Independent Film - Don’t forget the sound

film making sound

It seems most ‘first time’ film makers put all their resources into making a beautiful visual composition and ignore the other aspects of their film. The end result is more often than not a disappointment for reasons that aren’t always clear to the director.

From personal experience and watching low films, the reason so many fail is the lack of great sound. (I am not implying that the script or acting is always first rate… if you know what I mean)

First of all, sound not really as sexy as a well composed image. Getting clear sound isn’t as fun or as immediately gratifying as getting your dolly shot just right. Most film makers are visual and most are looking for the immediate gratification.

Some simply do not know audio, sound is a complicated subject and good sound can be a dense product that calls for specific technical skills.

Sound tends to works subconsciously. You may notice a familiar song over a montage, and sudden sharp effects, but perhaps not notice the subtle sound design through.

film music emotion

A film score carriers the emotion of the scene. It essentially plants an idea in your subconscious about what you’re supposed to be feeling as you watch. It deepens your feelings, creates unease when there’s nothing on the screen to make you feel suspicious, and it creates an ironic disconnect between what you feel and what you see.

Sound effects are also the only truly three dimensional element of a film. Even recent 3D technology does nothing more than improves on the illusion of depth that already appears in film technology. It’s sound that creates a full three dimensional world. It gives you a ton of information about the environment surrounding the characters, and tells you what’s going on off screen. Sound enters the full space of the theater, and affects you in a very physical way.

Sound also improves the link between shots and scenes when editing. A dozens cuts within a scene, throwing you through space, but sound never cuts, giving the scene continuity. Think how this links cuts within a number of different locations.

Convinced yet? Think back to when you were watching a low budget flick with poor sound. Feels like an amateur endeavor doesn’t it?

Acting can me managed with creative casting, poor image quality can be justified as an avant- garde directorial choice, but terrible sound quality will make your movie seem cheap.

So what to do for a low to no budget short?

Hire a good shotgun microphone: A shotgun mic will record what’s going on in the direction you point it, and will pick up far less of the ambient noise and background sounds of your environment.

If you’re feeling very ambitious (have a budget or well connected), or have someone who understands sound, you can have them bring a portable mixer to work in between the mic and the camera. See what you can pull together.

Next, do some basic clean up in post production. While it’s ideal to hire a pro sound mixer to create a dense, three dimensional, clean and layered soundscape, this is could be beyond the means of some independent video producers so wing it if you have to.

Very least look up a few online tutorials on how to do some basic hiss removal and audio clean up. Apply these techniques to your relatively cleanly recorded audio, and you will be miles ahead of every independent or first time film maker when it comes to producing a strong product.

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