Getting Down with Film Sound

Film Sound

Since the advent of Talkies (films with sound) in the late 1920s, audiences expect a good film to immerse them in its world through sound as well as images.  Most new filmmakers are overly concerned with camera techniques and action blocking; they often overlook the important element of sound in their storytelling.  Film sound is so important that all productions have their own film sound department, engaged in all of the phases of production and headed by the Director of Audiography (DoA).

Film sound comprises two separate auditory elements in a movie’s soundtrack, known as diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Diegetic sound refers to all those sounds that have a correlating source on the screen, including dialogue, atmospheric or instrumental (as in a violin or piano playing on screen).  Non-diegetic sound has no viewed source; it’s a found in a narrator’s voice, dramatic sound effects and mood enhancing music.

In the pre-productions stage, the Director of Audiography works with the Director to break down the script for sections requiring both diegetic and non-diegetic sound. They make decisions on how to best capture or create the sounds of the film. The DoA often makes recommendations for the roles of sound editor, sound production mixer, utility sound technician.  The DoA can even make recommendations for the movie’s score, if the Director does not have his heart set on Danny Elfman or Clint Mansell.

The production sound mixer and their assistant, the utility technicians are needed to capture sound on the set during production.  The boom operator can be seen on set carefully balancing a microphone on a long pole (commonly called a dead cat on a stick) within range of the actors but out of the camera’s frame.  The utility technician usually handles the cables while the sound mixer records and engineers the location’s sound.  In the post-production stage the sound editor and Foley artists record and mix in the non-diegetic sounds, including the film’s score.

Film sound design is taught to students majoring in film production, though many schools, like USC and University of California Long Beach have specialized programs for film sound.  The Tisch School of the Arts and California State University Northridge have media composition programs that work in tandem with film students to create original scores for their student films.  Film sound will always be a necessary and powerful element in filmmaking.

Get information on film production degrees by using the form on this page.  School representatives will guide you through the process and answer any questions you might have.

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