MATRIX: Did you work on the original film?
GERRY: I did work on the first one four years ago and it wasn’t quite as huge as this, although it was pretty massive. It was exciting and there were a lot of special effects techniques that we’d never seen before – even on the day we couldn’t comprehend what we were doing and what it would end up eventually looking like.
MATRIX: How would you describe your role?
GERRY: As a Boom Operator I work with the Sound crew, which includes the Sound Recordist, David Lee. The Boom Operator stays on set all the time, works out what is going on on set, and relays all the information to the Sound Recordist, or Mixer. We make sure everyone is going to sound as they should and that every word is going to be intelligible, and whichever way I need to do that I do it. Whether it be putting a radio mike on the actor, or using a microphone and making sure the set is quiet. I work with the Directors a lot, and they tell me what they want – they usually talk to me on set and I pass the information on to David. I help look after simple things like strange noises on set – we have to find out where they are so we can shut them down to get nice clean dialogue for the Directors and their film.
MATRIX: Are the Directors on these films very clear with what they want?
GERRY: Yes, they know exactly what they want and what is going on before they start rehearsing the scene. You know that they want to do it this particular way, and you know they’re pretty true to the storyboards… although their imagination goes wild a few times, which is great too. When it’s all laid out in front of you it’s pretty easy, and when they change things around it gets a bit more exciting.
MATRIX: As a Boom Operator, what are some of the more challenging aspects of what you do?
GERRY: As a Boom Operator you want a nice big dialogue scene where there are a few actors so you can swing the pole around the set. There was the Dining Room scene at the Le Vrai Restaurant with Lambert Wilson [Merovingian], which was pretty good for that. That was a big scene – it was about five or six pages of dialogue – and my job was to make sure we got every word, and that Dave is happy back on the desk. He can usually hear a problem, so he’ll just talk to me with a private line and I’ll fix it up. That was a pretty decent scene because there were lots of people talking and there were lots of extraneous sounds that we had to lock down. Like, if there’s a waiter in the background walking, you have to take his shoes off sometimes so you can’t hear the footsteps, and all the knives and forks when they’re eating can’t touch. All those sorts of little details are part of the course.
MATRIX: Do you actually approach the knife and fork holders?
GERRY: Yes, I work with the actors, so I have to know how to approach them – sometimes they’re in a good mood and sometimes they’re not – so you have to be pretty diplomatic about asking for things. At the end of the day it’s them on the screen doing their thing, so you have to know how to ask and how to get something out of them.
A lot of the time we have to put radio mikes on, which is quite personal. We have to lift up their shirts and put a strap on, but most of them don’t mind. I worked with them on the first one so they know you and they trust that you don’t touch them where you’re not supposed to.
MATRIX: Have you used radio mikes often on these films?
GERRY: Not a lot. We usually use radio mikes if it’s a wide shot and you can’t get a boom pole in there with a microphone, or if there’s just no room for me to get in, then that’s when we use the radio mikes. We try not to use them too often, although they’re great for what they are, and they sometimes save our butts, but we usually have a lot of problems with them. Clothes rustle, and the more you keep adjusting or fine-tuning things the actor doesn’t like it that much, and I don’t blame them. They are great things and we need them and have to use them every now and then, but we try to use them as little as possible.
MATRIX: What makes a good Boom Operator?
GERRY: A good Boom Operator does not just stick the pole up there with the microphone and swing it around, which you have to be good to do that, but you’ve also got to get on with people. You have to ask for favors from the Lighting Department to the Grips to the actors a lot, so the easier you get on with people the better. If you’re demanding people tend to completely ignore you, but if you take them as good people they usually give you what you want. Technically, Dave knows his job and I know mine, but at the end of the day you actually have to get it, so the hard part is trying to get those words on tape.
MATRIX: No matter what size the production is, the sound crew remains small.
