The Invisible World of the Foley Artist

foley sound effects performance rowing boat on water

by Julia Courtenay

 

Foley—the addition of sound effects in post-production—is probably one of the most under-appreciated arts in film production.

 

The sound effects designed by Foley Artists are often as mundane as footsteps, keyboards, kettles etc. but they can stretch to the gory sounds of tearing flesh and crunching bones, to the sound of alien life forms and futuristic technology.

 

foley artist sound effects "I'll be recording and editing screams and torture sounds this week. Don't call the cops."

 

In fact, most of a production’s sound track is added in post-production for a number of reasons:

 

1) Some situations are faked during filming.

Swords in a sword fight may not be metal, a hand does not make contact with skin in a simulated punch or slap.

 

luke skywalker star wars fake kick

 

2) Some situations just don’t exist.

Think CGI light sabers in Star Wars or flying vehicles in Blade Runner 2049

3) Some sounds will not register adequately on microphones.

Examples include: a bird’s wings as it takes off, a letter being pulled out of an envelope, the rustle of clothing etc.

 

foley sound effect for heels

 

4) Additional sounds need to be added to create atmosphere and mood.

Ceiling fans, clocks, a fizzing fluorescent, a buzzing fly—the sounds you usually don’t pay too much attention to.

 

5) Some action must be silent during filming to keep the primary sound track clean for editing.

This is especially true for background (i.e. “extras”) or secondary performers. Background performers in a restaurant, for example, mime dialogue and interact with their prop cutlery, plates, glasses etc. completely silently.

 

These sounds are devised, “performed,” and recorded by the Foley Artist in Post Production.

 

foley artists at work

 

The recording of the effects is a “performance,” because the Foley Artist has to perfectly synchronize their actions with the actor’s movements as well as the mood and tenor of the scene. Just like actors, Foley Artists rehearse their performance delivery before recording.

 

A Foley Artist’s studio looks like a thrift store gone nuts. It’s full of bits of metal, every variation of flooring and fabric samples, chains, boots, grit, soil, food of all kinds, tools, electronic components, instruments, toys, bubble wrap, cellophane, a multitude of seemingly random objects and materials—all to make sounds we hear only subliminally.

 

foley artist studio

 

But ultimately, sound is what makes the hairs on the back of a viewer’s neck stand up. It provides and enhances the reality, atmosphere, texture, and mood. If those sounds were absent, it would substantially diminish and flatten the viewer’s experience of a movie. Imagine Jedi fights with no lightsaber sounds!

 

Foley effects are often a genius combination of extremely unlikely sound sources instead of the real thing because the director is often looking for a heightened reality. It’s not about real sound; it’s about how a viewer believes something should sound or creating a more satisfying version of it.

 

The Foley Artist spends a long time experimenting with various objects and microphone placement to get the perfect result.

 

the early days of foley

 

Some interesting Foley tricks:

 

  • The iconic Star Wars lightsaber sound came from a combination of projector hum added to TV transmission interference. To create the sound of lightsaber movement, Ben Burtt used the Doppler Effect by recording the sound with a moving microphone.

 

  • The sound of rain = the sound of sizzling bacon.

 

  • A gun cocking = a briefcase clasp closed slowly

 

  • Ice Skating = a tile cutter on glazed tiles

 

  • Punches depend on how “meaty” the sound has to be. Foley Artists have used a wide (and unexpected) variety of techniques: a hammer hitting a cabbage, a frozen romaine lettuce hit against a table, and a baseball bat hitting a slab of meat etc.

 

There aren’t really any formal requirements or set career paths to becoming a Foley Artist. Foley Artists typically have an education in sound and/or recording arts plus knowledge and experience in post-production.

 

A good place to start is as an intern or runner in a post-production audio facility. From there, a mentor can take you on as an assistant. But ultimately, it comes down to networking and persistence—this is the film industry, after all.

