Have you ever watched a movie with the sound turned off? Try it sometime, I bet you’ll find it kind of lackluster. With good acting and editing you may still pick up basic elements of the story despite not hearing the dialogue, but you’ll likely miss a lot of the emotion and nuance and feel disconnected from the story. Great sound lets you forget about the couch and the TV, the chair and the computer screen, the bus seat and the smartphone and experience the world you are watching. The tone in someone’s voice, the breeze flowing through the trees, the vrooms and chatter of a city street, the exaggerated ring of a sword being unsheathed before a duel, these are the sounds that bring amazing visuals to life.

TV was originally seen as radio with pictures and most people in the film industry will say that sound make up more than half of the impact of a movie. Despite this, sound is often given far less consideration than picture in film and video productions. In post-production, sound editing and mixing is often the first thing to get cut back when budgets are tight. At Journeyman Film Company we already put a lot of thought into how to tell stories with beautiful pictures, so we decided to spend some time discussing how we could better use sound since it is so crucial to the work we do.

This spring we began doing regular creative development meetings and telling stories with sound was one of the first topics we decided to discuss. Our discussion began by watching a few videos with great sound for different reasons.

The videos are below with our thoughts in point form underneath.

Zippo commercial by our friend and west-coast collaborator Kelly Wolfert

https://vimeo.com/16406470

-It has a very strong present sound design
-The visual-audio combo did a great job of capturing the feeling of the environment, the serenity of the outdoors, the overly loud zipper sound reflecting how the sounds you make seem louder out in nature
-The sounds were all designed in post to make this commercial pop

Shinya Kimura

https://vimeo.com/16981453#at=0

-We found the loud noises and eventual removal of the noises shaped the story and really drive it along
-The overall mix was very high, with the sounds competing with his voice, which may have been planned for English audiences reading subtitles.
-There was almost no music except for one small musical line

Cocktail Bartender – http://www.radicalmedia.com/usa/commercials/davi-russo/commercials/cn/#160244

-Great live sounds to match the picture. While sounds were very present, they were not meant to take over the story, as with the previous examples. The sounds were mixed just so the viewer can feel like they are in the bar talking to the bartender as he mixes drinks.
-The sounds of the drinks being made have a certain rhythm or musicality to them that complement the background music.

The Catch

https://vimeo.com/64168874

This is a piece Journeyman did in early 2013 for Jail Island Seafood. The visuals are made up of photographs, often animated, which provides an advantage for sound. Without the limitation of live sync sound, which requires hiding microphones or keeping them just out of frame, neither of which are usually ideal for capturing the best sound, we were able to design sounds to set the ambiance of the scene.

What do you think? About these videos? About this post? About sound in film overall? we’d love to hear your thoughts.

– By John Pollack

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