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Creating Spaces

Production and the Creative Spirit

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 12:52PM   |  25 comments

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

A picture, we have been told, is worth 1000 words.  A moving picture is worth considerably more. 

But sound?  What is sound worth?

Why is sound important?

Why should you care about sound?

The picture goes straight to your brain.  You see it.  Process it.  Understand it.

Sound goes straight to your heart.  You feel it.  Want it.  Care about it.

A good sound track soundtrack can completely alter the experience of watching a show.  Try watching shows without the sound.

Watch the FLEFF trailer silent.  Then, add then sound back in.  When the sound is done well, the show transform. 

Play with it.



Sound is 40% of film nowadays. As a sound professional, my job is to take a barely passing piece of media (60%) and make it an A-list production.

I would never call it a 50/50 split. That would be too clean, and there are always politics to deal with, but 40/60 seems a reasonable assessment.

I don't think we "want or care about it" though. I think the fact that it passes by our consciousness without leaving a mark is what makes it so powerful. By denying the viewer time to judge it, sound designers are given immense power to affect the audience.

p.s. On a standard film set, 95% of the cast/crew are interested in picture. 5% are interested in sound. You have dp, gaffer, grip, costume/makeup, electrician, set design, special effects, etc. Then you have (in low budget pics) one, maybe two, rarely three people on sound: production sound mixer, boom operator, cable wrangler. Often one person is all three jobs.

Yes, in a production environment, the sound crew is usually much smaller than the picture crew. This is partly because so much sound work is done after the fact, in the studio. Here, the numbers are not quite so unequal. This shortage of personnel does not in any way, however, diminish the importance and significance of sound, and the attention to this detail is what can truly make a good show great.

Yes, in L.A. there are a ton of productions "seeking sound person" who will give their time and equipment for pennies on a one person, under-appreciated crew team.

I totally agree about the importance of sound. Sound and the people behind the sound have the ability to control the audiences emotion and reaction. I believe a soundtrack by itself has much more power than a moving picture by itself. I think the most powerful type of sound is extra-diegetic music, this is what can make a frightening picture happy, or make someone cry.

Sound is something that affects everyone on there own level so I do not believe you can make ratio of its importance compared to image. An image by itself could evoke almost zero emotion and the same could be said for sound. Therefore, when layering the two one can completely alter the other and bring it to life. For example, say there is a startling image the of use of parallel sound can bring the image to another level and completely entrance you. However, say contrapuntal sound is used to mellow out the image, it completely changes what the viewer is taking in. So, I believe that sound, as long as it is used correctly, is just as important as a character, in that it brings its own life into the piece.

I’m only a freshman cinema and photography major but I always thought that sound made the film. I always found that sound was what pulled the movie together. It makes you feel the emotion that the image is trying to show you. I’m surprised to hear that so few people actually work with sound in a film. I know that the image of the film takes more work than sound, but I still expected a smaller gap between the two.

Movies without sound are pretty emotionless (unless you have REALLY good actors who can get people crying or laughing with their facial expressions or movement). Sound is what turns clips and segments into one thing: a movie. Sound can make you cry or in the next second, make you laugh. If you close your eyes while watching a movie, you can still watch it because of sound. In some ways, having only sound makes you connect to the movie more because everything that's happening is in your mind, your world (like with radio programs). Now, I'm not saying completely silent films are terrible. I'm just saying they don't always have emotion.

To say that "movies without sound are pretty emotionless" would be a hasty generalization that is simply untrue. That would undermine the field of photography. All films carry some connotative emotion with them. Simply by splicing a particular sequence of images can carry significant meaning and emotion. Silent movies are equally as suggestive as movies with sound. However, I will admit that movies without sound are an extremely rare sight since there is usually some audio component to the film.

Personally, I do find movies with audio a much more visceral experience than watching it with mute.

To me, movies or films without any sound at all are extremely difficult to pay attention to. If you put any type of movie on mute, the picture doesn't grab your attention the way the sound does. It is because of this that I am curious why sound is so often overlooked. I guess part of it could be that synchronized sound came so much later than the picture, but it surprises me to know that compared to the amount of people working on the image, the amount working on sound is incredibly little.

Although silent films can be very nice I believe sound plays a giant role in the emotion of a film. That is where our narrative comes in and we want to portray a strong theme with this. From the sounds of our environment to the music added we get so much more from a film with it then without. Just learning about production now I am understanding how much the cinematography and audio go hand and hand, regardless of how much more work one is then the other. Sound is a special thing added to a film.

Although silent films can be very nice I believe sound plays a giant role in the emotion of a film. That is where our narrative comes in and we want to portray a strong theme with this. From the sounds of our environment to the music added we get so much more from a film with it then without. Just learning about production now I am understanding how much the cinematography and audio go hand and hand, regardless of how much more work one is then the other. Sound is a special thing added to a film.