 

If you’re still skeptical about the artistry of Foley, there’s nothing like watching Foley Artists in motion. Check out this beautiful award-winning short and immerse yourself in The Secret World of Foley:

 

But maybe Foley isn’t for you—and that’s fine! There’s plenty of work in the beast that is the film industry. We’ve got great articles that walk you through specific positions to help you figure out where your career will go:

 

Script Supervisors: The Eyes & Ears of Continuity

Assistant Directors: The Unsung Heroes of the Film Industry

The Creative Producer: Getting the Best of Both Worlds

 

My 30 Favourite Films of 2017

+ WORST FILM and MOST ANTICIPATED OF 2018

By Kryshan Randel

30 Favourite Films of 2017

 

For most of the year, no film came close to the best that television had to offer. Brilliantly conceived shows such as THE HANDMAID’S TALE, LEGION and parts of TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN outdid anything on the big screen, especially in the script department, and it seemed like television was the new cinema. But then fall arrived, along with the majority of this list, and great films made a swift comeback. As usual, my preferred taste for dark comedies and thrillers/horror films is apparent, but my documentary favourites (except for HONDROS) are safe for everyone. Here are my top films of 2017.

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Filming With Green Screen: Everything You Need To Know

superman green screen compositing David James. From the film “Superman Returns”. Courtesy of Warner Bros., 2006.

By Julia Courtenay

 

These days, we all know the fantastical backgrounds in big blockbuster movies look underwhelming on set. But with green screen (and major help from visual effects artists and compositors), filmmakers are creating worlds with an unbelievable sense of authenticity.

 

The technique behind green screen actually dates back to the early 1900s. Blue screen was more popular at first because it worked better with celluloid film. Green screen is more common and practical now with the rise of digital filmmaking. And you, dear filmmaker, can take advantage of its increasing accessibility.

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Tricks & Tips for Setting Background

The Deer Hunter background performers

By Julia Courtenay

 

Part of the job of the Assistant Directors is setting Background (the non-speaking performers who create the atmosphere, a.k.a. “extras”). Background is as essential to the scene as any other element. A badly set background can be distracting and suck the life out of the scene. Done well, the Background enriches and creates a sense of authenticity.

 

Last week, we talked about how to start working as a Background Performer. This time, let’s look at what Background means for ADs!

 

Setting Background is as much an art form as lighting or dressing a set. But you often only have a few minutes to put the Background in place, so you need to be prepared.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Working as an Extra

By Julia Courtenay

 

It’s been a blockbuster year for film in Vancouver, providing a slew of opportunities for Background Performers (a.k.a Extras) to be anything from zombies, to German officers, FBI agents, bikers, baristas or nuns—and get paid!

 

Want to get in on the action? Read on to find out how to work as a Background Performer on set.

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Script Supervisors: The Eyes and Ears of Continuity

Introduction to Script Supvervising Script Supervisors

By Johnny Papan

 

 

Continuity is a vast valley that requires precise attention to detail and spawns through many departments. To save time and money, films are often shot out of sequence and it is up to the script supervisor to make sure props, costumes, makeup and things of the like are exactly how they should be in order to look continuous on screen, despite being filmed separately.

 

A key part of being a script supervisor (commonly referred to as “scripty”) is paying attention to actors and their performance on set. It’s not uncommon for actors to go off-script, forget their lines and change movements between takes. Without proper attention, this can prove to be disastrous in post-production, as the editor may not have the right footage to cut things together seamlessly or cinematically. In essence, the supervisor serves as both the eyes and ears for the director and editor.

 

Debra Margolis is a mentor, teacher, and retired professional script supervisor who began her career 1987. She garnered her years of professional experience in this role on shows such as: Masters of Horror, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Dark Angel, So Weird, Cold Squad, and The Collector, to name a few.

 

“I’m always running back and forth from the set to the monitor,” Margolis states. “Sometimes the director will wanna be close to the actors and they’ll tell me to go make sure everything looks good on the monitor. Sometimes I have to be close to the actors because they forget their lines. If there’s any deviation, I’ll mention that to the director and they’ll make changes.”

