Great sound designers have created many wonderful effects that didn’t do any damn good because they were unsuccessfully shoehorned into sequences that didn’t have any room for them, no physical room and/or no story room.

By “no physical room” I mean they couldn’t be heard because there was too much competing sound, or not enough time in the scene for the sound to be wedged in.  By “no story room” I mean that the sounds were basically non sequiturs.  There was nothing in the story they could resonate with and/or the scene wasn’t structured visually and dynamically in a way that gave sound design a role.

The lesson is that sound design is not simply about fabricating sounds.  The most important part of sound design by far is creating a story context for sound to do its job, and it’s tragic that we sound designers, sound editors, re-recording mixers, and production sound mixers typically have no opportunity to advise the writer or director about context until it’s too late.

Let’s change that.  Production Designers and Cinematographers make script suggestions all the time, and on the set they tell the Director how setups can be altered to better use their crafts.   Movies will be better when Sound people are fully a part of that collaboration instead of the caboose that gets dragged around behind everyone else.

See:   Designing a Movie For Sound



4 thoughts

  1. Fantastic Blog Randy! I often refer to your “designing a movie for sound” especially with filmmakers that are just starting out. In fact, just yesterday I was chatting with a writer/director while working on a scene of his current film and I mentioned the space that sound and music have to breathe in “The Revenant” and “No Country for Old Men” amongst others and his eyes lit up….we then continued to work in silence for a bit and then out of the blue he said “so I have to be thinking about sound more while I’m writing, how sound can help the story” and I jumped out of my chair in excitement and shouted “Yes!!, yes you do!…. he “got” it, a small victory!
    Really looking forward to more writings from your new blog! All the best
    -craig henighan

    1. Craig,

      I think its awesome that you had the opportunity to do this with a director that was willing to listen!! I wish all directors were this way. It’s such a satisfying feeling when that gets across. Just having graduated I don’t have an enormous list of credits yet but I can still say that even at the student level, when a director would come in and allow for sound people to make a suggestion it was so much more satisfying and the narrative benefited in the end! Thats because that is the essence of COLLABORATION! It allows for the film to be supported by a director who has an idea of the larger picture and a vision but also to then be elevated even further by someone with expertise in the area of how sound can do this. Everyone benefits when the director cares about sound enough to allow for artistic input from the supervisor or mixer rather than simply having puppets to follow exact orders.

  2. Just yesterday, Matt and I had a meeting with a director about an upcoming short film. The script has been finished, but the film is still in pre-production and shot lists are being tweaked. The director stressed that he wanted us to be involved right away, and asked how he could assist us in the design of the sound, and asked that we give suggestions in terms of shots, pacing, etc. One of the most gratifying experiences you can have as a Sound Designer (or an aspiring sound designer for that matter).

  3. Great blog and great articles! Yes, “designing a movie for sound” is definitely a must read. I also share it with directors and producers. And I’m happy to say that I’ve been lucky to find several receptive ears along the way. Aside from that, I’m in the very fortunate position of teaching sound classes in a film department that educates potential directors, cinematographers, producers and editors! And articles like that one are an important part of the ‘sound-awareness inception’ 😉
    Slowly and gradually…

    Now, that being said. I’ve been working as an animation director/producer for the past couple of years and while I come from a sound background, I still find it very challenging to wear the sound hat while thinking about the visuals. It feels like a skill that needs work and perseverance to develop, like moving one’s hands independently to play the piano. What helps the most, though, is going back to the common thread that holds every film together: story and emotion. Once one goes back to that core, sounds and visuals belong to the same universe.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Randy! I look forward to keep reading!

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