We hosted a panel discussion at the London Film Festival about the relationship between sound and image in filmmaking. The following tips, shared by filmmakers and sound designers on the panel, will come in handy whether you’re planning to apply for our new film brief The Sound Edit or working on a film of your own…
Shoot with sound in mind
“Sound isn’t just a technical process – it also has a creative function,” says sound supervisor Jovan Ajder, whose credits include My Brother the Devil, Archipelago and Skellig. Consider how you will use sound to help tell the story – and make sure you get the shots that allow you do so. “For example, if you’re shooting in a hotel room and you want to have the sound of a tap dripping in the background, remember to shoot a tap for a few seconds,” says Jovan. That way the viewer understands immediately where the sound is coming from. “The way we do sound in film is often an exaggeration of real sound but you believe in it if it doesn’t take you out of what the director is trying to say,” he says, adding: “Sound is invisible but emotional.”
Get creative with found sound
Found audio can be the starting point for a project. James Spinney’s film Notes on Blindness: Rainfall was selected for Ideas Fund Shorts and, together with director and producer Peter Middleton, James is now developing it as a feature called Into Darkness. The film is based on the audio diary of Professor John Hull, recorded in the ’80s when he was losing his sight. “There’s a great book by Walter Murch – an important figure in editing and sound design,” says Peter. “He says that making a narrative film is like molding clay, whereas making a documentary is like chiseling marble. This was definitely like starting with a block of marble. The diaries were very wide-ranging so we had to find the narrative.” James recalls: “We had 16 hours of tapes. The one diary entry about the rain lasted six minutes, of which we used 30 seconds as a voiceover in the film.”
Recording and editing dialogue
When shooting My Brother the Devil, in addition to booms and plant mics, Jovan and the team insisted on plenty of radio mics. “There are scenes where lots of people are talking at the same time. If you have separate radio mics for each character then when you want someone’s dialogue to be heard over the others you can pick it up and bring it into the mix [in post-production].”
Recording dialogue, especially with radio mics attached to clothes, inevitably brings distracting rustling sounds so it needs to be cleaned up in the edit.This is where sound editors like Sirma Dogan come in. “My job is to take out unwanted noise so that dialogue is usable,” she says. “I use software that visualises the sound as a spectrum. You see where the excess noise is and delete it from the picture.” You also need to take out any constant noises, such as camera noises, but in doing so you must be careful not to take out more sound than is absolutely necessary. Sirma uses: iZotope, WNS and C4.
Sourcing sound effects
Finances permitting, you might be tempted to buy a library of sound effects to use in your work but Jovan warns: “Buying just one library probably won’t be enough. There are some sites where you can just buy the sound you’re after rather than the whole library but there is no cheap method – you have to beg, steal and borrow.” He adds: “Sounds get out of date very quickly. The sound of the street in the ’80s is very different to now, as the cars aren’t so noisy and people tend to wear softer-soled shoes.” His solution? “I go out and record my own sounds for each project I’m working on.”
For the Sound Edit brief we have made rare wildlife sounds from the British Library’s sound archive available for you to use in a film, animation or multimedia photostory. “We’re not looking for a literal interpretation – we want films which make the viewer question what they are listening to,” says Fran Taylor, Marketing Manager at the British Library.
Interested in a career in sound?
There are postgraduate courses in Sound Design but whether you decide to study formally or not, nothing beats real-world work experience. “Try to get on the bottom rung of the ladder,” says Jovan. “Work hard, be prepared to do long hours, show you’re good and keen.” James recommends interning on bigger productions, while overseeing the sound on independent films. “It gives you a chance to experiment.”
Image: wide angles by chrisdonia on a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
Are you a filmmaker, animator or photographer? The Sound Edit: Wildlife offers you the oppotunity to make a film using rare sounds from the British Library sound archive. The overall winner will be awarded £1,000 and have their film screened at the British Library.
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