Low budget Sound

I have been asked to give a 20 - 40 minute talk on sound for picture. My audience will be primarily low/no/micro budget filmmakers. I already have my outline and many of the points I would like to make, but what are some of the things that you, as sound professionals, would like to say to my target audience.

Although I'll be using clips from projects on which I have worked, do any of you know where I could find - or could you contribute - clips well known films so that I can show "before and after" examples of sound design. I feel that my audience might pay a little more attention if they are very familiar with a few of the clips (like Randy talking about the Vietnam battle scene in Forrest Gump in the DVD extras. It's great, but Randy talks over the whole clip so you can't actually hear how the scene was constructed sonically.)

>> List of DVD with sound documentaries with features / commentaries

“My audience will be primarily low/no/micro budget filmmakers.”

It's great to learn from Hollywood Movies, but those tracks have their own set of problems. Your audience can't afford ADR or a microphone nowhere near the actors. So I'd tell them: - Don't hire your brother-in-law to mix or boom your production dialog. - etc.

In 20 to 40 minutes the most you can hope to do is introduce them to a a few basic ideas. Probably the most useful thing you could say to them is that they should go to www.filmsound.org and read, read, read.

I agree that filmmakers with no money to spend on their films probably won't get many useful tips from behind-the-scenes dvd's about hundred million dollar movies. The terrible truth about nearly all low budget movies is that they have abysmally bad scripts.

Unfortunately, since the filmmaker has usually written the script him/her self, she/he is under the delusion that the script is fine, and what they need is a good DP. Moderately good DPs are fairly easy to find, and they are desperate to show what they can do.

A by-product of showing what they can do is that they monomaniacally dominate the set, making it impossible to record good sound. That's why many low budget movies look OK, and sound bad. Even if they have reasonably good actors... and many of them do because reasonably good actors are also easy to find and desperate to show what they can do... the acting will seem bad because only a genius actor can turn a poorly written scene into something interesting.

So, most filmmakers with small budgets should spend most of their money on the script, by hiring someone to write it who has some idea of how to write a film. If the script is good, or even if there is a really good scene or two, it'll be easy to find people, even sound people, who know what they are doing to work on the movie for little or nothing.
- Randy Thom

What you just said is profoundly true...

I'm a huge proponent of capturing quality production sound although most of my clients never listen to me and then wonder why I have to spend so much time (and their money) cleaning it all up. That's going to be one of my main points. In a nutshell it comes down to every dollar you spend on quality production sound save you fives in audio post.

I would probably mention a bit about planning also. Its invaluable, and i guess everything from where everyone will be stood to how to actually plan the shot around sound for good mic placement, rather than planning a shot and then on location getting the guy with the mic to try and squeeze in, out of shot.

Good luck and give the list some feedback on how your talk was received!
- Ray

Well there's a big difference between 20 minutes and 40 minutes! But as has already been pointed out it's still not much time to change any hearts and minds about what we do. All the production audio ideas are great for all the reasons we know but another approach might also be to discuss the emphasis on picture to the exclusion of all else. They surely have researched and know all about their DP, their cameras, lenses, progressive frame rates, HD vs, SD etc., so ask them about their microphones, mixers and mic-pres and sound crew. Then ask about that discrepancy and where their budget will be coming from at the end of the process to "fix it in the mix." (Yeah , right!) Maybe you'll give them a window of understanding in the black hole of their prep for sound. It's the approach I usually take but it of course will take all of us, over and over again, to even make a dent in the ridiculous attitude tilt towards the image. Let us know how it goes!

The terrible truth about way too many of of the big budgetmovies is that they have abysmally bad scripts. They may sound great, they may have good acting, even the camera work Might be great, but still....

So, most filmmakers with big budgets should hire someone who has some idea of how to write a film. (perhaps even someone with sound as one story telling option in mind while writing)
- Christian

I disagree. Big budget movies tend to have mediocre scripts, which is a far worse sin than a low budget movie with a truly bad script.
- Randy

I believe the single most valuable piece of advice I can give for sound design is to script the story as if it were going to be produced for radio.

That will force the writer and director to think most deeply about how to tell the story in "sound terms", and will stimulate lots of creative ideas on how to use audio to tell the story.

The next best thing is to take a film that really does a great job of sound design. As a professor, I often use Apocalypse Now or Blade Runner, though they're certainly not low budget.

Animated films can be good examples, since their entire sound track is created from nothing; Toy Story and Finding Nemo are great.

Can anyone think of a few examples of low budget films with really great sound tracks? Eraserhead? Blood Simple? Night of the Living Dead? Hmmmm....?
-John Duvall

A great suggestion, thinking about scripting in a radio-play environment...

Low-budget films with great soundtracks: Woodenhead
A black-and-white HD grime-fairytale shot in New Zealand. The score, dialogue, soundtrack was finished and locked first, then the film was shot. Sometimes falls into very asynchronous dialogue, or dialogue with no mouth movement at all.

