Sound's Big Moment

There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.
— Alfred Hitchcok

Following on from last weekend at Frightfest, we’ve been deep in the zone of all things scary. And is there anything scarier than a great suspense moment? I’m definitely with Alfred on this one, that the actual blood-gore isn’t half as impacting as simply feeling the anticipation.

Very few people are aware of sound in a film. Even to Directors and Producers, we as Sound Designers are often given little credit and our input can be seen as ‘necessary’ rather than be viewed as an artistic element in it’s own right. Of course there are amazing directors such as the Cohen brothers, who hold their sound departments in high-esteem, but it’s a sad fact that they are a rarity. Rarer still is an audience that identifies sound as a reason they found something moving.

That is, until, you come across a great suspense scene. Suspense moments are sound’s ‘big money shot’. Of course a subtle sound tapestry may be just as important to a film, but a lead-up to a big boom moment is the sound man’s moment in the spotlight. It may be the only point in a movie that the audience is actually aware of your work at all.

Because of this, I always get a kick out of working on suspense and thriller movies, and I’m going to try and make it a focus of mine to study them in more detail- to try and analyse what makes some work amazingly, and others not so much.

Here are some of my favourite examples of sound putting the fright into a scene…

(Spoiler Alert - if you haven't seen these movies, get on the case!)

 

1. Jurassic Park (1993) is riddled with sound moments. This is probably the most famous one.

2. War of the Worlds (2005) - Alien Probing Basement

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Night Vision

4. No Country for Old Men (2007) - Eagle Hotel Scene. Another sound gem of a movie.

5. The Birds (1963) - Gas Station Explosion. Classic Hitchcock

A big reason as to why sound is so important in these scenes, is because the visuals often become static or slow down. And isn’t that how it is in real life when you panic? What you can see becomes less important, as you’re mentally running other images of possible outcomes through your mind, your other more animalistic senses kick in- namely sound and smell. Like a dog who senses danger, he becomes stationary, his ears prick up and he stands to attention ready to see if it’s fight or flight time. In the anticipation, movement becomes less important and sound is relied upon to judge what is happening. 

 

Do you have a favourite suspense scene? Have you been working on something with a lot of tension in it lately? We recently worked on The Quiet Hour, to which suspense and a sense of waiting is pivotal. It’ll be shown in London’s Soho next month. Congrats Stéphanie & Sean (and all the team) for the Raindance nomination also!

 

Hope you're having a great weekend- here's some cool Sound stuff to check out...

Top 10 (How To Build A Studio)

Building our studio has had it's highs and lows, and certainly hours of trawling the net. We're almost there now (feature to follow!) but in the meantime, this is a list of 10 things I wish I knew, or had thought more about, before I started...

 

1. PLAN

This is the obvious one, but trust me you cannot plan enough. Get everything down on paper, and use a floorplan software. We used homestyler.com, mainly because it's free! Even if you're only converting a room, it's imperitive you have all your ideas measured out, there were many things we thought we'd have space for, but the software showed us well in advance that we didn't. 

2. K.I.S

Keep it simple. Chances are, like me, you aren't an architect or acoustical engineer, nor can you afford one. Don't go overboard trying to achieve the perfect studio room. Simplify rather than complicate. 

 Yo bitch!

Yo bitch!

3. TOOLS  

There will be a lot of stuff you can do yourself, if only you have the equipment. Many things are cheap (such as the Heisenberg suit and mask above ESSENTIAL, insulation is dirty stuff) but a lot of it is costly. Before you start, add up the price of hiring all the stuff you need from someone reputable and local. 

 

4. GET A PLASTERER

If you are putting up walls, there are some good tutorials about dealing with frames and plasterboard here and here. But if you pay anyone to do anything on this job, make sure it's a plasterer. It's the final touch and it makes all the difference. 

 

 Graeme the shy plasterer

Graeme the shy plasterer

5. BARTER

Fish for prices. It can be difficult to ask for discounts in this day and age, but the line "is that the best price you can do?" often knocks off a few quid. Always check if VAT is included, factor in delivery costs if shopping online, vs using a slightly more expensive but local hardware store. As we're pretty amature at this, I'd recommend local- there's always a friendly old bloke in every shop that's willing to discuss the ins and outs of screw plugs! 

 

6. and 7. ABSORB AND DIFFUSE

The two basic mantras of acoustics treatment- consider it carefully before you begin. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHTmNyo_0O0 

 

 My almost-complete diffuser

My almost-complete diffuser

8. CABLING

How are you going to wire the whole thing AND hide the cables? Can you fix wires behind absorbers? Trunking can sit nicely on top of skirting board, but get it sorted before you move your equipment in. This is often something people rush as they're nearly there at this stage. You may be dying to get into your new space, but take your time fixing and tucking; it makes all the difference to the final appearance.  

 

 Trunking should be laid before carpet if possible

Trunking should be laid before carpet if possible

9. TREAT YOUR WORKERS RIGHT

You'll innevatibly be calling on a professional or handy friend at some stage. A cup of tea and a cake goes a long way and does wonders for team moral! 

 A Sainsbury's cream horn

A Sainsbury's cream horn

10. MAKE FRIENDS WITH A BUILDER

I'm not gonna lie, this would not have happened without my father in law. Everyone knows someone who can make pretty much anything, and believe me, you'll need them. This would have taken me a long long time to do alone, and thousands if I'd have had to hire someone. If you're on a budget, call in your favours, make it an evening/ weekend project with handy friends, turn up the tunes and enjoy the make!

 The better half, and Handydad

The better half, and Handydad