What I Do
When you go to see a film, most of the sound you hear is not the sound that was happening when the camera was rolling. In fact, it is probably accurate to say that in modern motion pictures, the only sound you can be sure was recorded at the same time the pictures were shot, is the dialogue. Sometimes not even that.
This comes as a surprise to many people, mostly because no-one has any cause to think that the sound is made by anything other than what they are seeing on the screen.
But it isn't. Nearly everything you hear is created by the post production sound department after the fact. There are numerous reasons for this, but it is largely because the stuff that happens on the location rarely sounds the way we want an audience to hear it.
So we rebuild it all to our liking. You will never be aware of this, though, because we post-production sound people are wizards. You will only ever notice what we do if we do it badly.
I am currently involved in the post production sound for Ray Lawrence's new feature film 'Jindabyne'. Today we finished the sound effect mix. Post production sound mixes typically involve 5 major elements: The dialogue, the atmospheres, the sound effects, the music and the Foley.
♦Dialogue: All the things the actors say. This includes words spoken by the main cast, the extras, offscreen characters and people speaking on tv or radio. Anything with human voice. This is mostly dialogue recorded on the set, but includes ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement - a term that has lost most of its meaning but still sticks), loop group (crowds & people in the background) and breathing and other vocal sounds.
♦Atmospheres: All the environments of the film - room ambiences, traffic backgrounds, wind, rain, birds and so forth. Any sounds that are not dialogue and not on-screen sound effects.
♦Sound Effects: Anything you see happening on screen that is not an environmental sound. Also off-screen sounds that directly refer to action happening on the screen (such as a phone ringing in another room that an actor reacts to).
♦Music: The score for the film, but also any music that might be happening within the film's reality, such as Muzak in a mall, or a jukebox in a pub.
♦Foley: Footsteps, clothing noise and other sounds the actor's 'person' makes, such as picking up or putting down objects.
These days all this material is prepared in what is known as Dolby 5.1 format - 6 channel sound. This sound is arranged as Left, Centre and Right channels across the front of the screen, Left Surround and Right Surround behind the audience, and LFE, or Low Frequency Extension, which adds the very deep bass tones you might find in thunder or explosions or in some music.
This means that for some single sounds in our mix we might need six independant tracks to create one effect. On 'Jindabyne' we are running something in the order of 150 - 180 tracks of sound.
There are eight people working in the sound crew: A post production sound supervisor/sound designer, a dialogue editor, two sound designer/sound editors, two Foley personnel, a sound editing assistant, and a post production sound mixer. This is a small crew, but representative of most Australian films.
We work long days in a big darkened room that is designed to have the acoustics of a typical cinema.
I'm not allowed to tell you anything about 'Jindabyne', but I can say that I think it is a very fine film indeed, and I am very proud of our sound work. I hope that when you see it in the cinema you don't notice a thing we've done.