuesday is his day off. He eases his massive frame into the opposite chair, beer in hand, and begins to explain life behind the scenes of a film.
The boom is actually the stick that holds the mic, and boom operating is microphone placement to record dialogue and effects. The microphones must be held in designated places to catch the sound perfectly, and they must be as close to the actor as possible without getting in the shot or "dipping in." Microphones get into the shots a lot, meaning another take. "If you don't dip in, you're not doing your job," Sturgis says. "Either that or you're the most awesome person ever."
Sturgis' impressive résumé comprises The Ringer, Friday Night Lights, Infamous, Grindhouse, and every Richard Linklater film since Waking Life, including Fast Food Nation. "All of Rick's shoots are good times," he says about working with Linklater. "For Fast Food Nation, we'd go and shoot Mexican slaughterhouses for a day and then go to the bar and let loose." He is currently working on the set of Gary the Tennis Coach in and around Austin. "I had to turn my head a couple times this week to keep from laughing," Sturgis says. "Every take ends with the crew cracking up. It's a good, old-fashioned comedy."
Sturgis did a lot of sound work while earning his film degree from Florida State University. No one wanted to do sound, and he loved everything about filmmaking, so he began to do grip and electric work. He took a gig helping out a graduate student with a road movie that brought him to Austin where he began filling in when others took days off. Eventually he built up enough experience to begin working as a freelance boom operator primarily with sound mixer Ethan Andrus.
For every take of every shot, 12 hours a day, five days a week, Sturgis is on his feet, boom in hand. At times it can take more than 30 takes to get a shot right, hence this saying among crews: "What's the most exciting day of your life? Your first day on the set. What's the most boring day of your life? Your second day on the set."
However, as it goes with most jobs, some days are more exciting than others. One film shoot had actors wading through a Louisiana bayou at night. The director tried to convince the crew to join them, arguing that they were receiving hazard pay for such situations. "If you took a light and shined it, you could see 100 pair of golden, glowing alligator eyes," Sturgis says. He and his colleagues refused.