*The film comes alive… with the sound and music!*
The film experience wouldn’t be complete without sound and music – it adds mood, ambience, energy, and it can even sometimes help fill holes that the picture doesn’t cover.
A Little Bit of History
Films didn’t always have sound – prior to the 1920s, they were usually just silent moving pictures playing back. When they were projected in a theater, it was common to have someone playing a piano or an organ as a live musical accompaniment, and sometimes there would be a band or an orchestra, but in most cases the sound and music wasn’t something that crossed the filmmaker’s mind.
There were exceptions to this of course – some early filmmakers in the 1900s would attempt to record some sort of synced sound and have it played back on a device like a gramophone, but it wasn’t very reliable and it wasn’t widely available.
Come 1923, the first majorly successful and available synced sound-on-disc film, “The Jazz Singer” hit the streets and got everyone talking. Literally. The genre known as “talkies” was born, and filmmakers started taking sound and music more seriously as a part of the craft. Technologically speaking, it also spurred innovations in sound recording – and soon they could also record sound directly onto film with the picture, alleviating any big sync issues.
Types of Sound
These days, the quality and creativity of sound and music is just as important as the cinematography and performance in a film. Creating a soundscape can be just as effective in telling a story as pictures, and regardless of what’s being heard, there’s no getting away with bad sound, no matter how beautiful the image is – trust me, if it hurts to listen to, people will turn it off.
In film there are two types of sound: Diegetic and Nondiegetic sound.
Diegetic sound is where the sound is coming from somewhere in the scene. Like footsteps, dialogue, or in the case of music, a record player or speaker.
Nondiegetic sound is not literal, but instead acts more as commentary to set a mood or add drama. Examples of this might be narration or the musical score, but could also be weird sound effects.
Roles in Post-Sound
Post-sound people are considered to be key roles, just like a producer, director or an editor. Here are some that you’ve probably heard of:
- Composer – The one who writes the musical score of the film. Depending on the genre, they may do everything on their own or coordinate instrumentalists or even an orchestra.
- Foley Artist – This person works closely with the sound designer and editor to actually physically create sounds to be synced with the picture. Usually this actually looks like sitting in a room, with the film being projected, and recording things like footsteps as the movie plays. This live-style of recording helps to bring a realistic feel to the soundscape, and guarantees that all the sounds are original for the film.
- Sound Designer – While foley artists have been around for a long time, the concept of a Sound Designer really only came into play in the late 70s. This person uses the work of the foley artists as well as samples, libraries, and recorded sounds from all sorts of unique places and blends them together to create new sounds. Many times these are otherworldly sounds (like for a science fiction film, for example, or a dinosaur roar), but you’d be surprised what regular everyday sounds can be created from crazy sources as well.
- Sound Editor – This person puts everything together to create the ultimate soundscape. Many times, especially on indie or smaller budget films, this role falls to the picture editor. But believe me, this is a huge job and is just as demanding as the picture edit. Ideally, the viewer should be able to still follow the story without having to look at the picture. It really does all work together!