Sound and Music: Activity 2

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A modern soundtrack is created and assembled in many interconnected stages by sound recordists, mixers, editors and music composers. Dialogue recorded by the production sound mixer during filming, on location or on a soundstage, makes up the initial layer of a movie soundtrack.

In addition to capturing live vocal performances, the production mixer tries to anticipate the needs of the sound editors and mixers who will work on the movie after filming ends.“Wild tracks” and “wild sound” recordings are made on the set when the camera is not running. If the movie takes place in a hospital, for instance, the mixer might record 20 or 30 seconds of the sounds in the room at the end of the day. Wild sound often proves clearer or better timed than sound recorded during filming and can be cut into the soundtrack when needed.

Not all film dialogue is recorded live. Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) is used to record new dialogue if the live track is distorted, if it contains unwanted sounds, or if the director wants to change lines of dialogue or even an entire performance after filming is completed. During ADR, actors watch individual sections of a movie many times, trying to match new dialogue to the lip movements of the characters on screen.

Movies are filmed in small segments or scenes called “takes.” Dialogue editors review all takes, recorded live and in ADR, and edit together the best readings, so that all the dialogue appears continuous and natural.

Off-screen narration or voiceovers are also recorded during postproduction. Voiceovers supply the voices of characters in animated films and the narration in documentaries and educational films. Voiceover narration also is used in fiction films to connect seemingly unrelated images or scenes or to present the observations and thoughts of one or more of the characters. Sunset Blvd., for instance, is narrated by a dead character. In Annie Hall, voiceovers are employed to contrast the characters’ thoughts with their onscreen dialogue for comic effect.

According to Oscar-winning film and sound editor Walter Murch, we can focus on a maximum of two sounds at a time. In daily life, most people hear only the sounds that are important to them, tuning out the rest. Encourage your students to begin to listen discriminately to all sounds by asking them to sit quietly at home, in a park, a restaurant or a shopping mall and list the many different sounds they hear. Ask
them to listen for sounds with particular qualities, for example, highpitched, low-pitched, fast, slow, loud, soft, regular or irregular, and to identify any unexpected sounds. Have them describe how it feels to listen carefully to sounds and explain whether they agree or disagree with Murch’s statement.

Supplemental Activity

Show your students a short scene of an actor speaking. Have them try to say the lines along with the actor several times, matching intonation, timing and lip movements until they feel comfortable with the lines. Then turn off the sound and let them try to lip-sync the lines while they watch the scene.

Sound: The Power to Enhance the Story

PDF Downloads

Complete Sound and Music Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: The Origins of Sound Film

Activity 2: Dialogue

Activity 3: Sound Effects

Activity 4: Musical Score

Activity 5: Songs

Activity 6: Sound Mixing

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