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Production and the Creative Spirit

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 6:43AM   |  32 comments
FInger Lakes Environmental Film Festival




Blog written by Ann Michel and Phil Wilde, coprincipals, Insights International

Which comes first, the picture or the sound?

For me, it is often a song or sound that catalyses a show. I love to edit to music. I love to find the rhythm and flow in images and their sequencing based on a great song.

In a production, finishing up the audio track is usually done last.

Many musicians scoring a soundtrack for you will require a "picture lock" version, a completed, edited show to work from.

This can leave you editing the picture with only your brain—and not your heart.

However, if you know and trust your collaborators, this reverse process can work.

Sometimes, you can get early versions of music to edit to, to set your moods and rhythms.

This creative exchange between editor and sound designer can be the best part of production, going back and forth, editing and mixing with your heart as well your brain.



I agree. I believe that sound mixes should be edited last. Many people believe that film and sound are conjoined but they are two completely different mediums. Sound enhances the picture's mood, tone, and thesis and should remain a separate entity in the editing process.

Intriguing about keeping the sound separate - why should it always be edited last? Why can't the image be edited to enhance the sound?

I feel the images should be edited last. If I were creating a film, knowing what type of sound and music I want adds a poetic aspect to the film. The sound is what drives the feeling and emotion in the audience, and already knowing what kind of atmosphere you want to create I think can catapult the images to another level.

Good point about poetry and atmosphere. While both the sound and the image contribute - sound is the king here...

Logically, sound would have to be edited last.
However, you can have the score of the soundtrack finished
before the pictures, but you cannot have the sfx and dialogue
edited before the picture or it will not sync correctly.
Due keep in mind, if you are recording on the film format
such as 35mm, you will have to print the soundtrack onto the film.
Thus, sound must be edited last.

Depending on whether or not the sound is dialogue, sound effects, or a score, the editing process may vary. If a song brings an image to life in your mind you are obviously going to edit the image to fit the song. On the other hand, dialogue and sound effects, like Richard posted, logically must be edited after the image. But with that said I think it would be a challenge to go into the editing process knowing which aspect you will edit last. This would apply to both connotative and denotative sound.

There are some very good points here. For me personally, I would have to say that sound would be last. The sounds in my opinion help shape the tone of the image, but the image is the real "mastermind" behind the tone and the message. It truly depends on the image though and what the editors/directors/producers want the message to come across as. If they want the image to have a diegetic sound, then they should edit sound last, but if they want a extra-dietgetic sound to display a different message, then the image would have to be edited last.

I wonder why people are so adamant about the sound coming last in production, because sound is such an integral part of any movie. It would seem to me that to create a truly symbiotic relationship between sound and images the soundtrack would need to be edited at the same time as the film. I wonder how common it is for filmmakers to envision a soundtrack while they film, or if it's all done in post production.

I personally think it's always best to edit a film with some kind of music accessible. Even if the composer refuses to score until the edit is done, you should grab some other kind of music to edit with (especially if it synchs up perfectly with the footage). Editing without music is a terrible way to go about making a film. It would be like trying to make a slideshow without the music you have in mind.

Whatever comes organically should come first. If it is a sound that evokes an image, then the sound is coming first, but sometimes one sees the image first--in their mind or in real life--and then from there on comes up with the sound/music that fits with it. Personally, I am very much sound/music oriented, so when I produce a picture starting with sound or music, it usually ends up portraying an emotion or story that I want out of the sounds and music better. There is not a right or wrong way to start, though it seems like we have been taught to think sound should be last; but there should be more focus on what comes naturally, as opposed to forcing a structure without having one's heart completely in it. Though, I also understand what Nodin writes. When possible, it does make sense for the sound and image to be done at the same time when the objective is to achieve diegetic sound.

