Interview with Jack Friedman (Boom Operator) from The Matrix (1999)

By Paul Martin February 9th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix

Archival interview with Jack Friedman, from the now defunct official Matrix website.

MATRIX: What is your role within the production of this film?

JACK: As the boom operator I operate the microphone. I like to see this as the vision side of the sound department, I operate the microphone like a camera. It is directional, and if an actor moves away from the camera I try to keep it in perspective, make it sound like the angle of the shot. But from the camera department’s point of view, my job is to keep the microphone out of their shot. From the sound department’s point of view my job is to keep the microphone as close to the edge of the shot as possible without throwing shadows, and collect good, clean dialogue. The boom is the stick that the microphone is attached to.

MATRIX: I just saw you with a boom over a shot that had no dialogue. What was the point of that?

JACK: We recorded the effect in case the sound effect was good and usable. In this case the effect was ordinary, just a splash. A type of whoosh may have happened as he came out of the hole. It was a scene that cost a lot of time and money to set up, so we rolled some tape because it is something you cannot reconstruct to get that sound again.

MATRIX: Do have any interesting stories about scenes that you have worked on with this film?

JACK: Most of my work on this project has been straight forward because most of the dialogue is covered with close ups. The exciting part for me is getting the job done without throwing shadows or being in shot. But I have done some pretty weird things: I have been flat on my back under a desk between an actress’s legs when, unfortunately, that is the only place I can be.

MATRIX: What other films have you been involved with?

JACK: I have been stringing boom for 25 years, so I have done 50 plus movies. I do like my job, I think it is the second best job on the set after the camera operator because we are a department unto ourselves.

MATRIX: You are involved in all the takes?

JACK: We are totally involved. A lot of the excitement of being a boom operator has to do with being out in front of the camera with the actors, away from the rest of the crew. This means that I am privy to a lot of the conversations between actors and directors, or between the actors themselves which I really like. I like to hear a director directing and wonder how they come up with that sort of stuff.

MATRIX: What is your sense of Larry and Andy?

JACK: I think they are fantastic, their vision is very clear to everybody, aside from being a pair of real gentlemen. What they are achieving on this movie is a first for me. I have never seen this kind of stuff while working on $2 or $3 million Australian movies. They are at the cutting edge, have a lot of perseverance and marvelous patience. Neither of them have ever lost it. I think this is a pinnacle for most of our careers.

MATRIX: Do you feel that they work well with the actors?

JACK: Yes I do. When I listen to Larry and Andy speaking to them, sometimes the actors ask very hard questions, “Why this word?” or “Why do I turn around?”, and they will try and give them an honest answer that has to do with their vision, rather than just because they had said so.

MATRIX: Have you put radio microphones on Carrie Anne, Keanu and Laurence?

JACK: Yes I have, we use radio microphones a lot. This is another area where the boom operator has to have people skills, sometimes actors don’t want to have a radio microphone, and it is up to me to get them to wear it. It is often a case of being sensitive to their wants and knowing that maybe I can come back in five minutes and try again or realizing that I should forget it. Someone like Keanu is very intense when he comes on set, you can see he doesn’t want to be disturbed, so I try to mike him as discreetly as possible, hardly touching him, almost levitating around him. Carrie Anne is a different kind of person, she keeps talking all the time and fixes my hair while I am attaching the microphone. Laurence will sometimes tell me a joke and other times he would not want to talk to me or make eye contact, which I appreciate and respect. Over the years we have developed techniques of attaching radio mikes so you don’t have to undress the actor to hide it because they are much smaller and more sensitive. So we need to build up some sort of rapport as we come in physical contact with the actors, not to mention personal hygiene. And hopefully I gain kudos from them for that respect I give them because they feel that I am understanding. The sound department is just two people here in a crew of 500, one of us to operate the microphone, the other the tape, sometimes a third to manage the cable; so there are 498 people working to create the visual, and only two for the sound. You are negotiating virtually all day with everybody: “Can you move that lamp it is buzzing, that lamp is making me cause a shadow, would you mind putting carpet here?”… it is never ending, but it is part of the job.

MATRIX: Is this the largest picture you have worked on?

JACK: Yes. Although I did ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ a couple of years ago. I don¹t get involved in post production at all. When it wraps I am on to a commercial or another movie. I am usually hired by the sound mixer. They will choose someone who they enjoy working with who understands how they want to work, and who understands their microphones because all microphones have different patterns.

MATRIX: How did you come to be working on ‘The Matrix’?

JACK: I came in half way through because the original boom operator did not think the film would be going this long, and he had to go off to work on another movie.

MATRIX: Was that a problem?

JACK: No. I have worked with David Lee before, we all know each other. I like working at this international level because you get exposed to top technicians who get it right first time, every time, like we all want to do. I am quite thankful I have had the opportunity to work on this film because I have learnt a lot especially about multi layered action and green screens.

MATRIX: With your ears so close to the production, what does the concept of the Matrix mean to you?

JACK: I love the idea of it, but I hate the idea of it as well. It is new. Someone still saves the world, but they are doing it for a different reason. I am really looking forward to seeing this picture.

MATRIX: Thanks Jack.

Interview by Spencer Lamm

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