When I wrote Avarice, I wanted to make a film without dialogue to challenge myself to tell a story in pictures. I know that a lot of first time directors get stuck in the trap of relying mostly on dialogue to tell their stories, and the film ends up basically being two people talking in a room, which in my opinion is not very interesting.
So we set out to film my non-dialogue script, and on set, it made it so much easier. We didn’t have to worry about recording any sound at all, and that helped out our tight schedule quite a bit. I left thinking how great it would be to film all my movies without dialogue. But then came post production, and the dark, ominous cloud of realization soon settled overhead.
Let me begin by saying that this is my first project to work on from start to finish. So all of my experiences are from the eyes of a rookie. I also know very little about sound in film, so please excuse any wrong terminology used on my part.
It simply never occurred to be how much work goes into the sound of a film. I have read countless number of books about filmmaking, but they are usually centered on writing and directing. So when I realized that every little piece of sound that should be in a shot would have to be created, recorded, and then edited, I was a bit overwhelmed.
I was soon introduced to concepts such as a breath pass, ADR, foot pass, cloth pass, etc. Anytime the character breathed, walked, ran, touched something, fell on something, etc, it all had to be recorded. Even sounds of various fantasy elements in the film had to be carefully researched by testing out how different things sounded and ascertaining whether or not it would match the mood we were going for.
We actually set up a makeshift sound booth where we could record these sounds. I walked along different types of ground to match the character’s footsteps, and I waved and touched different types of fabric and objects in front of the microphone to match what Haley Parker, the main actress, was touching.
With the film in front of her, we also recorded Haley’s breath as she tried to mimic her breathing in the film. It’s all a bit bizarre but definitely interesting.
It turns out that designing sound is not that different from editing clips in a film. It’s just incredibly tedious. Chopping up sounds and placing them exactly is tricky, and building the different elements to create something that sounds a little “otherworldly” is even harder. Luckily, I only did a small percentage of the sound design for Avarice, but I did get to work on one of my favorite sounds in the film.
In Avarice, there is a character who is like a fairy light. It’s completely computer generated, and since fairy lights aren’t real, there isn’t an exact sound to associate with it. From the beginning I had wanted to really give the Light a personality through music and effects, but as we were nearing the end of post production it was obvious that it wouldn’t be enough.
The producer of Avarice, Dan Baker, came up with an idea that proved to work really well. We recorded a 9 year old girl, CJ Parker, to represent different emotions that the Light is feeling throughout the film. After dropping in those sounds and adding a glass harmonica to compliment her voice, provided by our amazing composer Kenton Smith, the Light began to really come alive as a character.
It was a really good example of how sound can change the way a story is perceived. Without it, understanding who the Light was and what it was trying to say to the Girl was much more difficult.
I would be remiss to forget to mention one of the most important people on this project because he is the one who took our roughly recorded sounds and turned it into quality. Our sound editor Kerry Kernan never ceased to amaze me. It’s so fascinating to see how sound is a completely different world, one that I will never understand as deeply as Kerry does.
He thought of things that never would have occurred to me, one of which was the background noise in a room. Apparently when you hear sound waves bouncing off the walls in a room, it tells your brain how big of a space you are in. It’s not really something that a person thinks about consciously, but if it doesn’t match the size of the room you see in the film, it will ruin the illusion and take you back into reality.
Kerry was able to make the space sound natural to the ear. It’s something so minute that a person wouldn’t notice it unless it was wrong. That’s just one of many tweaks Kerry made to the film, and his detailed work took Avarice to another level.
I definitely learned the importance of sound in a film, and my best advice to anyone starting out in film making is to never cheat your sound.
What have you learned while adding sound to a film?