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Tutorial: Sound Design Jobs in Film

This is a sound production tutorial provided by the Light Film School. The objective of this tutorial is to outline sound design jobs in film and teach indie filmmakers more about sound production. The video offers useful tips and advice for the many indie filmmakers who often work on a limited budget, deadline, and crew. With some extra time, creativity, and a modest investment, an indie filmmaker can greatly improve the audio production standards of their film projects.

Who Works in the Sound Department?

Before getting into the audio techniques in earnest, the tutorial first covers the average structure of an audio production department. Sound production has multiple stages, with crew members performing the work at each stage:

Boom operators/Mixers: These people are responsible for the early stages of sound production. Boom operators capture the audio, while the mixers set the proper levels and recording of the audio. The sound that they capture on set is called production sound, and on many indie film sets, the job of boomer and mixer is performed by one person.

Sound Editors: The sound editor receives the production sound. This person closely works with the director to oversee how well the audio matches the overall soundtrack. The editor also manages the post-production sound team. The following people are managed by the sound editor:

Dialogue editor. This person works exclusively with the project’s dialogue track.

ADR editor. This person re-records any dialogue that couldn’t be captured on the set.

Background editor. This person lays in and edits the background tracks, whether simple ones or complex atmospheric tracks that define the environment’s acoustics.

Sound effects editor. These people research various sounds in sound libraries or record non-diegetic sounds. These are sounds that are not produced by the events within a scene, but are present to set the mood or tone.

Folly artist. These people handle the “folly” sounds like punches or footsteps. In other words, diegetic sounds that are the result of actions in a scene.

Music editor. This person will work with the soundtrack by editing and syncing the music into the project.

Re-recording mixer. This is the person who takes over the sound once everything is finished and mix together all elements to build a final soundtrack.

In larger budget films, these roles are played by various people, but on some indie sets, they’re played by only one or two people. Regardless, a successful sound production process depends on how well the boom operator and mixer are able to capture production sound. No level of sophisticated editing can fix bad production sound.

How to get good sound?

The film script and good location scouting are two factors often overlooked in getting good sound production. For instance, consider the scenes written into a script. Sometimes writers will put in scenes (like a daytime industrial setting) that offer too much noise. While writers don’t need to change their script to suit sound productions’ demands, it’s important that the latter think creatively and anticipate obstacles. Thus, investing time into location scouting is crucial to quality audio production. In addition, the sound crew needs to consider the kind of equipment they’ll use and where they’ll position themselves within a location, in order to get the best results.

It should be noted that while you can play around with the sound of a location during editing, you can’t isolate or delete bad sounds. It’s best to do a proper job of recording in the first place. Some people aren’t aware that certain sounds share frequencies with others. Thus, if you try to delete a “bad” sound in your film, you may end up changing the dynamics of the “good” sound because they share the same frequency.

Overall, there are many factors that go into good sound production, but the most important one is having all departments work together to solve problems. Below are ten tips for ensuring this:

1. Turn off all mechanical and electrical devices.
2. Close all doors and windows.
3. Scout for quiet times at the location.
4. Close the set and implement a “no talking” rule.
5. Allow the boom operator and mixer into rehearsals. This will help them figure out their sound levels and position themselves within the scene so they don’t cast shadows against walls.
6. Perform test recordings.
7. Capture wild lines you need to re-record.
8. If the scene requires crew to move around, have them minimize sound and impact by wearing soft foot ware like socks.
9. Test the noise level of your props and be aware of which ones are noisiest (bracelets, necklaces, phones, etc.).
10. Give sound recorders time before and after the shoot in order to capture room tone.

In many instances, sound crew have the heavy burden of being understaffed, pressed for time, and not given enough time to prepare. Just because this happens often, it doesn’t mean that it should. Good sound is the responsibility of everyone on the set, and it will only happen if the sound crew is given ample time to set up and test. In the long run, you’ll get a better production because of it.


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