Over the past year I have been working as the executive producer of an independent art film, and in that capacity was looking yesterday at some of the great raw footage the director had shot. The boom microphone was visible at the top of many of the shots, which reminded me of an unpleasant college experience.
I organized the classic film series for my university, which competed fairly unsuccessfully for audience with the latest blockbusters. In an attempt to boost interest, we asked the university newspaper’s film critic to watch our next planned film in advance. We set everything up in a small office and ran the film for the critic on a regular 16mm projector using a pop-up screen such as exists in countless class rooms around the country. In his published review, the critic mocked at length the fact that he could see the boom mike in many of the shots, which he cited as proof that the movies we showed were poorly made. The review drove our normally sparse attendance down to even more dispiriting level: Me and the projectionist.
The university critic’s gripe was a common one. Similar snark is unleashed by made many film goers today, usually accompanied by some smug commentary about how those fools in Hollywood can spend $100 million on a movie and still apparently not know how to keep the microphone out of the shot.
But it’s all utter nonsense. When you make a movie you shoot a broader shot than you intend the audience to see. If you project raw film (i.e., the day’s rushes) onto a pop-up screen 10 feet away, you will see all the unneeded “edge material” but you know to ignore it (unless you are a dopey university newspaper film critic). When the film is shown in theaters, the print goes out to venues that have widely varying screen sizes, framings, throws and cameras. The job of the projectionist is to make the film look good keeping those variables in mind. When you seem the boom mike at the top of your local movie screen, it generally means the projectionist, not the film maker, has screwed up by showing the audience something that should be off-screen.