A Dreamer Walking

Sound

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 25, 2011

You know Charlie Chaplin really has helped me understand the importance of sound in film. Watching his “silent” movies in the sound era is extremely interesting. Honestly the two silent films he made during the sound era, actually had sound. Just, the sound was used extremely selectively. There was no dialogue from the main characters and there were periods of time where we heard nothing except the score. But every once in a while Chaplin would bring in a sound to emphasize a point. He was quite funny with some of his selections. When you watch the beginning of City Lights the mayor of the city is giving a speech and all we hear from him is a bunch of gibberish. I am sure Chaplin is trying to say something about politicians in the scene, as though they talk only to hear themselves speak. In Chaplin’s next film Modern Times Charlie takes sound effects in his silent film one step further. He is almost intrusive with the sounds he expresses at the beginning of the film while the Tramp works at the factory. He is making a statement about modern times and how technology seems to be intruding into our peaceful world. Sound is never over used in Charlie’s films. Even when he made an actual sound picture The Great Dictator, there is an elegance in the way he uses the sound that makes it far more impacting most films we see today.

Simplification is one of the keys in using sound in films. No filmmaker tries to copy everything we would hear in real life. Instead most sound designers try to take away all but the essentials. I remember hearing one of the sound designers for Forrest Gump talk about how he approached the sounds of battle when Forrest fights in Vietnam. He explained that if he used all the sound you would actually hear in a battle like the one Forrest was in nothing would really register with the audience. There is such thing as having so much sound that it just begins to sound like static. So instead, everything was taken away but a few sounds of bullets whizzing past soldiers head’s, explosions, and selective pieces of dialogue from soldiers in the background. We were given just enough to place us into the situation that was taking place, but everything else was deserted. Sometimes the director wants to take us away from the environment so we can see what is going on from a different perspective. Steven Spielberg took away sound in his movie Saving Private Ryan when the soldiers were attacking Omaha Beach. There are just a few dozen seconds where the main character Captain Miller seems to go inside himself and the gun shots and explosions stop. All we hear are faint sounds coming from the places he is looking at. This kind of thing helped focus our eyes and it made us rely more on the visuals. Often in film sound just gets in the way.

The sound designer’s job is not to recreate the sound we would hear in real life. For instance, when someone pulls a sword from their holster it never makes a “SHRRING” sound like we hear in almost every movie. We don’t hear a big “POW” sound when someone punches another person in real life, yet we almost always hear something like that in the movies. The goal of a sound designer is to make us feel something when we hear their sounds. If using something unrealistic gets us farther into the story they will use the unrealistic sound. The sound designers I have heard talk say that they rarely use the actual resource material when creating a sound design for a movie.

Sound effects really have the ability to drive a story. A good example is the movie Wall-E. Even the characters voice’s are expressed through sound effects in Wall-E. The sound designer Ben Burtt also brought characters like R2-D2 and E. T. to life with sound. With R2-D2 he needed to create a whole character through a series of high and low pitched beeps. We owe much of our love for Wall-E to Burtt. We immediately registered with Wall-E’s emotions through sound. Burtt talked about creating a whole vocabulary for Wall-E when he was doing his sound design. He needed to know what sounded sad, what sounded happy, and how to focus those sounds and make them unique for each character in the movie.

Sound design has the potential to be as poetic as a music score or a piece of dialogue. You have an artistic license when it comes to the sound design of your film. The rhythm of the sound design is important. The sound effects in a film need to be able to flow with the soundtrack and they must not get in the way of dialogue. There are times you will find that sound effects are all you need in a scene and you can get rid of the music and dialogue. Chaplin used sound well because he knew how much of a gift it really was. He knew how to use just enough to draw us into the scene. He also knew the power of the image without sound. Understanding the power your film could have without sound is key to understanding the importance a piece of sound could bring to your movie. Sound in film should be used for the same purpose as all the other tools in filmmaking; to tell a good story.

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