Boom mic operator from Elk Grove wants work to be heard, not seen
Elk Grove Village native Eric Anthony wanted to be a film director when he was studying at Chicago's Columbia College.
That all changed when a classmate asked him to "boom" his student movie.
Anthony, who's 6-feet, 1-inch tall, was perfect for the job of placing a large microphone from a long pole to capture every word uttered by actors in a scene.
"People like tall boom operators because they can see over the cameras," Anthony explained.
He took an instant liking to the mic, though the job is trickier than it sounds. A boom operator has to anticipate camera angles and actors' lines while keeping the equipment and its shadow out of the scene.
"Our job is to get the best sound while staying outside of the lens," said Anthony, who works as a team with the sound mixer. "When you use a boom mic, you're guaranteed to get the best sound possible."
Anthony earned his film and video degree from Columbia and knew the job he wanted. But getting it took more than that. He broke into the Hollywood sound department the old-fashioned Chicago way: He conned his way in.
It was 2009, and Michael Mann had been shooting "Public Enemies" in Crown Point, Indiana, where Anthony lived at the time.
"Mom was tired of me laying around the house," Anthony said. "She told me to go get an internship with those guys."
Universal Pictures, the studio behind "Public Enemies," wasn't sponsoring internships. Anthony went to the set anyway. "I didn't know what I was doing," he said.
He spotted some film crew members and asked them for the name of the movie's sound mixer. A woman pulled out a call sheet and told him.
Anthony followed the crew into the lunchroom. A security guard stopped him.
"Hey, where is your name tag?" he demanded.
"Oh," Anthony replied, "they're going to take my picture at lunch and give me my tag later today."
"OK, go right in."
Anthony ingratiated himself with the "Public Enemies" sound department, whose members let him hang around and learn the job.
Since then, Anthony, 30, has operated the boom mic for TV shows such as "Empire," "Chicago Fire," "Sense8," "Betrayal" and the pilot to "The Exorcist."
"I've gotten the chance to work on some pretty cool things," he said.
There's more to the job that meets the eye and ear.
"I make decisions on the fly on what I see," Anthony said. He must be sure the lighting doesn't cast a microphone shadow (or risk the scene's turning up on a film bloopers website). He needs to be aware of camera placement so he can move around.
"I'm also the eyes for the sound mixer, who's sitting back in his cart mixing the sound coming in from different sources," he said.
Anthony said the toughest part of working in the sound department has nothing to do with sound.
"It's all about maintaining friendships with other crew members and keeping things working together while keeping the sound mixer's interests a top priority," he said.
"Hair, makeup, costumes, set dressings, that's all stuff that's going directly into the lens. The sound department works around the lens. So you've got to maintain friendships on set to get them to help you."
Anthony, who lives in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood with his cats Baker and Mouse, is on a work hiatus while TV network shows prepare for the fall season.
Does he ever notice sound quality in other movies and TV shows?
"I don't pay attention to it, unless it's something major wrong," he said. "Funny thing is that you can get away with a bad picture, because that's subject to interpretation. But there's no way you can get away with bad sound. It's the one constant, the bridge that carries you through the entire movie -- unless it goes bad."
Anthony said height and perseverance are the leading qualities a boom mic operator needs.
"I remember early on holding my arms up in the air for four or five minutes and thinking it's the worst thing ever," he confessed. "Now, I can now do 15 to 20 minutes straight."
He pointed out that boom mic operators learn to position themselves so they can be comfortable on set.
"You don't have to be Superman to do this job," he said.
• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are searching for suburbanites in showbiz who'd make good columns. Know one? Email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.