The secret to awesome sound design in film production, an insider’s look…
The world of sound is a magical place, filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful effects, booming soundtracks and more foley folk than you can shake a jingly stick at. So, when we got the chance to chat to Chris Wrigglesworth, Managing Director of Clearcut Sound Studios in Soho, all about his experience in the land of sound, we jumped at it. Read on to find out what Chris has to say about his musical world and his top insider’s tricks and tips on how to make the most of sound in film production.
Sound and I…
When sitting in a recent session myself, the Director, Creative and Agency Producer were having a debate on how to end the spot that was being mixed. Was it best to edit the music in such a way that brought it to a natural close or should we use a piece of sonic branding to give the spot a particular identity? As the debate raged on, the client spoke and said, “To be honest, this version will only go on Instagram and nobody ever turns on the sound.”
I stopped, calmly put my coffee down and told the client never to utter those words again in my studio. Okay, I wasn’t quite so bold, but I did voice my disapproval. Thankfully the conversation then turned to the fact that actually, the majority of people in the room do single tap for sound. Phew! And quite rightly so.
My dearest, life affirming Sound, we live in a cynical world and we work in a business of tough competitors. I love you Sound, you complete me.
My dearest, life affirming Sound, we live in a cynical world and we work in a business of tough competitors. I love you Sound, you complete me. But why so? Why does sound compel me to quote Jerry Maguire and profess my love for sound in a way usually reserved for a down and out sports agent desperately trying to win back the love of his life. The answer? Emotion. Plain and simple.
Capturing a Feeling
Sound design, and sound in general, adds ‘feeling’. It can deliver realism with such clarity that you suddenly find yourself immersed in the life of the character whose story is being played out in front of you. It can make the imagined believable. It can break your heart, make you cry, make you laugh, frighten you, excite you. The list of emotions is endless.
Sound design, and sound in general, adds ‘feeling’. It can deliver realism with such clarity that you suddenly find yourself immersed in the life of the character whose story is being played out in front of you. It can make the imagined believable. It can break your heart, make you cry, make you laugh, frighten you, excite you. The list of emotions is endless
It is about doing everything you can to help create the environment that’s on screen, to help tell the story, sell the idea and create that emotional attachment. Sometimes this is a full attack on the senses. Sometimes subtlety is king, perhaps preferring to scale back the sounds and focus on the bits of the film that you want to direct the viewer towards.
When picture and sound are created with each other in mind they can compliment each other so that the film can deliver its full potential and the story can be perfectly told. Thankfully, I don’t often come up against people who don’t see the value in sound. It is generally considered and regarded as important.
Making Magic Happen
In simple terms, a Sound Designer’s role is to supply the sound mix for the film, adding a new depth to a 2D piece of work. The process involves identifying sounds that are needed, then either finding them, recording them, manipulating existing sounds or creating new ones. It is not often acknowledged by the viewer just how much is added in the sound studio.
To make sound work hardest for you and to add the most value there are a few things to consider. A sound designers BuzzFeed if you will … OMG Six Ways To 100% Improve Your Sound.
- Voiceover: Used to deliver a factual message or narrative. At the very least it must be comprehensible and clear. At best it draws you in and makes you part of it.
- Music: Perhaps the most recognisable player in terms of adding emotion and feeling. It can immediately set the tone and pace. Without the Righteous Brothers, you’re left with a very forward pottery teacher giving Demi Moore more than she’d bargained for and no pot to show for it.
- Recorded sound: Always try and get the best recorded sound you can on the shoot, especially in terms of dialogue. Money well spent up front can save time and allow for greater flexibility later on in the mix. The less repair work that needs to be done, the better.
There may also be unique sounds that you are able to capture for your production. Rather than trying to recreate the sound in the studio, you can add a moment of authenticity to your film by recording the exact sound on set. Featured sound can be as important as actors in the frame.
- ADR: This can be used to replace bits of dialogue not up to scratch, improve the performance or even change the script.
- Foley: Can be used to add or replace everyday sounds in the film.
- Sound effect libraries: These can be used to spot effect action on the screen, or enhance the sync sound if required.
- Sound design: A set of specifically designed sounds for your film. Often used effectively for adding ambience and textures, directing the viewer how to feel at a particular point in time. Or creating completely original sounds for things not even in existence. A leather wallet can become the sound of the defining moment of one of the scariest movies of all time – Regan’s 360 degree head turn.
It is often best to consider both music and sound design early on in production. Not every spot will use music, not every spot will use sound design. Some spots will use both. But establishing this early in the process and appreciating the affect that good sound and sound design can have on your film may influence how you do things and the decisions you make through shoot, edit and post.
The best projects we work on are the ones where we are involved from the start – whether it’s perfecting the music cut before the edit, or starting sound design at offline stage, every bit of collaboration helps. We would also advise never to play the client a piece of music you can’t afford! They’ll only love it and you’ll spend the rest of your time trying to find something to replace it that works as well, or worse you’ll have to find the cash.
It is also good to be fully prepared come session time so that you can get the most out of your time with your sound designer. The best sessions are the ones where every minute is used to focus on the creative sound process. For example, send pictures and OMFs to the studio before the session so that we can get them imported and ready to go, and make sure scripts are final and client approved.
All because sound designers like time. Time to experiment and create those unique sounds. Time to take stock and evaluate work. Time for sound designer, director and client to meddle and craft the soundtrack to perfection. All so the film can have you ‘at hello’.