 

Script supervising is an ideal role for proficient multitaskers. While keeping an eye on performances, set decoration, costumes, and things of the like, the “scripty” must meticulously jot notes on everything as well, including the length of each take as well as how long it took overall to setup and achieve the shot. This plethora of paperwork is known as the Script Supervisor’s Bible and will assist the script supervisor in making sure that everything is how it’s meant to be.

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5 Lessons Film Students Can Learn from Paranormal Activity

paranormal activity low-budget film

By Christopher McKittrick

 

Budget is always an issue for film students, so finding ways to stretch your limited funds on your student films is just as important of a skill as basic camera techniques. It’s not just about finding money to spend—it’s also about spending the money you do have wisely.

 

One way to learn how to effectively manage a low-budget film project is to take a look at how an amateur-turned-professional filmmaker put those skills into practice. Filmmaker Oren Peli may be the only person in film history who can claim that he shot a blockbuster movie—2007’s Paranormal Activity—entirely in his own house for a fraction of what a Hollywood production spends on catering.

 

The resulting film was so effectively made that, although DreamWorks initially hired Peli to remake the film with a larger budget, a successful test screening of the original version proved that remaking the film wasn’t necessary. The final release is largely Peli’s original film with some re-edits and a reshot ending.

 

When released in theatres in 2009, Paranormal Activity grossed nearly $200 million worldwide against a production budget of just $15,000, making it one of the most profitable movies ever released.

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Why the Buzz Around Wonderstruck?


by Ryan Uytdewilligen

 

Even if you don’t see Wonderstruck, you have to admit the film’s trailer alone just might be the most jarring piece of cinema we’ve seen all year.

 

With a blend of colour and black and white, we are immediately introduced to a boy searching for his father, then ZAP! A shaky blur that can only be explained as an electric shock leaves the boy deaf. What follows is the most haunting cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity—a choir of kids lead the way until Bowie himself takes over to lift the hairs on the back of our necks.

 

A lot of the accompanying images in the trailer cannot be explained but they are beautiful and certainly watchable as the years 1927 and 1977 blur together into some wild fantasy world. This is the latest film from acclaimed auteur director Todd Haynes and this year’s closing film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

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Totally Into Totally Indie Day at VIFF

VIFF Totally Indie Day indie film storyhive

by Ryan Uytdewilligen

 

Arguably the more subtle creative side of the film industry, indie films just aren’t often seen because of distribution problems or simply lack of funding. You beg and plead to raise money that many times just doesn’t follow through. You set out on arduous journeys to find crew members who are willing to work for credit and real functioning locations that are willing to give up their space. Production can be a nightmare and trying to get the film viewed is often worse

 

Luckily, the indie movement in the last few decades has showcased a large percentage of these works through festivals that realize the difficulties of the process and the changing methods of the industry. While you may be scratching your head and wondering how you’re going to bring your little indie opus to life, a good start is attending VIFF’s in depth session series Totally Indie Day.

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Thought & Action: How to Make a Book-to-Film Adaptation Not Suck

 katniss everdeen in the film adaptation of hunger games mockingjay

by Henry Kulick

 

Film adaptations aren’t easy, but they do accelerate a major step in the creative process—crafting a completely unique story.

 

With a written work to rely on, the outlines of the screenplay already exist, but only with some much-needed tweaking can it become ready for film. Sometimes this means something as simple as altering of the main character’s interaction with another, or it can mean the removal of entire portions of the narrative.

 

More than anything, when moving from page to screen, a screenwriter must be aware of thoughts and actions—specifically, how they impact the viewer. Because what a book can achieve by slipping into the mind of a character and allowing the reader to hear every thought, a movie can only do by showing what the character does and believing the viewer will understand why.

 

From young adult novels to detective noirs, understanding the mind of our character is absolutely necessary for empathizing and experiencing the story along with them. So how can that written understanding effectively translate to film?

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