Although silent films can be very nice I believe sound plays a giant role in the emotion of a film. That is where our narrative comes in and we want to portray a strong theme with this. From the sounds of our environment to the music added we get so much more from a film with it then without. Just learning about production now I am understanding how much the cinematography and audio go hand and hand, regardless of how much more work one is then the other. Sound is a special thing added to a film.

Whether sound is diegetic, synchronous, onscreen or offscreen, the message it evokes, the feeling it captures is essential to any moving picture. For example, the short film, Scorpio Rising, stimulates the core emotions and thought processes of the audience. Yet what is Scorpio Rising missing? Dialogue. This form of sound can be totally diminished and yet another form, music, can direct an entire narrative and at the same time let the audience feel real emotion. No matter what type of sound, the results are the same, the audience can find an alternate route to connect to the movie. The eyes can only let us experience so much yet the ears allow us to hear and not only hear, but listen. We can listen to the pain in one's voice, we can embark on the journey of song, and we can further the plot and connect with the movie's thematic content when sound is involved. My opinion is not stating that silent films have no ties to emotion. Yet silent films were created because sound was not available. Once sound could be incorporated into movies, silent films became a rarity. Why? This is due to the fact that sound conquers, sound created more interest in the public to view films, to understand films, and to start feeling the film's message over just seeing it. That is the main difference. Silent films would allow for a general understanding from the public, yet when sound was incorporated, the audience would go to the movies for an emotional escape, to live vicariously through the plot and adventure of another character.

Sound is probably worth more than the images we see, because, unless it's an experimental film, sound is where the freedom is at. In a commercial Hollywood film where the scenes must all bow down to its script and the editing is relegated to a series of inconspicuous and cleverly codified rules specifically designed to entangle us thoughtlessly within this seamless world, essentially much of the visual world upon the screen is predetermined with a zone or leash of maneuverability. Therefore what elevates a movie beyond reality, and gives it the grandeur that has adorned the canvas it is projected upon with the title, "Silver Screen," is the notes and sounds that accompany those sights and as you say, "goes straight to heart." Music sets the tone, it connotes and denotes and comments upon that world so that we are not only engrossed mentally, but more importantly, engrossed emotionally.

Many make the argument that sound is superior as it is what gives the film emotion, mood, and dimensionality; whereas others state pictures define the film. I find these points of view among cinema majors to be very redundant. I would like to tackle this argument with a different approach.

I was recently reading through one of my Cinema Production textbooks “The Filmmaker’s Handbook” and it made a very interesting point in one of the sound chapters. It pointed out that films can have pictures and no sound, however there are no instances when a film can be made with only sounds and no pictures. Upon pondering on this idea, it made almost perfect sense how pictures are very essential to the film making process, as a film with no pictures and only sound would just make it a soundtrack, NOT a film.

So, though sound is important, I do not find it to be the “most” important or integral part of a film, instead I believe it is the picture that really makes a film.

P.S. I’m sorry if this post doesn’t completely relate with your post, however this idea has been on my mind and I just wanted to put it out there considering there was no such post that acknowledged this and whether “which aspect of a film was important “picture” or “sound”?”

For me, sound is a personal experience that compliments a film in order to create an emotion. The childlike banter and cartoon-like music of "Rubber Stamp Film" give it a whimsical, juvenile twist to it, and the eerie whispers of "La Jetee" give it a foreboding air. The visual aspect of film is undoubtedly important; of course we need the actual footage itself. However, when the sound is added, and both your sense of sight and your sense of hearing are working in tandem, you can truly bask in the glory of what the filmmaker's intentions were.

The importance of sound in relation to video is a subjective matter. Which medium is most effective depends on the person being subjected to the film. Films create a reality for the viewer to occupy, and to do so they invoke the two senses that humans use most to perceive the world. If film makers could invoke other senses such as smell to help immerse the audience in their world, they would. However the use of visual and audio stimuli is enough to grab the attention of most audiences. Which stimulus is more effective in drawing the audience n depends on what senses the viewer is most comfortable with. Musicians are probably more drawn to the soundscape of a film, while visual artists, such as painters are more likely to be drawn to the visual aesthetics of a film.

I think that without sound cinema would not appeal as much to the masses. How would a summer Hollywood blockbuster "feel" without sound? With innovations in technology cinematic explosions look more and more realistic. Without sound, we as viewers would not be rattled and startled as much. In this way sound brings us into the picture, it makes us feel certain emotions that may not necessarily be conveyed on screen.

Sound and image go hand and hand. They each can have their own meaning and are powerful in different ways. They play to different senses, giving them their own importance in a film. When image and sound are put together, they draw our attention in a different way. It is harder to not pay attention to a film if even when you look away from it, you are still hearing and processing what is happening. Sound can evoke emotions in a way that silent images cannot always do, or sound can just emphasize the emotions to really get the point across to the audience. Images can have meaning without sound, and sound without images, but when you put them together they can create a whole new meaning that is more powerful than sound or image alone.

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