Sound Department in Film
Capturing dialogue and the sound of the particular environment that’s being shot, such as the field the protagonist is cycling through or the echo of a grand hall are recorded by the Sound Department on-set. For these professionals, dubbed “production sound mixers,” equipment includes the boom microphone, digital mics, special equipment to measure sound, digital recording software and spools of cable.
Basically, if you hear something on the screen, that’s the responsibility of the sound department. And even though digital sound is being used more and more for special effects, the old-time standards are still used today. Dried-out coconut shells to emulate horse hooves – parodied in Monty Python and The Holy Grail – can be found in almost every Foley closet.
What does the Sound Department in Film do?
The Sound Department is responsible for the recording of all location sounds. Sound mixers place boom mics to capture conversations, monologues, close speeches, and other dialogue without picking up other ambient sounds. These mics are located at the end of a telescoping pole, allowing a wide range of motion.
On the soundstage, the placement of the booms is relatively static because the environment can be controlled. Things become a little (or a lot!) more complicated when shooting on location, such as at a train station. The dialogue can be drowned out by announcements, whistles, and just the hustle and bustle of the travelers.
Film dialogue outside can be daunting, to say the least. A windy day can wreak havoc on a set as gusts whistling by are being picked up by the mic. Boom operators have to be able to adapt to the circumstances and find ways to mitigate howling wind and the like. Certainly, some of those sounds can add a dimension to the film but are usually added later on in the production. Secondary booms may be needed if the actors are too far apart for a single boom. Radio mics are used when booms are impractical and studio mics are used when dubbing is required.
A sound designer or supervising sound editor is responsible for all post-production sound. On a daily basis, film snippets are sent to the sound department to “clean up” the film of the film. In other cases, film or sound is added, such as Foley work.
Foley artists are sound professionals (who work in the post-production phase of a film i.e. after the shooting has wrapped) have the fun job of twisting celery until it begins to snap, rustling unspooled VHS tape and biting down on dry pasta. These unique sounds – as well as 100’s of shoes, the human bodies, and boxes filled with concrete, sand, or leaves – are used by Foley artists to recreate zombies biting into flesh, reeds blowing in the wind, or bones breaking.
This is where all of the sounds of the movie are brought together with principal photography. During this phase, all of the background sound the boom operators worked so hard to diminish is cleaned up and added in. Footsteps that were muted so they wouldn’t be heard over dialogue are introduced into the soundscape as are birds chirping, guns blasting, and leaves rustling—all become one with the movie again.
Post-production is also where the film is mixed into the film. From original film to the latest pop hits to golden oldies, all the soundtrack elements get added (even just partial clips of songs) in this nearly final stage of post. The score which could be as audible as the one for Game of Thrones, or little more than a single bassline to increase tension, is then also added and appropriately placed.
Sound mixers and editors are then charged with improving those sounds. Using feedback from the director and/or members of the sound crew, post-production sound mixers and editors polish the raw dialogue and sounds to a fine sheen. From that point, the film and visual are paired for the final product.
Whether on-location or in an enclosed set, getting the best possible recording is the goal of the sound department. Interested in a sound production film career? Let Film Connection give you a head start.
Learning Sound and More
With Film Connection, you’ll be paired with an experienced professional in the production field. You’ll work with your mentor in a production company, you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to work on-set, including operating the boom mics or placing other microphones.
You also will cover what are the best approaches to effectively record sound, and how to mic individuals and sets for optimum quality. As the sound extern, you can also be asked to run cable for the boom operator, help mic talent, learn the sound paperwork required in editing, and in some cases, operate the boom.
Film Connection offers programs and workshops to give our externs an overall understanding of the business. This includes screenwriting, direction, cinematography, and more. Want to see your work up in lights? Let Film Connection get you a few steps closer.