GERRY: That’s what I love about sound though, we’re usually away from everyone, and there are about three of us and we’ve got this little corner in the studio. Everyone has to work together a fair bit, and we do as well, but we can stand back a fair bit and wait for our moment and then sneak in and do what we do, which I like. Sitting around a camera is always busy and there are lot of moments on this where there are special effects and things blowing up and stunts, so we usually don’t roll on that and we can sit back a bit sometimes, which is not the usual thing. On most films there’s lots of dialogue so it’s a lot busier, but on this one there might be a week where it’s a bit laid-back for us – thanks Andy and Larry – and then it’s pretty flat-out for a few weeks with lots of dialogue.
MATRIX: What kind of equipment do you use?
GERRY: There’s all sorts. We’ve got an array of microphones, such as Neumanns and AKGs, we use different ones for different situations. There are ones that have wider patterns, there are other ones that have narrower patterns that cancel out extraneous sounds a bit better. For the wider ones, if there are a lot of people talking over each other it’s a bit more giving as you don’t have to be over each actor, which is impossible to do when they’re all talking over each other. We’ve got about twenty different things ready to go all the time, and you have to be pretty quick on your feet, knowing which microphone you’re going to use pretty well immediately. They’re not going to wait for you to ponder which microphone you want to use.
MATRIX: The scene in the Architect’s Office where Neo is both yelling and whispering; how did you choose the microphone for that?
GERRY: That’s not just the choice of microphone, but it’s also the Recordist doing their magic as well. We’ve got a microphone that you can put a little sort in, which sort of cushions the loudness of the voices, and then David also puts it through the mixing desk. Screams are pretty complicated usually, but not with a good Mixer like Dave. It’s a matter of getting a rough idea of how loud it’s going to be, and he’ll set the loudest bit so it doesn’t distort and then work with the quieter bit.
MATRIX: When you choose a microphone and you haven’t watched the scene before; what dictates your choice?
GERRY: In a studio you usually have a favorite couple of mikes – we’ve got two that we use all the time – and they usually see us through the whole film. You tend to use different mikes a lot more outside. It’s not rocket science at the end of the day; it’s just a matter of choosing what you know you need. The longer you have been doing this – and we’ve been doing this for a long time now – you can sort of pick what is going to work and what is not going to work pretty quickly.
MATRIX: You’re outside on a location shoot and it’s blowing up a gale…
GERRY: You can’t play with Mother Nature too much, but we have these fantastic socks called Windjammers, which are made of a synthetic fur that buffets the microphone and protects it from the wind. They work really well, they look like a big bear on top of the microphone.
You have particular tools and you use them regularly, but at the end of the day the tools are really secondary, it is a matter of knowing what you need, what the Mixer needs, and what the Directors want. Sometimes you don’t quite get something and the Directors say not to worry about it, we’ll get it on this other shot and they’ll concentrate more on the close-up instead of the wide shot. The Brothers like the close-up shots; they’ll start the big scene off and see everything, and then all of a sudden zoom in.
MATRIX: Do you pre-pick which actor will be considered the target, or are they all targeted?
GERRY: They’re all targets, you have to get perfect sound for each one. Sometimes the Brothers have a vision, and they really know what they want from everyone including the actors, so they’ll just keep trying until they get exactly what they want. That’s how they work, so we have to work like that also: each take might be the perfect take, so we have to work towards each take.
A lot of times it’s the people positioning. They like to have the person walking in the right part of the frame, or doing a particular thing in the right part of the frame. I mean, you don’t see their mouths and you could basically say let’s just go to the close-up, but it is a positioning thing and it’s the body movement or a particular mood that they want. They’re really particular and they’ve got the entire film all up here [in their heads].
MATRIX: How would you say their style compares to other styles you have seen?
GERRY: In Australia there are more dialogue driven films, we don’t have this sort of money to do an action film. They have a sort of comic book style – they’ve got these big comic books [books of storyboards] and they sometimes act the actual scene out – so you can see they have this great love of cartoons and comics. They really work hard and know what they want, which is very different to what I’m used to. They position people in a particular way in a frame, or they want a particular word in a particular way, which is very different, but it is a style that they have. The first one was like that and the second one and the third, there’s no difference.
