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Film sound design

Postproduction - Sound Editing

A lot can go wrong with your film's sound. Sound is every bit as important to your movie as the images but almost always get much less attention.

Sound is also hard to deal with because you can't see it and most people don't understand the langauge of the audio experts who are trained to work with sound.

An important issue to keep in mind is that in order to sell a film you must not only have sound that is clear, pure and natural sounding but the various elements of your sound must also be on separate tracks that synchronize perfectly.

  • The dialog must be on one track all by itself with as little sound effects and ambient noise as possible and absolutely no music.
  • The sound effects must be on another track with no music or dialog except for background voices that do not contribute to the story.
  • All music, including casual street music and overheard radios and televisions, must be entirely on a separate track.
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The reason for this is that in order to show a film in many foreign countries the dialog will need to be dubbed into the local language. In some cases it may also be necessary to use different music if licensing or other local sensibilities require it.

If you don't follow these rules you will likely not be able to sell your film. This should be too hard if you plan ahead and use a computer NLE editing system that supports multiple sound tracks.

Common film sound problems

Sound is too soft. If the sound was captured from your camera to your computer using FireWire (i.Line/IEEE1394) then you recorded the sound at too low a volume in your camera. You sould have done more tests or been monitoring the sound better. You may still be able to salvage the sound by boosting the sound levels.

The probably causes were too low a sound volume setting on the camera (or other recording device), or there may have been a microphone distance problem. If the microphone was too far from the subject then the sound will be too soft, but even worse, the quality of the sound will probably be very poor with too much background noise or a lot of echo.

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Very little can be done to save the sound if its quality is poor regardless of the overall loudness of the sound.

Sound is too loud. When the sound is captured and played it is too loud and sounds distored or has crackling noise at the loudest spots.

Film sound info on the web

FilmSound.Org is simply an amazing site. It must have more info on the use of sound in motion pictures than all the other sites put together. In fact there is so much that you may have a hard time finding what you need. You could spend an entire day reading the articles and listening to the sample sounds and be throughly entertained if still as confused as when you started.

Film Sound History is exactly what the title says. You probably don't need to know that the original 1933 King Kong was one of the most groundbreaking films in the use of sound but it's fun to read all the same.

Film Sound Theory has a good collection of film sound terms and explainations.

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