As an alternative, you could play some of my Sound Creations on SonicStrategies.com. I made Home Appliances FX for a radio show, illustrating the transformation of raw sounds recorded in the kitchen, bathroom and garage, to funny, weird and wild sound effects usable for film scenes. I also made a quicktime movie with images accompanying this transformation, revealing the source of the original sound.

What I would say about creation of sound fx is that it is vital to liberate the sound from its original source so that you can let it become something entirely different and perfect for its newfound associated image and character.
- David Sonnenschein

It's obvious that this is mostly a northamerican forum a nd I have nothing
against... I'm very fond of some issues that come out. Beeing from Argentina, I think that sometimes here we have a broader idea of low budget films with good sound, from Argentina and european films. And I think you don't see this films because distribution companies, mainly from USA. dont distribute them. Argentinian, european films are scarcely screened in USA. I think I'm not wrong in this. Ozu, Rivette or many others had been screened, if screened, in the USA. thirty years after their release.

I don't know for example if "Shara", from Naomi Kawase was screened in the USA. Or "The Mourning Forest". The last one has a magnificent use of sound, mainly "playing" with sound
effects -As many of you know, what we call "noises"-: wind, leaves, running water.

Godard's use of sound is very interesting in many films, and they were low budget films all the way. Alphaville, Two or three things I know about her, Prenom Carmen, Vivre savie, A woman is a woman, among others.

Bergman in Persona, Cries and Whispers, The Silence, Wild Strawberries.
From Portugal, Pedro Costa "Ossos" (bones)
From Italia, Pietro Germi "Divorzio a la Italiana", Sergio Leone of course,
Scola "El baile"(The dance?)"
From Argentina, Leonardo Favio's "El dependiente", "El romance del Aniceto y
la Francisca", Lucrecia Martel's "La Ciénaga", Albertina Carri's "La Rabia", and many

Well, it's a very brief list of low budget films with good sound.

A low-budget animation with a great soundtrack? What about 'Wallace & Gromit - the Wrong Trousers' Fantastic 'large-scale' score by Julian Nott and great sound design by Bill
- Morgan..

I think the problem is universal.It is that when people sit down to ideate a film, they tend to visualise and not auralise. You know what I mean, like they think only of the visuals and not about the sound. The only sound they think about is the dialogues.

I think when people ideate (I love that word) a film, they ARE thinking about sound, just not in the same vitally critical way thy're thinking about image and character.

I've heard so many pitches or descriptions of "what my film is about" that include, for example,

We dolly in, then "PSHOWWWW!"
"..." (Director pauses meaningfully)

These are all cues for us, and they're signs that sound is being thought of, but it's being thought of viscerally, emotionally, imaginatively, but not analytically or strategically.

Well said, Robert!!!

That reminds me on one of the audio comments of Fincher's "Se7en", where Fincher, somewhat surprised by his own words, states that directors tend to describe their films very much in sounds (as mentioned by Robert). And if I think about it, quite some of the directors I've worked with, tend to do that too.

Question is though: Does that just come down to the couple of clichés that we as sound people anyhow have in mind as the first most obvious when we see a raw picture (and therefore try to avoid), and how often are those instinctive sound ideas of the directors really useful hints and/or thought through auditive concepts?
-Johanna Herr..

I work in those low/no budget films.
The lack of equipment is a big problem, but I think the bigest problem is the lack of awareness of what sound can do for you. You might have few tools but thought and hard work will make the difference. You can find some low budget filmakers with no interest in sound and some other that try to do something with what they've got. It's just a matter of appreciating the role of the sound crew and giving them the place they need (considering their thoughts when planning, choosing
locations, etc)

Watching films (even big budget ones) where sound has done lots with little are always great examples. I agree reading and studying is one of the best ways to learn, but also making films and experimenting with whatever you've got. I am always thankful for filmsound.org for all the information and inspiration it provides.
I hope it helped

I've just come off a really wonderful experience that I'd like to share with the group. There's been a lot of discussion here about sound not being integrated into the creative process until late-late-late, especially on the low-no budget side, and maybe I can help lift spirits a bit :)

I was brought onto this low-low budget film in its third last draft. The director and I shared long conversations about how sound could be used dramatically in the piece, which were integrated into the final draft of the script. (I appreciated a lot of the wisdom in David Sonnenschein's book) We agreed that I should be brought on production, and because he and I had had these thorough conversations early on, the entire crew - DP and down was not only accommodating, but enthusiastic for the film's sound!

We're just rolling into post now, and since we had a crew who recognized the importance of getting good production sound, and since the script was optimized for sound, I anticipate it being a breeze and a joy.

The moral of the story is that it's not entirely hopeless on the low-no budget end!

A Combination of 2 threads "Some input, please" and "Sound for Low Budget Films" at Sound Article List July 2008