That’s the fun part about it, I love boom operating because I’m on set all the time with the Directors and the actors and everybody else, and we get a chance to see something great sometimes. And that’s what you strive for – that great moment. You’ve learnt all your skills over the years and the great thing is being on set with these guys doing their thing, and them trusting you with your knowledge and you giving what they need to them. It is very exciting being on these fantastic huge sets watching these guys do their thing.
MATRIX: Have there been any sets where it has been challenging to capture good sound?
GERRY: Yes, there have been a lot of difficult sets on this because of the nature of the film and the special effects they use. For something that might seem very simple, like a few people talking, they have special effects equipment that produces steam or water dripping. So we have to go to all these places and put down little bits of foam, so the water drips on the foam instead of onto the set where it makes a loud noise. To quiet the steam we have to wrap the steamers with whatever we can – we use a bit of some toweling sometimes, and wrap it around the steamer.
Everyone has to work together for that, so that’s why you have to get on with everyone, so if there’s a problem you go and attack that problem together. We work with the Special Effects guys a lot, and if something is just too noisy they’ll try something, or we’ll suggest something. Most sets are pretty tricky as far as locking down those noises because it is quiet in there, and even something on the other side of the set that’s going shhhh can be heard loud and clear because it’s so quiet when they’re doing their dialogue. We have to attend to everything that’s making a noise.
MATRIX: Because of the sensitivity of the mikes, everything must sound much louder in the headphones.
GERRY: Absolutely, and you’re cranking up the volume too. On this film the dialogue is very quiet – Keanu and Carrie-Anne are very quiet and they whisper a lot of the time – so the level is really low, so the Mixer cranks the fader up to get more level out of the mike so that you’re getting more level coming into the microphone. By doing that everything else cranks up as well, so if that little noise is down in the background it will be amplified.
We have the same difficulties with lights, especially a particular light they’ve been using which is a mechanical light that moves in different directions and has motors driving it. They’re near the set, so we’ve built boxes and encased those lights in boxes to cut down most of the noise. You can’t cut it down completely so we also rely on what’s going to happen in the background of the actual shot itself. If it’s a war scene we’re hoping that there are guns going off and explosions, so some of the extra noises you’re going to hear are going to be in the background of all that.
MATRIX: Does it often happen that you can hear a noise, but are unable to track it back?
GERRY: Many times, there’s always something. It’s hard to pick because you know as soon as it’s quiet and you hear one sound, you can walk in five different directions and not know where it is; sometimes it will be right next to you. We’ve got Emma [Barham, Cable Person] and that’s her job sometimes – she tries to hunt down all these sounds and then we go over and lock it down.
MATRIX: What is the longest length boom pole you would ever use?
GERRY: I think they’re about fourteen or fifteen feet [approximately 4 to 4.5 meters], and some are longer; you can add an extension onto them. They’re made of carbon fiber, which is incredibly light. They’re just a means to get the microphone over the actors and swing it around. There are little ones if you’re stuck in a small set, and a lot of these sets are tiny, so you’ve got tiny ones for when you’re sitting in a corner somewhere.
MATRIX: How do you make sure you hold it a consistent distance from the actor’s face; and is there a good distance to be from the face?
GERRY: As a Boom Operator you should know your lens sizes so you know which lens people are using. You check with the camera or you check with the operator –usually you can walk past the camera and see 35mm on the side of it, so you don’t have to talk that much and the operator can go about doing their thing. After doing it for a long time you should know roughly where you’re going to go, give or take a few inches. With a 35mm or a 50mm lens, the shot is getting closer and tighter, and with the 27mm and 14mm the shot is getting wider and wider. There are a lot of monitors all around the set these days for the Directors to check out their shots, which is great because everyone knows the frame and where to roughly put their equipment.