I think sound should enhance a picture, not be a slave to it. Film originally was strictly picture with sound came later. If a whole production was based around a song it wouldn't be a movie, it would be a music video.

i also believe sound should be edited last. but i see it more as looking at what came first. most films start out as sound, more specifically dialogue. Usually the dialogue, along with script, are what a film starts as and it grows from there. once the sounds are planned out images can be made to accompany them, once the images are sorted out and edited the only thing that remains is to go back and ensure the sound is right.

Through my experiences, I have found that the music within a film adds another layer of experience to the film. Personally, my peak emotional involvement within a film occurs only when the music and the image become synchronized to the point that it transcends the audience to a place where film and reality become one. I prefer the classical continuity style of editing, where the music motivates the plot, which always occurs in the musical genre. Therefore, only through continuous collaboration between the editors and the sound mixers/composers, can the effect of music be fully utilized.

I believe that this article touches on an interesting point about how sound and images relate in the film medium. I think it is vital to be thinking of the sound throughout the entire process, even during the preproduction process instead of reserving it for absolute last. I know that Tarantino often has the soundtrack set for multiple scenes before he even starts shooting.

I also like to think of how the images and sound will match up together in my final production while I'm still envisioning it. On my last project over the summer, all the music in the film was meant to be diegetic (though it was dubbed in later, of course). Because of this I had to know what mood I was going for in terms of music and usually already knew what tracks I'd be using before I even shot the scene.

You make a point about how the editor and sound designer should be exchanging creatively, I'd argue that the screenwriter and director should also be involved in that process and it should start much earlier than the start of post production, if one truly wants to edit the movie with their heart instead of their brain.

It is an interesting concept to think about whether the sound or the image comes first when creating a film. Even through, like the post says, the soundtrack is usually finished last, I would imagine that sound can be the motivation behind certain shots. Scoring musicians require and edited version of the film, but it is not hard to believe the music could have been the inspiration in the developing and editing of the film in the first place. The music of the film has a significant role in the rhythm of the editing, as it was quoted in readings from "The Film Experience," filmmaker Germaine Dulac defined film as "a visual symphony made of rhythmic images" (160). While the editing of the images creates a visual rhythm, the music creates auditory rhythm, together they submerse the audience into the diegesis.

I know that for me music is what draws me into a film. The music is the emotion of the story and is what drives the feelings forward. It seems like it would make sense to edit the image and sound together, but its also understandable that it would be difficult for the composer to do that since they would probably prefer to do it after getting an idea of the whole film before starting. I don't think it would necessarily affect the film in a bad way by editing the sound last, but I think it would be beneficial to have music in mind when editing the image, especially if the sound were to be contrapuntal because then it would be easier to contrast the two in editing.

I see that many people are resolute on editing the sound last! I do not completely disagree with this wave, however it does have its advantages to be able to manipulate sound to your liking in accordance to the images. In fact, like everybody else has pointed out, once all the film/ pictures have been added one can add sound to give the film more life, emotions, and feeling. Not only will the film become completely three dimensional, but also enhance the films message.

Nevertheless, I am a more music/ sound orientated type of person who believes it should be sound which gives rise to inspiration for images in a film. Keeping music in mind while filming gives you an idea of what type of mood you want to depict in a particular scene. I have recently learnt that Bollywood employs a similar tactic in their cinema. Directors have the songwriters and singers first assemble the songs, most of them being brand-new, and specially made for the film. This takes the longest time out of the filming process, as there are so many songs through out the film. Then while filming the actual movie, the actors usually dance and lip-sync the music while it is played in the background. This gives the director all the more power to guide the mood of the film and manipulate the sound to enhance any message the director is trying to send.

P.S. As an Indian who has watched Bollywood all his life, I just recently learnt this through a documentary! Pretty Shameful…

I think what comes first depends on what kind of project you are working on and what the scene entails. In regards to music, films such as "The Hours" and "Atonement," each with a beautiful score throughout, had the score added after, because the music plays to the images. But in a scene where the sound is vital to the images or even propels the images (like a menacing howl in the night or an offscreen gunshot, for example), you would have to at least have a good idea of the sound before you shoot. "Singing In The Rain" showed us how important sound is to a film, and I hate to think that it is always the last thing done in a movie; rather the sound is created tandem with the picture, with the finished product always in mind.

