Lesson #6

October 6, 2014


Sound Design

Sound and music are two more tools in your aresenal, which you can use to help tell the story that you've figured out through your scene analysis that you'd like to tell. Tonight we will beging dealing with these issues, with a discussion of sound.

The English Patient

Last year, in CTPR 510, we took a look at a scene from THE ENGLISH PATIENT, a film directed by Anthony Minghella and edited by Walter Murch (the same duo behind 1999's THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and 2003's COLD MOUNTAIN). The scene involves the interrogation of the Willem Dafoe character, Caravaggio, by a Nazi officer, Muller (played by Jorgen Prochnow). We will discuss the role that sound played in both the interpretation of the scene and in the execution of the editing process. Murch, who often edits and mixes the sound in the movies that he cuts picture for, is quite articulate in the interview that we hand out tonight.

You can take a look at some of that discussion here.

CityOfGodTonight we are going to look at the opening sequence from Fernando Meirelles' 2002 film CITY OF GOD.

This sequence starts off the film, which is a study of a young, industrious and boy living in a slum in Rio De Janiero, named Buscape ("Rocket"), who wants nothing more than to become a photographer and take pictures. He sees this as his ticket out of the poverty and gang-ridden neighborhood. But his path, beginning in the 1960s and culminating 20 years later, continually crosses with that of an old neighborhood acquaintance, Li'l Zé, who has chosen a path of crime and power. when Rocket gets sucked into Li's Zé's clutches, he finds caught between two gangs and the corrupt police. Finally, he finds himself faced with a choice of using his talents to expose the cops and putting himself in danger, or selling his photographs of the murdered Zé to the newspaper, which will be his ticket out of the slums. He ends up choosing to leave the slums, joining the newspaper.

The opening of this film using chaotic editing, strong sound design choices and distinctive music, to drop us into the story. We meet most of the characters who will be the focus of the film and, literally, put Rocket in the middle of the gang and the police.

We will take a look at how we get the feeling of whose story this is and what his dilemma will be, and how this is reinforced by the sound and music.

As a side note, one of tonight's handouts is an interview with Walter Murch, from Professor Michael Jarrett, a professor of English at Penn State York. In it, at one point, he asks Murch about the use of sound as metaphor. This is Murch's reply:

I always try to be metaphoric as much as I can and not to be literal. When you’re presented with something that doesn’t quite resolve on a normal level, that’s what makes the audience go deeper. Again, that train screech in Godfather is a good example. It doesn’t make any sense from what you’re looking at. You haven’t been shown a train anywhere in the neighborhood. The loudness with which you hear it is too loud. Even if you were in a restaurant right under an elevated train, it wouldn’t quite be that loud. So the audience is presented with a discontinuity. They’re looking at very still images, close-ups of people talking in a foreign language, and yet they’re hearing something completely different. That forces them to say, "What is that? What could that be?" Again, not consciously but subconsciously. And, as a result, they come up with a feeling about Michael’s state of mind, and then they re-project that feeling onto his face. And in addition to what Al Pacino was doing, there’s this whole other dimension that gets added to that.

The full interview can be found online at Jarrett's site, or in the handout below.

Comments on Sound

Optical Track
The variable optical soundtrack has traditionally been placed on the left side of the film, whether stereo or mono. Click on the image to see a description of all of the soundtrack options.
© British Broadcasting Corp.

Technically, sound is placed onto the film in any number of ways. The most common over the last several decades has been the optical soundtrack, as shown on the left.

The soundtrack is mixed down from the combined dialogue, music and effects tracks (called the D–M–E) to the minimum number of channels necessary to place on the film. A print master is created from this mix. Up until this point, all of the sound has been on tape or digital drive formats. Now, it is sent through a machine which takes these analog or digital sound waves and converts them into optical/visual waves. An optical negative is created which is sent to a lab and developed.

During the finishing process at the lab, this optical negative is printed onto the print film of the images which has been created from the cut negative (more on this process in a few weeks), resulting in a positive print of the film with both a picture image and the optical sound track.

Modern digital soundtracks have changed the placement of the track appreciably. Some of the sound is placed on the frame lines or on separate CD-ROMs which are locked together with the film using time code. However, there is always a soundtrack placed near the sprockets. To see a description of all of the various soundtrack formats click here. The article will pop up in a new window. Click on the close button to come back here.

Finally, Randy Thom in an article on the Filmsound web site, makes the point that music, dialogue and sound effects can "each do any of the following jobs, and many more:

While I think the last point is almost too specific, the list is a great one so long as you realize that the creation of sound is all within the purview of the editorial process -- both traditionally and conceptually. You can't work with sound design without accounting for it in the editing room. Thom mentions that what was great about the sound design of APOCALYPSE NOW began with the script, since it gave the characters "the opportunity to listen to the world around them." You need to do the same in the editing. This week's description of the silence in THE ENGLISH PATIENT is particularly apt here for it is not only the characters who need to be aware of the world's sound, but the audience as well. In your log lines I keep asking you to be aware of the atmosphere and the setting of your films. Sound and music is but one part of this.


