link to full original script:

The deluge.  A deluge of memories for Betty as a deluge of voices in the flashback courtroom turn into a literal deluge of rain outside her hotel room on the balcony where, at the bottom of page 56 she soon discovers Mitchell’s dead body on the chaise lounge.  Playback!   This sequence solidifies the water theme in the movie.  We equate rain/water with sadness and longing.

I need to talk with the director about what kinds of props might be on this balcony.  Obviously there are hundreds of kinds of rain sounds theoretically possible, depending how intense the rain is and what kinds of surfaces it is hitting.  It’s the surfaces I’m thinking about here.  One or two acoustically distinctive surfaces for the rain drops to impact would give this sequence a lot more sonic character, and something very distinctive might be what draws Betty’s attention to the balcony in the first place.  This isn’t something that should be left to chance, or to whatever the prop person happens to put there.  We should put an object on the balcony based in large part on the sound rain drops will make when they hit it.  We can focus on the sound when the camera is pointed at it, and then reduce it quite a bit if we want to when the camera is pointed elsewhere.

So, what could it be?  I’m wondering if there could be something thematic… something that would connect with something else in the script…   Lots of drinking goes on in this story…  Could a drain from the balcony above be pouring a stream of water down onto Betty’s balcony, and could that stream be landing in a drinking glass, or in the spout of a bottle.  Openings like that can have a vocal-like quality.  We could come up with a very specific kind of sound in post for either of those possibilities.  Or it could be a piece of metal that might make a kind of ringing sound as the water hits it.  Any of these would be better than just generic rain drops hitting concrete or landing in puddles.

Or how about something that recalls a rhythm we’ve heard?  A sound pattern we’ve heard, like train wheels clacking on tracks.  The sound of water droplets falling onto a metal surface on the balcony could be in roughly the same pattern as the train wheel clacks we heard earlier.

An important point here is that whatever we do will work best if there is at least a brief camera shot of whatever it is that makes this particular sound.  The lazy way to approach it, and the way it is usually done unfortunately, is for the director to wait until post production to ask for a distinctive sound for the rain, when the only visuals that exist are of something generic and uninteresting.


Dialog Style

The scenes following Betty discovering Mitchell’s dead body are largely dialog scenes.  When Brandon takes Betty to the dock-side dive bar we can bring back our harbor/water elements effectively, but other than that there are few sound design opportunities.  So let’s talk about dialog.

The dialog Chandler has written for this script has his signature flare.  It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to call it a kind of sound design.  It certainly uses distinct rhythms.  Since we’re imagining that we’re shooting this noir script in 2021, I’m wondering whether we might want to do something “post modern” with the sound of the dialog.  It’s worth talking with the director about early because it could affect the way the actors perform.  Could everything be a semi-whisper?  That would make life even more difficult for the production mixer under normal circumstances, but if the director can really be brought on-board to the idea that the dialog can be usefully stylized in a certain way then they may be more likely to make sure that recording conditions on the set will be more sound-friendly, like they were in the noir era.

Conversely, maybe we want to evoke the actual sound of noir era movie dialog… slightly muffled, “warm,” narrow bandwidth, restricted dynamic range.

Last sequence and summation…

The last thirty pages of the script are Betty and Brandon on the motor boat, being pursued by the cops and military, who are on a Coast Guard cutter, helicopter, and an airplane.

Water continues to be our main theme.  It has followed Betty ominously throughout the story, and the full power of the open sea threatens to consume her in this final sequence.

The biggest sound design challenge in this long sequence will probably be modulating the sounds of the various water and air craft, and keeping them distinguishable from each other.  Not an easy job given that in several moments we need to be hearing the close-up engine sound of the motor boat Betty and Brandon are on at the same time as hearing the distant sound of a helicopter, plane, or cutter in pursuit.

I should talk with the director in pre-production about the sound of this motor boat.  I’ll want to make it very disctinctive-sounding.  That could figure into the exact type of boat chosen and visual cues it would be helpful to get.  Giving it a very distinctive sound will help the audience distinguish it from the other craft.

The last shot in the script is the floating debris of Brandon’s motor boat on the surface of the sea after his suicide crash into the ferry boat.  I’ll talk with the director about how we can make this quiet moment as “musical” as possible with the sound effects.  The look of specific kinds and shapes of debris, along with the kind of water surface action, will determine how interesting this moment will be sonically.


I hope this exercise of mine has been useful to you.  As I said at the beginning, if sound is truly taken seriously as a storytelling element then sound ideas must play some role in informing the visuals.   That role should begin in pre-production.  What I’ve presented is not necessarily the definitive sound design approach to “Playback,” but it was the one I chose.  In my discussions with our imaginary director I would expect some of my suggestions to be questioned, and some of them to be rejected.  That’s the way these things go.  At the very least I would hope that the director would appreciate my willingness to present some bold creative ideas in which I take the storytelling as seriously as I take my own craft.

Best Always,

Randy Thom

2 thoughts

  1. This is really helpful Randy Thom. Thank you for reminding me how to do this. It’s been a while since I did script analysis, but now I have a possibility to analyze a script for a short film/documentary. How much do you collaborate with the production sound mixer?

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