I agree as well, although in the cases of Disney and other films that tend to "Mickey Mouse" their video and sound, the video should come first. I do agree with this author, and it is extremely evident in "Singing In The Rain" and other films, like "Fantasia".

Being a video production concentration I have found that finding music that fits the purpose of the video that you are trying to produce first can be beneficial to lining up the shots with proper continutity. Using certain peaks in music tracks can serve as great areas to cut from shot to shot. Music can also serve as a great guide to proper pacing techniques while creating films and videos.

I can definitely relate to this article. However I do think I focus on pictures first when editing rather than music. Although while I edit, I do think of what type of background music will fit nicely with the difference scene.
I think it was interesting how not having music willing editing can effect the way you edit because you are editing without you "heart," and I can relate to that as well. Music is such a major part of film making that if you have no idea of what kind of music is going with the scene you are likely to end up cutting it differently. Or if you are like me, you will end up pushing this scene till the end until you found the right music. However there are instances where I think certain times when editing, ideas for sound effects to be included may originate which would require you to look at editing first rather than music.

Overall, I tend to think that there is no definite process in which sound is edited last or picture is added after the sound. I think it depends on what is being emphasized. If the picture is the focal point then sound should be used to enhance the feelings evoked in the picture yet I think sound can also be the main attraction. A picture can then be developed to follow the rhythm and meaning of a sound. Yet the idea of "editing and mixing with your heart as well as your brain", seems to be a powerful statement. I think the best works originate mostly from the heart, most audiences connect with the raw intent of the heart. To get these feelings across, like I stated before, it is necessary to decide which is more significant and focal to the work, the picture or the sound? If your heart is in touch with the sound then that should be the first point of work, that should be where the main focus lies so the audience can initially be touched by aura coming from the sound. The idea of the heart and brain though is very interesting, and I would like to pose a question of thought. If in the production of a film you could only choose one to work with, the heart or brain, which do you think you would pick?

In response to Caitlin's question, personally I think I tend to work with my brain most of the time, so if I could choose one, I'd pick the heart. However, it would be interesting if one could consciously decide on whether to use the brain or the heart when making a film, I feel like that's really something that just happens without much conscious thought on the part of the filmmaker sometimes. Also, to continue with what Matthew said, I think regardless of whether you create the sound or the images first, it's extremely beneficial to have an idea in your head of what the other elements will look/sound like, because that can shape how you score the music or how you shoot the images. While beginning with either sound or images can certainly change the mood and feel of a film, I think the most important aspect is the ultimate combining of those elements, and that's important to keep in mind regardless of how one begins a film.

I agree that an audio and soundtrack can be the most important part of a production when setting a tone and mood of a film. However, I think it could be beneficial to have a soundtrack in mind when putting shots and images together because it can give you a general idea of the feel. I think it could be difficult to work off of a soundtrack because it can limit the images and shots you put into your film. If you already have footage, then you can see what you have, edited it, and place an appropriate soundtrack to match. I do think it is possible to have a specific track in mind when filming, but for me personally, that would makes things a little more difficult. Ultimately, the combination of both is what makes a film come to life.

Mostly when making a film sound is the last part of the process for me. I have made some short films and my last in particular project was a sound project in cinema production 1. It was definitely harder to start but i believe the message i conveyed was more powerful then in any of my other films. After making that film I am more open minded to trying new things such as hearing a score and then writing my treatment or writing my treatment having a score made then the script. I believe a little experimenting in film is healthy.

I think you have to have an image first before you can have sound. Personally my mind reacts to images before sounds, but sounds enhance the visuals making them even stronger. I think images are more important because an image could mean something different to anybody who sees it based on prior experiences in his or her life. To me, sounds can evoke memories but only similar memories can come about from a specific sound.

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