Types of sound

There are several types of sound which might be required in your film. For example:

  • Dialogue is speech.

  • The score is music.

  • Ambience is the background, contextual sound. (The wind, perhaps, or passing traffic, or the background noise of a school.)

  • Foley effects are sound effects.

A sound designer will need to record, or find, and edit together all of these layers of sound. When all working together, they compromise the film's soundtrack.

Task 1: Recording Dialogue

By far the most basic thing you need to be able to do is to record clean dialogue. You're going to film a simple conversation between two people. (Good old shot reverse shot will serve you well here!) Here's the script - have a read through so you know what you're going to need to do. (And feel free to change it in part or totally!)

So, when filming this, your sound recordist should be recording THE DIALOGUE. NOTHING ELSE. Not the ambience, or foley, or anything else at all. As far as possible, we want all the layers of sound - the dialogue in this case - to be separate from everything else. This will mean you have to:

  • Find a quiet place and a quiet time to film. Everything else depends on this.

  • Mic your actors properly. You could use a boom mic (by far the best option), a concealed sound recorder, or even your phone. It is important, though, that whatever you use is close to the actors.

  • Record the sound for every take. You're only going to use one of these takes - but it's good to have a choice of the best one. It also won't necessarily be the sound which goes with a particular piece of video so direct your actors; make sure they deliver the lines and act in the same way every time if possible.

  • CHECK THE SOUND. Use headphones while recording, ideally, and stop the shoot if it's not good enough. But at the very least, check the quality of your sound while you still have your actors and equipment to shoot again if necessary.

Task 2: Creating Foley

While the editor is putting the film together, the sound designer needs to go and get their sounds. You can find them or make them. As ever, we need to be organised. One way to plan sound is with a DUBCHART. It's just a table which matches sound to a point in the film or the screenplay. It ensures you have all the sound you need and that you've started to think about the order you're going to put it in.

Task 3: Bring it all together

Once you have created your foley, chosen the best dialogue tracks and captured your ambience (and renamed them all and organised the files in one nice tidy folder...) you need to apply them to the film. There are a number of programs you can use to do this, but you might as well use Garageband since sound design is what it's for.

  • Get the latest cut from the video editor and all your recorded or found ambient, dialogue, foley sounds together.

  • Import the video and the sounds into Garageband. (Open a 'Voice' project.)

  • You'll be able to see the video change as you move around on the timeline. This is exactly what you want.

  • Put the sounds where you want them. You might want to export the soundtrack at this point and let your group check it with the video.

  • Assuming everything is okay, it's now time to MIX your sound. You need to adjust volume so it's the way you want it. (Do this through headphones. But check your final cut on normal speakers.)

  • Open 'Mix' menu and choose 'show automation.' You'll then have access to many effects and controls on each track.

  • To adjust these things (it might just be volume at this stage), we use KEYFRAMES. These are a basic editing tool; an instruction to a computer to start or stop doing something, or to change something over time. In our case, we want something to get louder or get quieter. You just click on the particular sound clip or line you want to adjust and a dot - a keyframe - will appear. Click elsewhere and you have another keyframe. Now you can drag them up and down to change volume (or pan, or echo, or whatever you want) over time.

What you have done so far -create, add and mix the sound - is the absolute basic requirement for sound design in most films. Check the other controls if you want to get more ambitious - pan sounds from one side of the screen to the other, or start matching your sound dynamics to the environment (is your character in a big empty hall? Add echo to their dialogue.) Most importantly of all, acknowledge that sound design is as important, and as time-consuming as any other part of the filmmaking process. It genuinely is the thing, in fact, which sets a lot of good work apart from other pieces.

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