Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 6, nr. 1 (January 2014)Isabelle Delmotte: TUNED IN AND HANDS ON: SOUND DESIGNERS BEYOND TECHNICAL EXPERTISE
Filmmaking is a sensory practice reflecting the lives of all professionals involved in the production. A film soundtrack is the sum of an organic process and the product of a heartfelt assemblage of talents and ideas – and bodies. The sound department of a feature film has many different positions to fill on set and in post-production. Some terms used currently are: boom operator, sound recordist, sound engineer, sound editor, sound mixer, sound effects mixer, sound effects editor, mixer, re-recording mixer, Foley artist, Foley mixer, automated dialogue replacement Mixer (ADR), dialogue mixer, sound supervisor, sound designer and more. These various roles involve different ways to move in and around sound. The body's centre of gravity shifts according to the task performed, or limitations encountered: for example from a standing to a kneeling position for recording, specific kinetic movements for Foley, and sitting positions for post-production.
Film production constraints can be dominant creative agents, and the breakup of work within the process has the potential to affect many of a film's creative steps. In contemporary film production, edited visuals are commonly the blueprint for what is going to be heard. A movie sound crew might have been given a script early on and so have an idea of the story but, as most sound designers get involved in the production at a later stage, their first appreciation of a movie is a visual edit of the narrative or a storyboard. Most of the time sound designers' and sound mixers’ experiments occur in post-production and are synched to moving images animating a planar screen.
The experiential and experimental methodology used for this study focused on an altering of the phenomenological processes of cinema sound production, therefore involving sound designers from pre-production. This process alteration changes the experience and intentions of its creators, the narrative itself and the audience's experiences of the story. A short script written for the study by professional screenwriter Roger Monk was sent to the eight Australian cinema sound designers. The minimal script described a scene in which a single character, seated, smoking and confined to a small space, reflects on a professional and emotional situation. The premise of the study prohibited the researcher's participation in the creative process. The participating sound designers' only brief was that they had "carte blanche" to model their individual soundtrack from the script. In this context the role of "sound designer" was to produce a story without visual guidelines. Or was it?