MATRIX: When the Directors are using a really wide lens, does it pose a difficulty for you?
GERRY: It does. Basically it’s going to tell you if you’re going to use a radio mike or not, or if they even want a mike. Sometimes a 14mm lens shot is so wide they don’t need any sound – maybe it’s just a shot to establish a massive set and then the next shot is going to be Keanu or Carrie-Anne walking close and the dialogue is there. So they’ll go mute instead of locking down a whole set just to get something that’s not going to be used in the end. They’ll just say not to worry about it and then go into the scene when they get a bit tighter. You have to keep the ball rolling as quickly as possible because the more shortcuts you can throw up at them or they throw at you the better, so you just move forward.
MATRIX: Back in the beginning, how did get involved in the Sound Department on a film crew?
GERRY: When I was eighteen and had just left high school I went back to Sicily where I had lived until I was six years old. I went to this little island off the coast of Sicily where there were cameras and other equipment being unloaded off a boat. I was a musician so I was playing in this hotel and a girl came up and bought me a drink and asked me if I was a professional musician. I said no, I’ve just finished high school, what do you do? She said she was an actress making a movie on the island for about five or six days. I had never seen a movie being made so she asked if I wanted to come on set.
That day they were doing a night shoot, so I rocked down to set with tents and lights going everywhere and people moving around. I thought it was really exciting. I gave my name to this big sort of bouncer guy and he said to come and sit over here, so I sat down in front of this tent scene with the lights going and this girl came out. Her name was Ilona Staller, and later on I found her real name was Cicciolina, an Italian porn star. I sat there and then she just took off her clothes and started doing this naked scene… very interesting. She was just starting out and was really young, really gorgeous, and a nice person. After that I thought, I want to get into movies!
Most sound guys are ex rock and roll or music scene, so for a lot of them it’s a natural thing to go into, it’s like a progression. I have been playing music for years and years, and I have played in a few bands, but the odds of making money out of music are not that great. You’re always interested in sound because that’s part of your equipment; you’ve always got sound equipment. I worked in television when I got back from Sicily and after about three months I got a job in a television station. I stayed there for about three years and then I left and went freelance when I was about twenty or twenty-one … and never looked back.
MATRIX: What are some of the films you’ve worked on over the years?
GERRY: There are a few films… Dead Calm, Oscar and Lucinda, Much Ado About Nothing, some of Lorenzo’s Oil in Africa, and I did a film in Brazil. Lots of Australian films like Emerald City and now lots of American films, like The Phantom, and Operation Dumbo Drop all in Thailand, and Burke & Wills, which was out in the desert for months and months. Also, Holy Smoke, which we filmed in India.
That’s another great thing – working overseas with all these other crews. I’ve done three films in Italy – two Italian ones, and Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve done about five films in Thailand. I’ve also worked in Africa with the African crews, and hopefully we’re going to go back to Africa on Mad Max: Fury Road next May. It’s really exciting, and you get involved with all the locals if there’s traveling from one location to another. I love traveling; it’s mainly why I do this job, because I like to move around and do things. When you’re on a job the families of the technicians ask you to live with their family or to come and stay, and you really get a great feel of the place and what they do. You don’t do the tourist things, which I don’t like doing anyway.
MATRIX: Are you based in Sydney?
GERRY: Yes I live in Sydney, but most times I’m just not here. I like to go back to Italy so I try and go back there as much as possible. I go back every couple of years and spend about eight months, sometimes a year or fifteen months, and do some work there. In Italy my friends grow grapevines and make wine and olive oil, so I go and do something completely different, which you need because this is a crazy business. It’s great and I love it, but I also like to leave it and get my hands in some earth – I need a little reality check sometimes.
MATRIX: In what ways does reading the scripts help you do your job?
