by Eli Moskowitz
We hear these words on set all the time. Then we turn around and see production ignore safety to accommodate the pace at which the producers would prefer we work. For many Fishpole Boom Operators, this is a physical safety issue. Many Directors have stopped worrying about the length of a take because they no longer need to worry about the cost and supply of every foot of film now that cameras have become digital. Keeping your arms and hands up above your head is a taxing workout for the most avid gym-goer. Now add to that workout: the weight of the fishpole, the weight of the microphone and mount, the weight of the zeppelin and other wind reduction if you are shooting outside, plus the transmitter; no matter how small they are now; adds weight too… OK, now consider all that weight and the effort of holding it above your head for long periods while you are also moving around to cover multiple actors and trying to stay out of the shot and avoiding throwing any shadows. Phew!! It’s even exhausting just talking about it.
ENTER THE XO-BOOM
Over the years, there have been many attempts to create helpful safety rigs for those long takes when you can’t put your arms down with a long extension to your pole. Some of those other rigs were so over designed by a specific operator that no one else could really use it, while others tried to limit the amount of strain to the body but left the user almost locked into position. The XO-Boom from Cinema Devices is designed for everyone with safety and versatility in mind to assist on a modern production. Cinema Devices has had a wide variety of camera rigs to help with handheld stabilization and many Steadicam operators have used their products on set for years. Now the company has brought the Sound Department a safety rig of our own. At its core, the XO-Boom works as a “steadiboom,” with the padded vest distributing the weight evenly on your body. The height adjustable mast at the center of this design does the heavy lifting of holding the fishpole in the air, leaving the operator to focus on the task of getting the sound without worrying your arms will start shaking during a long take. The tensioned quick-release clam shell can accommodate the diameter of the standard fishpoles on the market with soft sound deadening foam on the inside of the shell. For counter force, there is a rubber foam inset hook connected to a latex elastomer tubing that secures to the vest and gives your pole balance when using the longer extensions. A pair of custom-designed Squid clamps made by Cinema Devices keeps that hook from sliding up and down the pole.
Since we are always on the move and even though you may prefer to boom right or left hand dominant, that isn’t always a luxury of the spaces we find ourselves shooting in. So, the XO-Boom is just as versatile. The mast and over-the-shoulder padded strap can be moved from one side to the other as fits your needs.
If it stopped there, that would be enough but Adam Teichman, the designer of the vest, took it a step further and thought of the ENG bag mixers out in the field, too. There are a pair of posts that screw into the bottom of the front of the vest to support your bag and a pair of clips that help keep your bag secure to the rig—all without adding any additional tension or strain to the user’s back or neck. The weight is distributed evenly to rest on the hips and avoid the risk of injury.
I am a second-generation sound man who was lucky enough to grow up on Hollywood sets going to work with my dad, Edward L. Moskowitz CAS. My fascination with the magic of movies and television began with me sitting in the sound booth with my dad on Golden Girls and Empty Nest, watching the pros make television. I am one of the few lucky sound men doing the job that they imagined they would have when they were a kid. In my teens, I attended the performing arts magnet program at Pacoima Middle School and worked with other kids my age to bring our own short stories to life on the school’s audiovisual equipment. Looking back, I see what a great learning experience I had at a young age.
I feel privileged I had the opportunity to learn from my own father and worked with him on several shows at the end of his career, including sitcoms Anger Management and Ground Floor and the single-camera series The Guest Book. There were many other talented mixers, boom operators, and utilities who also taught me the tricks of the trade along the way. I moved between sitcoms, such as Call Me Kat with Dana McClure before he retired and continued with Elyse Pecora when she took over this past season, to joining Bruce Peter’s crew for the last few seasons of his career on The Conners and Bob Hearts Abishola. Whenever possible, I worked on single-camera series like Supergirl and Lethal Weapon, filling in on feature films, numerous commercials, pilots, and low-budget projects to hone my skills.
