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Foley for film

Movie sound effects for realism

Sound effects, along with music and dialog, go a long way to create the realism and drama of a movie. Try watching an action movie with the sound turned off and you'll see what I mean.

The best sound effects are often very subtle such as the crunch of footsteps on gravel or a key jingling in a lock. Such touches add greatly to the realism of you movie.

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Movie sound effects should not be recorded during production. Because your film may be distributed internationally and the dialog could be dubbed in the local language you should record the sound effects separately. Try to get very clean dialog with no background sounds during production.

Movie sound effects should always be added during post production. The real sound you record on location will never sound as real as a good sound effect recorded with professional gear and enhanced for maximum impact. Actual gun shots sound like a little pop compared to the roaring cannons we hear in movies.

Good sound effects also enhance your movie's production values. If you can't afford to film a car crash you can afford to film the hero's reaction to the car crash as the audience hears the recorded sound of a crash (also enhanced for maximum impact). Follow that up with a shot of a lone tire bouncing down a hill and you've sold the effect.

A regular source of effects for filmmaking is a stock library, where sounds are stored on CD. Many common sounds from gunshots to toilets flushing to airplane flying over are available from these stock library CDs. Almost any sound you can imagine is available for free or very inexpensively from a sound-effects library.

The rest of the sound effects have to be recorded after the film has been edited. Get ahold of the best microphone and recorder you can beg, borrow or steal, along with a set of good headphones. A highly directional microphone, like a shotgun, is best. Experiment with getting closer and farther from the source of the sound. Closer is usually better.

Trying to find an unusual and original sound? Record the sound of just about any object being hit, scraped, dropped or otherwise manipulated to create a noise. Also changing the speed of a recording. You'll soon have that special alien blaster sound.

Jack Foley and sound effects

Foleying is the "looping" of sound effects by foley artists who create the sounds while watching the picture. The process is named after its developer, a legendary sound man named Jack Foley of Universal. Because virtually all footsteps are replaced, a foley stage usually includes several pits with different surfaces, such as grass, concrete and gravel, on which the foley artist will walk in time to the one or more characters he or she is watching.

Clothing rustle and the movement of props are likely to be recorded here as well. Even kisses are foleyed. A steamy sex scene was probably created by a foley artist making dispassionate love to his or her own wrist. Foley is more flexible than a sound effects library because any sound that needs precise timing, such as matching an actor's footsteps, is hard to match to a recording.

Foleying needn't be a duplication of the original sound. The sound crew can characterize actors by the quality of the sounds they attribute to them--say, what type of shoes they wear.

You can add "Foley walking" to your film. Watch a playback of your movie with the sound turned off. With a microphone near the floor, walk in cadence with your actors. Keep experimenting until you have it just right.

Professional Foley artists have a "foley pit" available to them containing small samples of every type of flooring and ground imaginable along with hundreds of props of every sort imaginable. A classic is using two coconut halves to create the sound of a horse's hoofs running. Professional foley artists can be hired but the determined indie filmmaker should be able to do the job with a little imagination and determination.





Ambience as a sound effect

Every room and location has a sound. No place is truly silent. Whether it's the sound a the A/C or a distant dog barking, we live with sounds all the time. During or after production your sound recordist should always record a few mintes of the sound of each filming location to have the background "ambience" available for the sound mixer.

A constant ambience sound does a lot to cover and smooth out the cuts edited together from different takes of a scene.

The mixer may also choose to use ambience from a sound library if that better expresses the drama of a scene.


Looking for sound effects? Many sources for sound effects, mostly free, are included on the downloadable ebook version of this site.
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