How important is sound on low budget films?

Sound Design Elements

Sound is one of the key elements give off the impression that your movie has production value.   It's is one of the easier elements of film productions to get right.  A small amount of effort will generate big rewards when it comes to sound.    But getting clean audio of the actors dialogue is just one part of quality sound.

Recording quality sound.   A decent shot gun microphone used to capture the dialogue is usually all you need to get the actors audio track.  Typically this is captured using a boom operator. I have found that pointing the microphone on a boom stand is much more effective at capturing solid audio.  Hand held microphones move and capture noise and do not offer any better audio tracks.  The other aspect of sound to capture when film is the background noise. Basically this is all the non talking audio.  Doors slamming or people walking.  The microphone on the camera does this very well and should never been disconnected.  The distance from the sound to the perspective of the viewer in most cases is  perfect.  Getting these sounds as you film saves a lot of time in post.   When movies are done on 35mm film the audio is usually captured on a dat or digital audio tape.  One key benefit of filming on video especially if the camera you are using can capture 2 tracks is that the audio capture device is the camera. The camera has audio displays so you do not need someone to mix the audio as you record.  Paying a little attention to the audio levels as you film is usually all you need.  This is one are for the camera operator to multitask that will save you on the need for an extra crew position.

Sound Design refers to more than just the music.  This is setting the volume levels for the actors as the talk.  It also is the music or what most people think of as a sound track.  Music does not always need to be an expensive symphony but can be local rock bands.  When you do the sound design you can edit in instrumental parts of the songs to add mode.  One often over looked area of sound design is things like ambient noise.  Adding a fourth track of ambient noise strategically through out the movie can really help increase the movies production value. In summary the four elements of sound design are the dialogue, ambient sounds (video camera microphone sounds), music, and Foley created and added in post.

Post sound elements are sounds that are created in post production.  The two main ones are Foley and ADR.  Foley is an art all in itself.  Foley artists mainly reproduce everyday sounds that are synchronized to the film.  The term is named after Jack Foley who was a the pioneer of adding the sounds to movies when they first started making sound movies almost 100 years ago.  At the time the microphone only recorded the dialogue.  These days Foley is used to enhance the audio tracks in addition the the sounds that the video camera picks up.  The other post element or ADR or looping which stands for Automated Dialog Replacement which is done when the original audio of dialogue of the actors is not recorded cleanly in filming.  It is often referred to as looping because the actor watches a video loop and try to replicate the dialogue again matching the video.  The video is played over and over again on a loop and the dialogue is re-recorded. On low budget films this is often needed when there was some form of disturbance off camera whose audio was recorded while filming, such as a crew member talking on set while filming was being done.

Sound Tracks this is the most typically thought of aspect of sound design.  This is the music used to add atmosphere to movies.  Big Hollywood studio films typically use orchestras to create a sound track.  Sound tracks can also be pop music which really enhance the mode of the movie.  For low budget films finding local bands to use on the sound track is usually the cheapest and easiest strategy.

Do not ignore the significance of getting quality sound on your movie.  If sound is not done properly it is the number one element that an audience will notice as being amateur.  If you want your movie  to make an impression you will make sure to get the audio right.  It does really impact how watchable your movie is. Remember with just a little effort this is the one elements of the process that can be done correctly fairly easily.

This article on sound design is part of a series of film making articles provided by the Video Film School.