A few years ago, I took a course in sound for film. I signed up looking forward to getting to know the more esoteric preferences and dialog boxes in Pro Tools. But what I encountered on day one was something far more interesting, and far more valuable. We embarked on nothing less than a study of the history of sound in film, led by R.J. Ward, our brilliantly engaging and artistically soulful teacher.
We began with Luigi Russolo and his manefesto The Art of Noises, before studying Pierre Schaeffer, Musique concrète, Michel Chion, John Cage, Stockhausen, Sir George Martin, The Beatles’ use of the studio as an instrument, Jimi Hendrix, and Walter Murch‘s groundbreaking sound design for THX 1138, all dots to be joined on a sonic path linking Russolo’s vision for noise with the arresting feedback of Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster.
I loved every second of that course. I learned so much. A soundscape assignment we were given by our instructor changed how I heard noise and how I approached music composition. I also took John Travolta and Uma Thurman and re-imagined them in Casablanca.
Throughout the course we also trained on various aspects of audio in post production, including automatic dialog replacement (ADR), foley, sound effects, and film scoring. For our final course assignment we were asked to chose a sequence from a movie, remove all audio, and create our own soundtrack. Specifically, we had to put into practice what we had learned about ADR, foley, sound effects, and scoring, by creating a brand new sound track that contained all four elements.
I decided to choose the opening sequence from the 007 movie Casino Royale. For voice dialog we could either do the voice acting ourselves or record other actors. Being British born, I figured I could probably pull off a decent British accent. But I think maybe 20 years living in California has rendered my British accent more mid-atlantic than I previously realized. Nonetheless, I worked through the scene playing both actors, and loop recorded each line getting the lip sync as close as possible.
For foley I ended up relying on a library of pre-recorded effects. I edited footsteps, slicing them up and aligning them with the footsteps in the picture. I also needed to add realistic amounts of reverb based on whatever space the actor was in at the time. I put in a cloth track, and the usual door opening and closings.
The biggest departure I made from the original soundtrack was with the music track. During the fight sequences in the original, there’s a fairly dynamic orchestral cue. I decided to use noise music, a technique I discovered while writing a Panic Attack soundscape.
In the end, I recorded my dialog, and edited foley and effects and re-recorded the final mix in about four hours. It was a rush job, but I was pleased with the results, particularly given this was my first attempt. I just wish my British accent hadn’t deserted me.
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