Want to take your project to the next level? Look no further than the audio of your film. Sound is such a crucial element of any project. Often what distinguishes a student film from a professional project is its sound design.
It is easier to overlook poor visuals but it’s harder to overlook poor audio. If your audio is bad, it will detract from the overall effect of your film. On the other hand, if you have a good soundscape, it can add incredible value to your project. Sometimes even the best film sound design goes unnoticed because it is so naturalistic.
If you need funding to help hire a sound designer, check out our simple film funding opportunities, and submit your pitch.
Firstly, let’s look at sound design’s definition in film: Sound design is the art and practice of creating soundtracks for a variety of needs. It involves specifying, acquiring, or creating auditory elements using audio production techniques and tools for films. Sound design and foley also fall under this definition.
The first way sound design can elevate your film is by creating a sense of off-screen space. The visuals in the film show the audience what you want them to see but sound can give the audience a greater sense of what is going on off the screen. This adds a fullness to the world of your film.
That sense of a full world and a rich landscape is hard to match in the visuals. Really only through sound can off-screen space be created. Especially if your film is shown in a professional theater, the theatre sound design and speaker system will help with the feeling of being in a full landscape.
What they teach you at sound design school is to create an ambient noise soundscape that acts as a cradle for all other sounds- like dialogue and diegetic sounds. Diegetic sound just means sounds that are included in the actual world of the film: so the sound of someone typing on a keyboard, a song playing from a radio on screen, the sound of a person sneezing, etc.
Ambient sound can be room tone, the sound of the fridge humming, light voices in the background, or another room. They help create a sense of space within the sound design of the film. But you don’t need a sound design degree to understand the science and artist elements of sound design.
Another way to create offscreen space to utilize non-diegetic sound. That is sound that does not have a source shown on screen.
For example, if the sound of an alarm clock can be heard but the camera doesn’t show the alarm clock, instead it shows a person sleeping in bed. The alarm clock sound is non-diegetic and it helps create a sense of off-screen space. Now as an audience, we know that there is an alarm clock in the room this person is sleeping in, and we have a greater sense of the space.
A great way to practice this skill is to challenge yourself to make a project with no synchronized dialogue. This means no one on-screen can be seen saying dialogue. It’s a great exercise in unsynced sound, non-diegetic sound, and it forces you to create a soundscape that has off-screen space, even just through the dialogue.
It doesn’t have to be a long project but it can be a great exercise. And if you want to become a sound designer for film having projects like this on your reel is extremely helpful.
The second way to elevate your film is to use the sound design technique called a sound or audio bridge. An audio bridge is a kind of transition that takes the audio from the next scene in the sequence and uses it in the one before. So you hear the next scene before you see it.
This is an effective way to transition a scene and a great way to elevate your project. Audio transitions can boost your project by breaking away from the usual cross dissolve or fade in and fade out. Here is a good sound design basics article about sound bridges.
Sometimes with the sound design where to start is to look at some examples and then try the technique for yourself. The next time you are editing try creating a sound bridge yourself. By watching examples and reading up its also a great place where to learn sound design.
The third way to elevate your project is through film music. Music is the most effective way to make your audience feel, tug at their heartstrings, raise tension, or set tone. There is a rich history of film music history from the earliest movie theaters having live orchestras to today’s ability to stream film scores on Spotify.
It can be hard to secure free film music or music licensing for film but it can also be a great opportunity to work with other artists and film composers to make original music for your project or you can try your hand at creating your own music. Often the music doesn’t have to be complicated and intricate to be effective. Sound design for beginners can also mean creating your own film music. The New York Film Academy has some great resources, for all independent filmmakers.
As we’ve touched on, the sound design and mixing have the ability to convey emotion in your film. If you think a particular scene or beat isn’t landing, maybe what’s missing is sound or music. Sound designer Tasos Frantzolas said it best in an interview with Lights Film School,
“We go to the movies to feel something. Sound is one of the two main senses that people experience in cinema. Therefore, it’s one of the tools that filmmakers have in order to help create an emotion, show something that is not on the screen, make us scared, or create comedy. Sound supports the story and can enhance a scene: every sound can carry a meaning.”Tasos Frantzolas
As you learn more about sound design from books and sound design tutorials, it’s important to remember the greatest function of this art is to make the audience feel. When taking sound design courses, keep in mind how the skills you learn will be applicable to creating real emotion.
Another great tool of sound design software and how sound design can elevate your project is by setting the location. As discussed with the idea of off-screen space, sound in film can be very grounding and help set the location of your scene. Videomaker describes the importance of sound design for setting the scene.
The background and atmospheric noise tells the audience where the scene is taking place. Although these sounds are usually quiet, they are essential to a scene. Why? Because they appeal to the audience on a subconscious level.
Without them, the scene will feel unnatural to the audience. Without them, the realism of the scene taken away and it stands out to the viewer, even if they aren’t sure why.
If the scene is taking place on a busy street, the background noise should be that of a busy street. There should be sounds of people talking, car horns, and the light sounds of engines revving. If the scene is in a forest, the background noise would be of blowing wind, leaves rustling, and many animal sounds. It would feature anything that will inform the audience of where the scene is set.
If you want impeccable sound design for your film, you’ll need a budget. You can get up to $10,000 and other prizes for your short film by submitting a one-sentence pitch to The Film Fund.