David Sonnenschein Sound-Design-Sonnenschein-David-EB2370002760850

Published on September 21st, 2011 | by Jeremy Siegel

5 Keys for Using Sound Effects to Improve Sound Design

DS 5 Keys for Using Sound Effects to Improve Sound DesignBy David Son­nen­schein, author Sound Design: The Expres­sive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cin­ema. Sign up for the Sept. 22 free webi­nar Secrets for Great Film Sound, co-presented with Ric Viers (author The Sound Effects Bible), at www.SoundDesignForPros.com.

Key 1: Start with the script

The writ­ten script for a dra­matic film should be the first “lis­ten­ing” you will have of your sound track. Even if the film has been shot, or edited, don’t let your eager­ness to jump into the visu­als spoil this unique oppor­tu­nity. Regard­less of the dif­fer­ence between the writer’s words and what has been shot, read the script first. Your impres­sions of what will trans­mit the story through sound will be vir­gin and may very well draw more upon your inner ear if the input is from the page rather than the filmed image. Once you’ve seen the image, it is almost impos­si­ble to go back to the more pri­mary stage with­out being influ­enced by the impres­sion that the visual will have made.

When read­ing the script for the first time, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you do this from the begin­ning to end with no inter­rup­tion, and at a pace as close as pos­si­ble to the final film pace (usu­ally a minute per page). If you can do this, you’ll get a more accu­rate feel­ing of the sto­ry­telling pace and the rhythms inher­ent in the drama, and it will be your only oppor­tu­nity to get it like a first time viewer. After this read­ing you’ll be dig­ging into indi­vid­ual ele­ments, pulling things apart and putting them back together while con­sciously search­ing for cre­ative solu­tions. So close the door, turn off the phone and get into it for a few hours non-stop (for a fea­ture length script), as if you were sit­ting in the movie the­ater. But leave the lights on and have a pen­cil in hand. You will use the pen­cil like a conductor’s baton, nim­bly mark­ing the script as your eyes dance down the lines.

What to lis­ten for: Objects/actions, envi­ron­ments, emo­tions, transitions

On the first read­ing you’ll be look­ing for key words and ideas that imme­di­ately impress you. In sub­se­quent read­ings, espe­cially after meet­ing with the direc­tor and other cre­ative col­leagues, these same ideas and more key words should be tracked down in much greater detail, while you note the devel­op­ment and trans­for­ma­tion of these sounds through­out the story. Tech­niques for clar­i­fy­ing the devel­op­men­tal lines for the sounds will be given in the sec­tion “Draw­ing the Visual Maps”.

There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent “voices” to lis­ten for within the fol­low­ing categories:

1) sounds linked to peo­ple, objects and actions on screen that are explic­itly described
2) envi­ron­ments that can be fleshed out with sonic ambiance
3) key words in both scene descrip­tion and dia­logue that give clues to the emo­tions of the scene (both of the char­ac­ter and the spec­ta­tor)
4) moments of phys­i­cal or dra­matic transition

When you notice these on the page, cir­cle, use check­marks or any other rapid nota­tion to mark the word or phrase. If you feel the urge to write an obser­va­tion, econ­o­mize by using a word or two at most, just enough to later cue the mem­ory of your entire thought. You can invent a code (ex. “ew” for eerie wind), mark­ing the rep­e­ti­tion or devel­op­ment of a cer­tain sound or theme that car­ries through­out the film. But keep mov­ing for­ward with­out los­ing the pace of the story and don’t worry about get­ting it all marked out on the first read-through.

In my next blogs, we’ll go into detail on these four areas. Stay tuned and visit www.SoundDesignForPros.com to sign up for info on sound design webi­nars with David Sonnenschein.

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