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Sound Department Case Study

Joanna Pajak, Boom Operator | June 2017


Joanna's experience crosses over from post-production sound to working as a boom op on dramas such as Casualty.

When did you begin your career in the TV industry?

My career began the year I graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2008. By my final year of the 3 year Professional Stage Management course, I had developed an interest in sound for TV and radio. As well as stage managing, set building, lighting operating and props making, which I enjoyed equally as much, my training included recording, track laying, boom operating and mixing various TV and radio productions on location and in studios. BOVTS students are very lucky to be able to train in an ex BBC recording and post production facility, Christchurch Studios. My final year work placement was with Worthy FM at Glastonbury Festival and I started full­-time employment as a runner at Films@59 Post Production in Bristol in August 2008. They were quick to realise my interest in sound, allowing me to sit in on many dubbing sessions and after working hard, in 2009 they put me forward for a traineeship as a Sound Trainee on the BBC Casualty production.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to enter the TV industry?

My background has been very orientated around entertainments and theatre. I always had strong encouragement from my grandfather who had been a director for the BBC during his career and I had always wanted to work in the entertainment and media industry after leaving school. Performing was my passion from an early age. I studied drama and media at school and
became a member of youth theatre groups. Then, after completing a year on a Performing Arts course at Bath Spa University from 2004­2005, I realised my strongest skills were technical and organisational rather than performance based. It was at this point I decided to apply to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and was one of the lucky ones to be accepted onto the technical course.

What was the best piece of advice you were given by your tutors/teachers to prepare you for the working world?
It doesn’t matter what your level of experience is, it is your attitude to the job and your willingness to learn that shines through. Employers make their mind up about a person within five minutes of meeting somebody. Timekeeping, people skills and reliability are key to successful candidates.

Did you take on any unpaid positions to gain experience?

After graduating I carried out work experience with Original 106.5 radio station and for a BBC radio drama recording at the BBC studios in Bristol. I also volunteered again with WorthyFM at Glastonbury Festival for 2 years running. There were also opportunities through Films@59, to assist on local TV productions whenever they needed extra crew. I would recommend taking up any opportunity to get involved in any productions. It is well worth putting together a CV and emailing companies and individuals, letting them know you are available and willing to help out.

How long did it take you to get your first permanent (or fixed term) paying job, and how long did it take you to consistently find paying work?

Once I was approaching the end of my traineeship with Casualty, I asked what opportunities were available and I was referred to a Line Manager for the upcoming production of Trollied Series 1, starting two weeks after my contract on Casualty ended. During my work on Trollied I got to know people in the industry and asked for the details of upcoming productions I had heard about. I emailed and rang sound recordists and line managers and I was soon contracted for the next job.

What was your first impression of a studio set/ location shoot?

I was impressed by the very specific jobs each person had with very defined roles and responsibilities. It is a fast paced, high pressured environment which took a bit of getting used to but there’s plenty of scope for good humour and friend making as long as you are willing and able to work hard above all.

When working as a trainee what are your responsibilities, and what have you found hardest to master?

As a runner for Films@59 I was responsible for the smooth running of the company from logging media and equipment in and out of the building, making refreshments for clients, keeping the suites clean and tidy, welcoming clients into the building and carrying out tasks as and when required.

When I became a Sound Trainee I was responsible for charging batteries, distributing headsets to the director, script supervisor and producer, running cables out from the mixer to the boom operators, stepping in with the second boom whenever required and general technical assistance for the sound department. It required a lot of multitasking, working long hours and under pressure. Forward thinking was what made our department run successfully but it was hard to learn. There are so many variables that sometimes, when you think you are prepared and set up for a camera turnaround or set move, the plans change and you have made more work for yourself to change it all back.

What set/location etiquette have you learnt that you think all new entrants should know?

In production, I learnt quite quickly that when the 1st AD calls “turnover” the whole production must be quiet. A lot of emphasis is placed on creating a sound proof studio including muting voices, mobile phones and footsteps.

Its also important never to stand in front of a lamp or the camera while on set. It creates shadows where the Director of Photography hadn’t intended and blocks the view for all who need to see the shot.

Being late for work is generally not acceptable so it is always best to check the traffic and weather or anything else that might inhibit you from being present and ready to begin the day.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I have had the absolute honour of working with Matt le Blank and David Schwimmer. I was on camera with Matt le Blanc as a staged boom operator on an episode of Episodes, Series 4 and on another occasion I put their radio mics on in the dressing room of Matt le Blanc as the two of them were discussing a reunion of Friends.

Having a substantial amount of experience under your belt now, what advice would you give to those just starting out?

It might seem like a very competitive and cut/throat industry you are starting out in but there’s a way in for everyone. Keep chipping away and people will recognise your enthusiasm. There are a lot of people with the ability to help, but you will be expected to start at the bottom. If you work hard you’ll get where you want to go.

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