sound effects, backgrounds, and music. Now the music is normally taken care of by the composer, but the Sound Designer and Supervising Sound Editor are also in charge of actually inserting that into the film appropriately. Here in Hollywood, we have different union positions for the Dialogue Editor, Effects Editor, Music Editor, etc. and then ultimately for the re-recording mixer or mixing stage.
The process [of sound design] can, and in my opinion, should begin early in the production. If you begin with an analysis of the script, you can actually help the filming in terms of what kinds of shots will help the sound and what kind of sounds will help motivate the images that you want to shoot before you wrap the set. For example, in a horror film, when you want the sounds of shutters clacking on the haunted house, if you just have a “BANG BANG BANG” without showing the shutters, people might not know what that is… But if you can identify that with an accompanying image at least once, from there on in the film you can use that sound much more subjectively as an off-screen sound.
The other reason would be to help economize on an expensive scene where the sound might be able to carry the story and you can eliminate some fancy, expensive crashes or explosions. In that case, you can insert something that might be as impactful or emotional as a visual image but only on the soundtrack. Then going into the post- production phase, you’re going to want to talk with the director and picture editor about how the sound can help the scenes in their construction. You might use more or less image, speeding them up or slowing them down depending on how the sound is going to come in. So it’s really very useful to have
the sounds are very different than western music and that brought me into the recognition of how the different cultures and how the different ways of creating sounds can really be exciting, intriguing, and potentially supportive of storytelling. Nowadays, I continue to compose and perform music, mostly on wind instruments but also now using the computer as a great ally in the music that I am creating for many different forms, including therapeutic use.
Another thread is filmmaking and film directing… At an early stage I was very strong in the visual arts – photography, sculpting, painting, dancing. When I started to do my creative work it became obvious that those areas of sound and image would come together as a filmmaker. Putting all that together, I’ve combined it with my third area of interest which is neurobiology, which I have a degree in. For my first film, I was hired as a director by UC San Diego to make an educational film for the biology department. It was a wonderful initiation to my career. The neurobiology continues to fascinate me – I worked for many years in the sleep laboratory studying brain waves and the mind-body interface, and so when I began to integrate that into my filmmaking I recognized how impactful sound can be on a psychoacoustic and neurological level, and that’s been the basis of my teachings. Along the way I’ve produced and directed 8 feature films, most of them in Brazil where I lived for 15 years – all of them influenced greatly by the sounds and music of Brazil.
For those of us who may not be too familiar with what a sound designer does, outside of the obvious, can you start off by giving us a brief description or definition of what a sound designer is and where they come into the process of filmmaking.
Sonnenschein: The term sound designer has really only been used since about the 1970’s or so when Walter Murch created the sound for Apocalypse Now, and he actually designed the whole surround system and the storytelling use of sound. Traditionally the person in charge of the sound outside of the music is called the Supervising Sound Editor and those two terms – Supervising Sound Editor and Sound Designer are sometimes synonymous. Sound Designers have also been referred to as the person who might be creating new effects, like for sci-fi -- sounds that have never existed before and they’re doing a lot of interesting things – collecting sounds, processing them, sculpting them. Regardless of the label, the tasks of the Sound Designer are to be able to tell the story with sound using dialogue,
Since the dawn of time, mankind has
been captivated with the power of storytelling. Prehistoric men would dance around their fires, weaving intricate tales of their exploits and bravery in battle. The courage of knights and warriors would be regaled by bards in poem and song in later years. Legends and folktales grew out of these recitations, and would be passed down from generation to generation.
Much closer to home in the modern
era, the greatest vehicle for storytelling has been that of the moving picture. This was the birth of the modern film, when the likes of Chaplin, Marlowe and Keaton would grace the screen. These films were renowned for their “silent” quality – a term which defined the lack of dialogue on the screen. The truth is most “silent films” weren’t as taciturn as it indicates. Most of them had some form of orchestral music, or rudimentary sound effects created by the massive theater organs known as “mighty Wurlitzers”. What became very apparent to filmmakers of that time was that music and sound effects were pivotal to the magic of film, evoking emotional responses from the audience and drawing them into the story.
The moving images of the cinema
have always held a special appeal to the general public. The many elements of a film are brought together to charm us – whether it be the action, drama, love, special effects... While all of them contribute to the story, there is one element that most often is missed on a subconscious level that plays a significant role in movies – the sound design.
An incredible resource for exploring
this field is a book entitled Sound Design, by David Sonnenschein. After reading the book and interviewing Mr. Sonnenschein, I became acutely aware of the significant role that sound plays in the movies, and the challenging, yet exciting career of a Sound Designer.
By: Beth Buckley
An Online guide to Independent Film
By Indie Filmmakers...
For Indie Filmmakers!
The cover for Sound Design, a book by David Sonnenschein.
An Interview with Author David Sonnenschein
David, thank you for talking to us today. Why don’t we start by learning a little bit more about you, both as an author and as a filmmaker, and what sort of background that you were able to bring to this book….
Sonnenschein: Sure. I come with three different threads of expertise and training. The earliest in this area was as a musician, training classically. I played in the symphony orchestra for many years as a clarinetist, and then developed my abilities in improvisational jazz and ultimately world music. I trained in several countries where