To accompany a silent film student project, I asked students to rehearse live scores and sound for their productions (Adaptations). For most of the class, this is their first attempt with live sound performance. To set them up for success, we designed a stable technical set-up with access to turntables, samplers and pre-programmed synthesizers. Some students also tested acoustic instruments they have studied in the past. Additionally, a live Foley component was added. Rehearsals and experimentation for this project have been an eye opening experience. Great ideas are brought to the table by new comers to live sound design. It is also interesting to observe how students prioritize their sound hierarchy and what choices inspire them most in performance.
Sound for film is a multi-layered process and so here I have provided some very simplistic concepts to help my students move forward.
TELLING YOUR STORY: SOUND FOR FILM
The sounds of a spring day; birds chirping, children playing in a nearby park, bicycle spokes ticking as cyclists ride by. A bustling city street with its car horns, sirens, footsteps on pavement. These are examples of ambient sound. Ambient noise is essential for selling the idea of a particular environment. If the characters in a movie are supposed to be on a space ship or in a submarine and there is no deep, constant rumble in the background it’s going to sound like they are on a Hollywood film set instead of in that particular vessel. It can also be textural for underlying emotional content. Ambience can be a very subtle, yet effective tool in your arsenal. It is critical that whatever ambience sounds you use are appropriate. IE: if you are simulating a grocery store that has only a few customers then do not use recordings of crowded, bustling shopping markets. The minute your sounds are unconvincing, your audience will be lost.
In this clip, we see a live sound mix of several great ambience examples from the Los Angeles Film School:
The element of cinematic magic begins to come to life when you talk about Foley sound. These sounds add depth and super-realism to a movie. Often objects that make unique sounds are substituted for what is actually making them on the screen: leather gloves flapping as a bird flaps its wings; a fist hitting a piece of steak as a punch lands in a henchman’s gut, a handful of uncooked spaghetti snapping as a bone breaks.
With this type of sound you also gain something very powerful; suggestion of meaning or symbols in your story. You can show an axe being raised above an unsuspecting victim’s head and then cut to a different shot as the sound of the axe falling into flesh is heard. In other words, Foley sound allows you to tell your audience what is happening without actually showing it to them.
Here, we see an excellent short film on Foley work produced by the Los Angeles Times:
For our purposes, a film score (also sometimes called background music or incidental music) is music written specifically to accompany a film and support your film narrative. This class is not producing music videos where the sound, emotion and energy are relatively constant. We are telling stories that have turns and twists. Music will highlight this experience for your audience or it will flatten it. The music is selected to support the story. Music for film is also called “score.” The score comprises a number of orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces called cues which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question. In this class you may play instruments, use the Reason computer program or play records to develop the music sound score for your film.
Here, Richard Davis from the Berklee College of Music gives the most fundamental principle to musical score:
Hans Zimmer: the Conscious of Creating the Film Score :
How It All Fits Together
Blades of grass sway in the breeze as a steady rumble grows in the distance. Butterflies flit through flowerbeds in the sunny field. The rumbling gets louder amid the peace of the serene summertime scene. Suddenly, a hundred men on horseback appear over the rise, their screams echoing eerily across the plains as they charge into battle in slow motion. Hoofs pound the earth, kicking up dirt; the manes of the horses and the long hair of the warriors both now sway gently in the same breeze that moves the grass. The look of fear crosses over their dirt-covered faces, but they press on toward the enemy. This is all just writing, of course, but I’m sure you can imagine or you might have seen a similar sequence take place in a movie. Sometimes silence is used in a slow motion segment to convey a suspension in time, but still the sounds of the men yelling their battle cries, the horses’ hooves hitting the ground, and even the breeze lightly moving across the fields, must be captured and put in place in order to bring the scene to life. When the film finally returns to real-time motion, an epic song of battle might begin to play in the forefront, stirring feelings of tension within your audience. Don’t forget to use negative space to help to support dramatic moments later in your film.
Choosing the right mix of sounds can turn an ordinary scene into a great one. Sound is 51%; it will make or break your film.
*Source material from Indie Film