Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The importance of sound (not dialogue) in movies

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Jordan Kisner has a very interesting article in the Guardian (from last month) about Skip Lievsay, a noted sound designer—from the article:

Lievsay is one of the best. He won an Academy award in 2014 for his work on Gravity. He was awarded the 2015 Career Achievement award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors society. Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing – his work. He is also the only sound editor the Coen Brothers work with, which means that he is the person responsible for that gnarly wood chipper noise in Fargo, the peel of wallpaper in Barton Fink, the resonance of The Dude’s bowling ball in The Big Lebowski and the absolutely chilling crinkle of Javier Bardem’s gum wrapper in No Country for Old Men.

From the (somewhat lengthy) article—which is well worth reading in its entirety:

The impact a tiny aural cue can have on the brain’s understanding of narrative is astonishing. On the third day of the mix, Lievsay and Larry were breezing through a scene of Miles dropping in on one of his wife’s dance rehearsals when Cheadle, who had been doing t’ai-chi in one corner to pass the time, paused them. The scene sounded a little too dreamy. Cheadle wanted a more matter-of-fact sound. “The point is that [Miles and his wife Frances] are carving a special moment out of something that’s not special,” he said.

Lievsay nodded and fiddled for a moment. When he replayed the scene, something small but extraordinary happened. I had watched this scene somewhere between one and two dozen times but this time I noticed something I’d never seen before: a young woman passing behind Frances with a stack of papers in her hand. Lievsay had given her footsteps. Without the footsteps, I’d somehow never seen her; now, I saw her, and her presence – along with a few other tweaks by Lievsay – suggested bustling in the room, people at work, things happening outside the eye contact forged between Miles and Frances. I didn’t exactly hear the difference: I just saw the scene differently.

“Is it busy enough now?” Lievsay asked.

In order for that edit to be possible, Lievsay needed the footsteps of that young woman close at hand. He needed not just any footsteps, but ones that sounded like they were made by a low high heel of roughly the sort that women would wear in the mid-1970s crossing a wooden stage. This kind of noise – one that requires precision, but that is intended to blend in to the background – is called Foley. (The work is named after Jack Foley, who first came up with a process for adding quotidian noises, such as footsteps, to films in the 1920s.)

When Lievsay reached for that girl’s footsteps, he wasn’t going back into some old library – he was reaching into the library of Foley designed and created specifically for Cheadle’s film. The Foley house, also known informally at his studio as “the sound castle”, where these sounds are made, is in New Jersey, just 15 minutes past the place where the George Washington Bridge connects Manhattan with Fort Lee. It is not so much a castle as a warehouse crammed with more stuff than can be adequately described here. Marko Costanzo, the antic “Foley artist” who works there, takes evident joy in giving tours of the sound stage and the treasures he stores there: a bin full of Zippo lighters from different eras; a bunch of swords (“from when we did Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”); barrels; bicycles; baby carriages; one area devoted to different kinds of indoor flooring and another devoted to outdoor ground cover; a pool (“we built it to do the sounds for the raft in Life of Pi”); a child’s Easy-Bake oven. “I beg people not to take things to the dump, but to bring them to me instead,” said Costanzo, grinning and spreading his arms wide.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2015 at 8:47 am

Posted in Movies & TV

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