GERRY: We know the script, and then all of a sudden you get a call sheet that tells you tomorrow you start at seven and you’re doing these scenes, so you get spoon-fed everything. Then you quickly go through the script with the sound guy, and you see there’s a big dialogue scene so you get in a bit earlier to check a few things out. You have to know what they’re saying and what the scene is all about, but it is getting easier to work on set these days because there are monitors everywhere. They also give you little sides now with all the scenes and the dialogue of the day, so between each take you can roughly check things. It’s a lot more efficient than it used to be to work on a film.
MATRIX: How has technology changed in the last ten or fifteen years that you’ve been Boom Operating?
GERRY: It has changed a lot, but as a Boom Operator, not that much. It’s one of those jobs that is going to have to be there forever, like a Focus Puller. As far as our approach to a scene, it’s pretty much the same, although all the recording equipment has changed a lot. As far as boom operating goes, there are lighter boom poles and they’re quieter, but that’s about it. At the end of the day the approach is exactly the same as the old days except you have to get better sound these days. Back then they just didn’t care and they put it all in later.
The Brothers, Larry and Andy, really like location sound and they want to get one hundred percent as much as possible, so you have to work to getting it. Sometimes the noises are too big and you can’t get it, so they’ll actually stop and ask if we can do something about it. A lot of Directors probably wouldn’t do that because they’ll post-sync it and put the voices in later – they don’t want to wait to find extraneous noises.
Larry and Andy like the quality of the actor’s voice and what they’re emoting at that time, and they want to keep it at all possible costs, which is good. For other films they’ll loop it or post-sync it and they don’t do that at all unless it’s impossible because we have tried and can’t get it. For instance, when we’ve got the sets with the gimbal and the ships going through, there is no way you can lock any of that down because the shaking is just so violent. Hopefully there were enough explosions and noises going over it that will make it work.
MATRIX: Is that a case where you radio miked the actors?
GERRY: Yes, they were radio miked then because the placement of the microphone makes a lot of the background noises quieter. We try anything we can to get it the location sound, which is what you do with your equipment.
The Hel Underground Garage was interesting. It was nine floors down, and that’s a sound nightmare because they can drop a coin four floors up and you’ll hear it because it clatters all the way down. On every floor we had an assistant or someone stopping traffic for each take in a working ten floor car park building, so we weren’t very popular.
MATRIX: Were there any particular challenges during the production of the first film?
GERRY: There was a bit more location and it was new, so we had to really think a lot more about what the Brothers actually wanted and how to give it to them. There’s not much difference between that job and these two films except they’re a lot bigger and a lot harder – the sets are just massive – to lock down things to make them quiet.
The first one was really incredible because you had no idea. You read the script a couple of times and you ask yourself when are we in the Matrix and when are we in the real world? Even now I still get confused. Sometimes I ask Andy where we are we, but he likes to leave it up to you to work it out.
There are some memorable scenes from the first film that really stick in your mind. My favorite was when Morpheus is giving Neo the red pill or the blue pill; we really worked hard on that one. Laurence looks great with all that leather on and the sunglasses, and I think he was a good person for Keanu to play off, especially in that. That scene was great, it really set up the whole film.
MATRIX: What is the viewing experience like for you, having seen so much during filming?
GERRY: The great thing about THE MATRIX films is Larry and Andy did such a great job writing the dialogue. They are dialogue driven, action, special effects films. For a lot of those special effects action films the dialogue is just atrocious, they take people for idiots and just want to get to the special effects as quick as possible. These films have some great dialogue and you really have to pay attention because a lot of things happen in it and they’ve drawn on so many different things.
The sequels continue that. When you’ve been on set you know the dialogue and you know what they’re doing with the fighting, but then as soon as they get into the visual effects computer generated world you have no idea what they were thinking and what John Gaeta and his crew will end up doing. That’s the surprise, because all we see is the actors and a set. We’ve got green screens everywhere, so you know they’re going to put a machine world over that, or another different sort of set that you cannot visually imagine. It’s in the script and you can have your idea, but it’s nothing like what they’re thinking.
MATRIX: Thank you very much Gerry.
Interview by REDPILL