Careers in filmmaking: sound design, production and post-production
Sound team roles divide into production sound (recording live during filming) and post-production sound (adding, mixing or recreating sound or dialogue in the studio afterwards). The roles vary from film to film, depending on its size and budget – sometimes there will be a different team member for each of the roles below; other times one or two people will take on many roles.
Taking an overview – the sound designer or sound editor
A senior member of the sound team will take an overview of the sound required for a film – they might be referred to as a sound designer, sound editor, sound effects editor or supervising sound editor. They’ll meet with the director and producer to discuss the style of production and hence what type of sound is appropriate, then oversee the process of making this happen. Depending on the film, this may happen before filming starts, or not until post-production.
Sound production job roles: boom operator, sound technician, production sound mixer…
During filming, production sound team members work as follows.
- Boom operators capture sound by holding and manoeuvring the boom (an adjustable arm to which you can attach a microphone) while keeping it (and its shadow) out of shot.
- Sound technicians conceal microphones among props and items of the cast’s clothing.
- Production sound mixers monitor the quality of sound being recorded and let the director know if another take is required.
- Sound assistants, trainees or runners (general helpers) provide an extra pair of hands on any task that is delegated to them.
Sound post-production job roles: Foley artist, ADR editor, music editor, sound editor…
Post production sound teams typically include the following roles.
- Foley artists use their ingenuity to recreate sound effects that were hard to capture during filming, especially those relating to human or animal movements or interactions with their environment – for example walking on the spot in sand to create a snowy walk, or swishing a feather duster to become a bird in flight. They’ll perform these while watching the action on screen so as to match the timings exactly.
- Sound effects editors source, adapt and/or create other sound effects that are needed (potentially drawing on their own back-catalogue of useful sounds), for example to provide an explosion or an alien spaceship.
- Automated dialogue replacement (ADR) editors sort out any problems with actors’ lines – for example if there is too much background noise over the top or a mistake with pronunciation or accent. Plan A is to salvage the line (or part of it) from another take; plan B is to get the actor into the studio to rerecord it, watching themselves on screen so as to match their speed to their lip movements on film.
- Music editors work closely with the picture editor and the composer to ensure that all music used fits with the cut of the film created by the picture editing team (the shots selected and their order), and with the dialogue, pace and overall atmosphere. Together with the director, they’ll make sure that the composer understands the requirements for any original music needed, then keep them up to date with any editing changes that will affect the composition (such as bars needing to be added or cut). They’ll also help with the recording and editing of any music performed by actors or other cast members, and edit any pre-recorded music used from other sources.
- One or more sound editors bring all these elements together to create a final soundtrack in which all sound elements work well together, and with the final order shots selected by the picture editing team.
How to become a sound professional in the film industry
You don’t necessarily need a degree for a career in film sound. However, experience, knowledge and skills will help you get your first job in the industry, and taking a relevant course such as a degree or diploma at university or film school is a good way to develop these. Look into courses such as music production, sound design and audio technology. As with all film careers, creating your own work, for example through collaborating with friends on projects, is good experience. Your first paid job in film is likely to be as a runner or trainee; you might find that employment in broadcasting or a film equipment hire company helps you get such as role.