The art of music and sound Effects

First off I just want to say that I am by no means an expert in Sound Effects.  This is simply a quick blog on my experience and thus tips and tricks that I’ve learned work  to enhance a film.

One of my biggest discoveries over the past few years is how much visual impact sound brings to your film, yes that’s right I did say Visual.   It’s almost like sound is a nitro boost for your visuals. If done right it can take an average scene or dare I say even a boring scene and add so much feeling and depth to it.

I once heard someone say that sound is the soul to a film. It’s the emotions of the characters that the audience can’t see. I thought this was such a great way of summing up music and SFX. He’d hit the nail on the head. In a novel a writer can tell you what the character is thinking and feeling. In film we can’t do this.  Yes a good actor should be able to convey something through their gestures and camera angles can also convey a certain mood or empower a character but it’s music and sound that feeds us those vital clues.

I think a great example of how we as humans perceive things is the Kuleshov experiment.

If you haven’t heard of this then watch the movie below and think about the man’s reaction and what he may be thinking

You may be surprised to know that each reaction shot of the man was exactly the same shot.  What Kuleshov had discovered was that by showing the audience an image, for example that of the soup or the dead child, we as humans automatically perceive what we feel the character should be feeling.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuleshov_Effect

That is the power of editing but of course we’re talking about sound here.  The reason why I’ve given this as an example is because it goes to show how easy we as an audience can be manipulated but how we can also misinterpret a scene.  Obviously most of the time you’d want the music or SFX to enhance the emotions the audience members believe the character is feeling. So in the example of the man looking at the coffin, some somber music would be quite fitting.  However music can also be used to create a juxtaposition.

For example if we took the imagery of him looking at the woman. Without sound we automatically feel like he’s lusting over the woman.  But what if we were to play some sinister music over the top?  How creepy would that be?  This is where music is really useful in bringing out the subtext of your script, the words not spoken.

They say that sound is 70% what you see on screen and I believe that.  How many times have you happened to catch a scary movie on TV but the sound was on mute. Did you find it scary?  But I bet if you turned the sound up and closed your eyes you’d actually feel a little fear when the creepy tense music started.

This doesn’t mean you should be adding music to everything. There is a time and a place.  This is one of the problems we have when creating out 22 days later films.  With only 22 days to make the films from script to screen it means we have no time to find a composer.  So we’ve been having to use free music and SFX for everything. We’re also not very good at composing so it’s quite hard to be able to blend the music in and out. It was better to let the music continue to play in till a good point to fade it out rather then just abruptly fading it out.

If you do need to end some music abruptly it’s worth hiding it under a sound effect. An example in our film was when the four characters enter the hall at the beginning.

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The music playing is fine up in till there’s a bang and they all turn to see what it is. By fading the music quickly under the bang sound effect it works quite well.

If you’re lucky you can also find tracks that blend together quite well and so go from one to the other.  But there will be many times when you just find that the music needs to fade out and it just doesn’t sit well.

This is why if you are going to make a film and you want it to be of the highest quality then hire a proper composer and sound mixer.  They’ll add so much to the production of your film. They’ll be able to take scenes that you thought were good to new levels. Bring out subtle acting cues and tense moments that just didn’t exist before.

A good example of this was the scene in the Great Spielron where Katie brings out the hat.

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I wanted this to be very tense with a sense of foreboding.  We managed to source a subtle low bass drum type sound.  Just adding this to the scene created a real sense of fear.

Or another example would be when the boy goes to take of Ludwick’s hat.

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This scene was a nightmare to film.  Nothing was going right on set and the shots I ended up with were poor and not at all what I’d imagined when I’d first written the scene.  But by adding the SFX and music, it brought it together.

Laying down music and sfx early can also really help you get a feel for your scene.  As long as you know the mood you’re aiming for it’s a good idea to find a piece of music that fits this well and just lay it down so you can pace your edit on it.

There was one particular part in The Great Spielron, part of the same scene as mentioned above where  the boy is entering the stage, Ludwik is laying down cards on the table.

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We spent ages trying to edit this piece together. I wanted to show Ludwik’s temperament  through the close up of his hands.  I wanted to cut between the cards being dealt and the boy getting closer,  adding an air of tension to the piece. But no matter what we tried we couldn’t seem to get this across. It was only when we placed down a foley sound of the cards being placed on the table that we realised it was this sound that added to the tension. Like a ticking clock…or bomb.

It gave us the road map we needed to structure the edit.  Things always work well in threes and we knew that having three cards slowly being placed with the flicking sound, cutting between hands and then boy, would really add to the tension.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough coverage in the footage to get this across as well as I’d of liked. We still added the sound of the cards being placed,  you didn’t physically see them but it still added to the tension…just not as much as I’d of liked.

Sound and music can not only add emotion to your film but can also emphasis objects.  The perfect example of this and one that is probably way over used but still works, is the sound of a sword being drawn.  How many times in a movie do you hear the “Shink” sounds when a sword is pulled from its sheath? There’s no way a sword would make that sound in real life and yet we believe it on film. It adds to the danger, it’s like the filmmaker is saying “this sword is really, really sharp”.

And so we decided to do it in our film too. I must admit I was skeptical about this.  It’s the shot where Mike picks up his knife from the table to tell his story.

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He doesn’t even pull it from a sheath, he just picks it up.  We laid down the sound and it did sound comical.  But once we’d played around with the volume, added a bit of reverb and tweaked the high pass it actually worked.  Adding these subtle audio clues are a great way of emphasising items and clothing in your film.

One final tip is to not rely on all the sounds on set.  A lot of the time in films 90% what you hear is laid down afterwards.  Dialogue is probably the only sound that is used from the actual takes and even that sometimes has to be replaced afterwards. There are some scenes in The Great Spielron where we didn’t record any sound at all. All the scenes of Ludwick performing on stage were completely silent as I knew that it was going to consist of mainly Music and audience members laughing.

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So to sum up.  If you want your film to have that professional feel, then make sure your sound is top notch.  You can get away with boring camera moves and lighting to a certain extent but if your sound is bad, it’s really going to show…which is ironic really.

Till next time.

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

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