The following handouts will be given out this week. Click on the blue highlighted terms to get to the actual handouts.

What Directors Look For In An Editor
This article, reprinted from the Editors' Guild Newsletter, excerpts interviews from a number of directors who tell us just what they are looking for when they work with an editor. It's all about collaboration, at least with the good directors who I've worked with.
Interview with Walter Murch from Michael Jarrett
This wide-ranging, incredibly informative interview with sound designer Walter Murch, talks about his involvement in the sound for THE GODFATHER and many other films.
Interview with Walter Murch, editor of THE ENGLISH PATIENT [PDF File]
What is fascinating to me about this interview is how Murch, after researching the feelings and backgrounds of prisoners of war and the Germans' view of weakness. It caused him to edit the scene in a particularly effecting way, altering the script and making use of sound and music in the process.
Crreating The Sound on MASTER AND COMMANDER [PDF File]
In this comprehensive interview with the director, sound editors and music supervisor from the 2003 Peter Weir film, Blair Jackson (in MIX Magazine) finds out how the sound screw created the sound effects and made sure that the group ADR lines were accurate. Over half of the film's dialogue was replaced in post production, a very high ratio, and this article details why and how they did it. Separately, I did an interview with the picture editor of the film, which you can read in this PDF file.
Designing A Movie For Sound [PDF File]
Randy Thom has designed sound for some of Hollywood's biggest films -- the STAR WARS series, for instance. In this article he talks about what sound can do ("Sound may be the most powerful tool in the filmmaker's arsenal in terms of its ability to seduce") and how to edit a film with sound in mind.
The Roles Of Sound [PDF File]
Acccording to Tom Holman, sound in film has both a narrative and a grammatical role to play. Here is an excerpt from one of his books.
Anne Coates interviewed by Walter Murch
Coates, who cut OUT OF SIGHT as well as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and a wide range of other films, discussing the process of sculpting. Here is one quote from it:
The Moviola is sculptural in the sense of a clay sculpture that you're building up from bits, whereas the KEM is sculptural in the sense that there is a block of marble and you're removing bits.
Midterm Evaluation
At this point every semester I like to get a sense on how the class is going.

Assignments for Next Time

Edit the footage from DALLAS
After you do, take a look at the footage and compare it to the script. Edit from your scene analysis. Remember that I will ask you to describe your analysis in class. Remember that one of you is the director and the other is the editor.
Create the Film Cut Lists and EDLs for the scene
You will be creating an EDL and Film Cut Lists for this scene, just as if you were moving to a Digital Intermediate.
Add some music to this scene
On the basis of what we discussed tonight, choose some music from the supplied CD and edit it against this scene, choosing what part or parts of the scenes you want to accent with the score. It is possible that you, ultimately, won't even want music in the scene. But that's actually a great thing to explore. However, for this week, put something in here.

Added Materials

(Page will open in a new window. Close it to return to this page.)

Movie Cliches
Why is it that if a movie hero listens to his answering machine and one important message is unexpected then he usually has two very short messages on the tape before, one spoken by a man, one by a women. ("Here's John! I'll see you tomorrow at eight.".... beep ... "This is Sallieeeeee! I'll call again later." ... beep .... and then finally "Ahhhh! The killer is .....". If however the message is expected be sure that it will be the first one on the tape.). And how come whenever someone looks through a pair of binoculars, you see two joined circles instead of one? That's because It's The Movies!! This site is a hilarious collection of often-true conventions in movie writing. You've got two choices now -- use every one of them in your films here, or use NONE of them.
Steven Soderbergh watches "All The President's Men"
The New York Times will occasionally sit down with a filmmaker and watch one of their favorite movies while interviewing them. In the February 16, 2001 issue writer Rick Lyman sat down with Steven Soderbergh to watch Alan Pakula's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Soderbergh, the director of OUT OF SIGHT, TRAFFIC and ERIN BROCKOVICH (among others), talks about many things but I excerpt the following one here, as it reflects on some of the Rule of Threes issues we talk about here in class.
"It's all about the task of luring the audience from one scene to the next... I've begun to believe more and more that movies are all about transitions," Mr. Soderbergh said. "That the key to making good movies is to pay attention to the transition between scenes. And not just how you get from one scene to the next, but where you leave a scene and where you come into a new scene. Those are some of the most important decisions that you make. It can be the difference between a movie that works and a movie that doesn't." And the transitions in "All the President's Men," he said, are marvels. The movie does not race forward. There are no action scenes, no big dramatic moments. And the plot frequently dead-ends into unresolved cul-de-sacs. But the overall effect is thoroughly gripping."

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Last Modified - October 15, 2013