Maintaining Sound Continuity
Continuity plays a huge role in the production of every motion picture. Lighting, sound, music, and editing are arguably of equal importance. Much of a film's ultimate appeal has to do with its editing and all the sounds heard throughout the entire film. You probably have distinct memories of the sound of the rush of fighter jets flying by in Top Gun, the hauntingly melodic balalaika dancing through Dr. Zhivago, or the frightening footfall of tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park. Writers weave intricate tales and directors capture moving images, but composers, editors, and sound technicians ultimately merge their disciplines into an indivisible art form (see Chapter 16).
Mixing It Up
The sound department is one of the most crucial components of film production. Great sound can make a film sing. Bad sound can make an audience run screaming from a theater. Having expert sound technicians is an absolute must in order for a film to prove ultimately successful. The head of the sound department is the sound designer, who is responsible for the overall soundtrack of a film. This individual oversees the production's music, dialogue, sound effects, and all of the individuals involved in creating and maintaining a film's sound.
A production might also have a props builder. A props builder is a jack-of-all-trades who can perform construction jobs and is familiar with electronics, machining, and a host of other disciplines. It is extremely helpful to have a competent props builder around in case anything technical goes wrong on-set.
Sound recordists are audio engineers who record dialogue and all other necessary sounds during film production. They work with any number of microphones and record separate sound tracks that can be manipulated and fine-tuned at postproduction by a sound editor. Both the recordist and editor must be technically astute individuals who are familiar with tried-and-true mechanics as well as current innovations in sound technology.
On occasion, one can see a wayward microphone hovering precariously over an actor's head. The person at the other end of that microphone is a boom operator. A member of the sound crew who works closely with the recordist, this individual operates the boom microphone, which is essentially a microphone on a long pole that is either hand-held or mechanically operated. This gives the operator the ability to control where the microphone is placed in relation to the actors and the angle of the cameras.
Knowing the Score
Music is yet another important component of a motion picture, one that in many cases has just as much impact as a film's visual appeal. A film's music sets its tone, whether it's the soft melodic undertone of a love scene or booming crescendos during an epic battle. Music is another character in a film. Imagine the aquatic star of Jaws circling menacingly around a potential victim without musical accompaniment. In this case, the unforgettable film score accounted for much of the film's incredible suspense.
The musical component of a film requires the talents of many professionals, from composers to musicians. In charge of the department is the music supervisor, who oversees and works with sound editors, mixers, and the composer, who creates the musical score that relates directly to the conceptual element of a film. A composer's job can include writing original scores for all of a film's scenes and overseeing musical recordings. Actor and screen legend Charlie Chaplin was so multitalented that he composed the musical scores for all of his motion pictures made after 1931 including City Lights and The Great Dictator.
Film editing is an intrinsic and highly evolved element of postproduction (see Chapter 16). The film editor follows the script to assemble the filmed footage into logical sequences that tell a story. It is most common for directors to have “first cut” privileges. The director usually works in close collaboration with the editor to refine footage and sequences of the production. Although film producers usually have the last word in the version that is released, some directors are powerful enough to demand “final cut” as well.