I joined the union in April 2012 after completing most of my Y-16A hours on iRob! (thanks to the UPM Tony Carey). Working my way up from a trainee utility, I took any opportunity offered to me as a second or third boom and this gave me the opportunity many times to work fishpole scenes. At the beginning of my career, I was usually the younger man on the crew and, like most young men, I never thought about my back or shoulders. I grabbed that pole, got out there, and showed them what I had. Luckily, I never injured myself in the over-11-year career I have enjoyed. And I plan to use this XO Boom to make sure that I never do; to protect myself from injury and ensure that I can continue my career for the many years I still have ahead of me.
I first met Adam Tiechman and his business partner Ariel Benarroch at the sound mixers swap meet hosted at Film Tools back in the summer of 2020. After the lockdown began, many of us found time to finally go through the gear we’d collected. The parking lot at the swap meet that morning was filled with some great deals on equipment, both useful and collector’s items. This was also the first time many of us had seen each other since the lockdown began. Adam and Ariel showed up later that day to talk about this new vest rig for the Sound Department. At that time, they lovingly referred to the vest as the “OK boomer.” I quickly saw the potential in what this new safety rig had to offer. Over the past ten years as a union member, I have worked in many different formats from sitcoms to single-camera and small budget ENG-style features, all of which have had long fishpoled scenes. I saw the opportunity for utilizing this incredible new device.
I told them I would speak to the mixers I was working with and hoped that I would have an opportunity to try it out on set. Working with sound mixer Bruce Peters made everything easier. He excitedly gave me the chance to bring the XO-Boom onto CBS’s Bob Hearts Abishola several times while we were on the backlot filming large exterior scenes. After each opportunity to use the experimental rig, I gave Adam my thoughts and suggestions for improvement, and he would update the prototype to incorporate my suggestions before asking when I could use the newer prototype on set again.
One day, we were doing a Nigerian funeral procession out on the backlot of Warner Bros. Studios, using a pair of Scheops stereo microphones with elbows in a custom shock mount to form the XY stereo needed to capture the singing and instruments used in the scene. While the Camera Department had their standard four studio cameras that day, they also needed a Steadicam operator to shoot the processional. When the Steadicam operator donned his vest rig that day, I pulled out the newest XO-Boom prototype to use with my fishpole. I was able to move and glide alongside the Steadicam with ease and the fishpole was at almost full 22-foot extension to allow me to get over the camera to the singers. Immediate relief and enthusiasm for this device came when I did not have to put the strain on my arms or back to keep that long pole up in the air for more than an half-hour. After the first take, I checked in with Bruce to see how it sounded and he was very happy; none of my footsteps had transferred any noise to the vest, boom, or mics as I moved with the camera. The production team at Bob Hearts Abishola has been very positive about my use of the prototype on set, and I look forward to bringing the newly built production line model out next season.
The XO-Boom is not just for use as a field rig. I recently needed it on the new Mike O’Malley NBC show We Thought We Were Done. When I arrived on set one Thursday morning, our AD came to speak to me about a scene that we would be shooting in two sets simultaneously. Normally, of course, that’s no problem. We are equipped for that; one Fisher Boom system in each set. But this was different. We needed both Fishers in the large apartment set where one character comes down the stairs and moves all the way across the set. Then someone would need to use a fishpole to pick up John Cryer’s dialogue once we transitioned into the second room, where he was making a “quick phone call.” We all knew that “quick phone call” meant that I would be standing there for a while with the cameras running take after take. So, we offered production a few choices: They could either rent another ped from Fisher and bring in another boom operator and pusher, or they could agree to a cost-effective safety rig option that would allow me to work the scene as a boom operator moving at the pace that the production moves at without having to worry about back or shoulder injuries that are more likely to occur when the take exceeds a few minutes. The producers were happy to hear about this new cost-effective and safer option and authorized my use of the XO-Boom. Everyone involved was pleased with this solution.
This past Spring, at the 100th Annual NAB Show in Las Vegas, was the world debut of the XO-Boom from Cinema Devices. I went out and walked around the show floor for several hours while wearing a full XO-Boom system, complete with an extended fishpole from K-Tek. The strain on my shoulders and back were negligible and I was no worse for wear the next day. The reaction from the show-goers was enthusiastic and excited; this is something we have all been waiting for.