Chapter 12 Designing Excellent Film Sound
Many years ago radio dramas were thrilling to listen to and silent pictures entertained audiences. But it was not until radio and silent pictures were married that things truly began to sparkle. And their honeymoon is still prospering.
Designing Excellent Film Sound
Designing Excellent Film Sound is a crucial part of filmmaking and can alter the way the film is perceived. You probably remember some scenes of murder not shown on screen but their sounds were making you believe the murders happened. That’s how powerful sound can be in telling a story. With the help of sound, we, the audience, can imagine the scenes even though the film producers don’t show them to us.
When it comes to film sound, there are three phases that we will cover below:
12.1 Sound Pre-Production Phase
The sound was not as important as it is today. It was an element of film production that was often overlooked until the film was shot. It was often a clean-up job that fixed things that were not right or poorly considered.
Sound has changed forever thanks to the improved understanding of sound (as a concept) and the advancement in hardware technologies (improved power and mics, as well as software).
It is no longer left for clean-up, but for genuine contribution, respect, and artistry. The sound department is now considered to be a contributor during the pre-production phase. Directors look to outstanding recordists and designers early in the project for advice.
We have now accepted the new view of the sound. What can directors look to the sound team for when they visit the department during the preproduction phase? What are the areas that the sound department can focus on to add insight, and advice, and be creative designers?
It all starts with the script
The script contains many ideas and answers. You should read the entire script before doing anything else. Read it before you view the final edit or any other part of the project. This will allow your mind to be completely clean of visuals and sounds. Reading may allow you to draw on your inner ear instead of your physical ear.
- Consider the space in which scenes are taking place. Are they in a cafe or shop?
- Consider the activities behind the scenes. What are the things being moved? Are they cooking and conversing?
- Which emotions should be expressed at specific points? Take notes that will help you keep track of your thoughts. To really get a feel for the scene, you can also go to the script reading with the actors.
- What are the transitions in a script? They may allow for sound design or composition that will help propel the scene forward.
Listening to your sound department
You have to ‘learn the language’ of each department as an aspiring filmmaker, which is very important during this stage. It is crucial to trust your team’s ‘instinctive hearing’ in the sound department. This includes composers, sound designers, and recordists.
Preproduction may require a sound designer to accompany you to ‘hear the location’. You don’t want to miss out on great performances by actors because of sound that wasn’t considered in preproduction.
Hearing the soundtrack of your location
Is your location inside or outside? It is easy to tell the difference in the script. The headings ‘INT’ (Interio) or ‘EXT’ (Exterior) will give you the answer, as well as day or night.
If the scene is outside, it is the job of the sound department to create the ‘atmosphere’ of the location, as well as its activities. It may not all be captured during the filming of the scene. Pre-production is about thinking sonically and imagining sounds that might have an impact on your listeners.
Hearing the soundtrack of your location is what matters during this stage. This will be part of your improving skill set and awareness as your journey through sound design.
Be proactive. The script is the first step in thinking sonically. When visiting the location you might find that there is unwanted reverb or that the space is not soundproof. Recordists often notice the space before any other thing, even before deciding on the position of the mics or the camera shot.
It is important that you pay attention to how sound bounces off walls. Rehearsals are a great idea. Record the rehearsal if the actors are practicing on set. This will ensure that your equipment and levels are performing as you expect. After double-checking your rehearsal recordings, you may decide that you prefer to increase or decrease the levels of the equipment on the shooting day. It is possible to discover unusual background sounds, such as AC units, fans, generators, or fans.
It makes a huge difference what time of day it is. If possible, encourage rehearsals to take place at the same time as the shooting day. Although this may seem extreme, it is possible to imagine the sound effects if rehearsals are held at midnight in an apartment in the city. However, the scene will sound very different if it is taken during rush hour traffic.
Rehearsals are a great opportunity to practice your skills, microphone choices, and other technical details so you’re ready to do your best on the production day.
12.2 Sound Production Phase
If the sound quality in a location is suddenly turning bad during production, you might have to find a better location. This will help the overall sound. Imagine two people talking in a coffee shop located next to a train station. See if it would be easier to move to another coffee shop in a quieter location nearby. There are many coffee shops in every big city.
Frame, mic, and boom shadow
It is a good idea to have a quick chat with your camera operator to ensure that boom shadow and boom are not in the shot. You should reposition the boom if necessary.
Look for an invisible frame around the subject of your shot. Once you have found the frame and determined where to position the boom and microphone, then look for a boom shadow. It is just as important to notice the shadow as the microphone in the shot.
While the crew waits for the sound engineer to get ready, it is the perfect time to speak briefly with the camera operator and ensure that the boom shadow and the microphone are out of the shot.
Room tone or atmos track
If the script uses words such as “silence” or “he posed”, there is still ambient sound in the room. The sound of the room where the dialogue is being shot is also heard and recorded. This is crucial for sound editing in postproduction. Once a scene has been completed and the director has given the okay, the assistant director should announce, “Silence for Sound, please. Room Tone recording” to ensure that at least 60 seconds of room tone is available for each scene. This will allow you to have the right amount for every room or location in which the production sound will be recorded. This will prevent sound drops during postproduction to ensure smooth filmmaking.
Some filmmakers call it a background track or atmos track when it is recorded externally. This is the natural sound or air that was used to record the scene.
12.3 Sound Post-Production and Design Phase
Although filmmaking might seem simple, there are many steps involved in creating a great film. Technically, you can release a film that was shot quickly and edited without any treatment. But what makes professional films of high quality stand out? Attention is paid to every stage.
The sound post-production and design phase is a crucial part of the filmmaking process. It involves adding sound effects, music, and dialogue to a film or video project. The goal of sound post-production is to enhance the audio quality of the final product and make it more engaging for the audience.
Although audio post-production and sound design may not be planned out in great detail, they are essential to finishing your film. It sets professional work apart from amateur one. Audio post-production can take hours of work. While every sound professional works differently, there are steps that all methods must follow.
What is sound post-production?
About half of a film’s sound is actually sound. Clear dialogue is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Sound effects include the background wind rustling leaves and boots crunching in the snow, etc. You can use audio alongside visuals to enhance your storytelling.
Once the visual edit of a film has been completed (the timing and shots will not change), the film can be locked. The team then moves on to audio post-production. This is where you can layer sound effects onto each shot, add background ambiance, record and add voiceovers, then cut the music together so it flows between scenes, and then mix it all together until everything is balanced and doesn’t overpower anything else.
This process can take between 40 and 60 minutes for small-budget films. For larger feature movies, it can take 160 to 320 hours or even weeks. This depends on the time and budget of the director and other film team members.
Sound post-production stages
After the editor is approved, the sound designer and director will meet for a spotting session. This session is basically a review of the film and the director’s expectations for the audience. The sound designer can then create a list of assets that will be required to achieve the desired result.
These are the main steps of the general process:
Editing the dialogue
Normalizing the conversation
Replacing ADR automatic dialogue
Composition & editing of music
Mixing and mastering sound
12.3.1 Production Dialogue Editing
First, pay attention to the dialogue in the audio post-production.
The dialogue editor will review the recordings and correct any errors and distortions.
To checkerboard the dialogue, you manipulate the tracks on different layers of a timeline to make it punchy. This also means that different elements can be treated separately.
After everything is set up in the timeline, you can normalize the audio so that it has a consistent volume. This will make it easier to mix later and ensure that certain parts are not louder or quieter than others.
You might discover that certain dialogues weren’t recorded properly during this process. It could have been windy or the crew needed to use a loud machine as background noise for special effects.
ADR, or automated dialogue replacement, will replace the dialogue. The actor will usually come to a sound studio to re-record their lines, using the original performance as a guide.
It’s now time to restore the audio. This involves repairing any distortions or crackles that were created during recording.
The goal of a sound recordist on set is to capture as clear a dialogue as possible. This is why sets must be kept quiet. A director may prefer to use noiseless props in order to reduce the amount of time spent in ADR. They will replace sound effects in post-production.
12.3.2 Sound Effects Editing & Design
Now, let’s get to the fun part. Sound effects.
The people who create most of the effects we’ll mention are called Foley artists. Instead of relying solely on audio libraries, they often create sounds using tools in a workshop. Most people work on effects that involve people interacting with objects. This includes putting ice in a glass, walking down paths, and putting on clothes.
Spot effects are more obvious than any other sound effects. Instead of a car door being slammed, or a fist striking, it’s a gun being fired. These effects are performed first because it can be very jarring to the audience if there is no bang but a bomb goes off.
Background effects are audio that is happening in the background. It could be the sound from a noisy office or the train hum, or birds singing in trees. This stage creates an atmosphere that makes the film feel as real as possible.
Design effects are audio effects that accompany an object that cannot be recorded.
12.3.3 Music composition and editing
You now have your dialogue and sound effects. Your music is the only thing missing. The director and editor may prefer to use a temporary track for this stage, while others will leave it until the final stage. This stage is about creating the movie’s iconic soundtrack and then weaving it into the scenes to support the story.
Are the scenes funny or scary? Is the audience inspired or sad? These are questions that the music team will ask the director. They will also work closely with them in order to get the best results.
Mixers will combine all elements, such as dialogue, sound effects, and music. They will ensure that each element is in harmony with the visuals to create the final mix.
It all depends on how complex the project is. It may seem simple if the film is a drama that takes place in one room. It’s much more difficult if the film involves creating the soundtrack for space battles.
The final color-graded edit is applied to this and voila! You have a finished movie!
Audio is essential to the creation of a high-quality film. Movies, especially big-budget ones, are staffed with a large number of audio editors, sound mixers, composers, and sound designers who work tirelessly to produce an immersive experience that audiences will love. After the film has been shot and edited, the audio post-production phase is the final step. This handy link provides more information on video editing and post-production.
The sound post-production and design phase is an essential part of filmmaking. It involves adding sound effects, music, and dialogue to the film to enhance the audio experience for the audience. By following the basic steps outlined in this article, you can create high-quality audio that will bring your film to life.