Despite the fact that sound design has always been a key component in the film and audiovisual industry, it still holds an air of mystery. In fact, the most common myth about sound design is that it is all about creating new sounds, which of course is not true. At least not partially. One may easily assume that sound design is all about coming up with enticing and neat sound effects; however, assuming that would not be fair with those who coined the term during Star Wars and Apocalypse Now. When we refer to sound design as a term, we need to resort to those films, as Ben Burtt and Walter Murch —Star Wars and Apocalypse Now respectively— found themselves working alongside directors who were not just trying to include attractive and powerful sound effects in their projects as an additional element of the structure they had already put in place.
It was by exploring the boundaries of sound: sound effects, music, dialogues, etc., that sound began to play a pivotal role in storytelling, shaping the picture in most cases. These experiments resulted in something different from what directors and audiences were used to. In fact, nowadays soundtracks change the way people and directors understand film sound, yet there seems to be a rather unorthodox conception of what a well-crafted sound design is. For many people, a well-crafted sound design is about recording high fidelity sounds and well-fabricated vocalizations like explosions or alien creatures; however, that is far from doing justice to the term. A well-orchestrated and recorded musical composition provides minimal to zero value if does not interact seamlessly with the film; having performers, actors, and actresses say a myriad of dialogues in every shot is not necessarily acting in the betterment of the production.
Sound, regardless of its nature, provides value and acts in the betterment of a film when it becomes part of the storytelling, when it resonates with what is being projected, when it changes dynamically over time, and when it makes the audience experience sensorial feelings. Filmmakers should actually pay special attention to sound every time they have an idea in their minds. Instead of simply considering sound as a mere component, filmmakers should strive to fabricate sounds, either on set or in a studio with a talented sound designer or composer, making it a pivotal contribution to influence their projects in different ways. Think of films like Citizen Kane, Star Wars or Once Upon A Time In The West. These films were thoroughly thought and produced in many ways, the sound being one of them, yet no sound designer appears on the credits.
But that does not mean that every film should strive to mimic what the aforementioned films have done in terms of sound; however, lots of audiovisual projects may actually learn from them instead. Sound mixing varies from film to film, and there are films whose sound design is astonishing. Now, there are several sound mixing practices that actually take place way long before production begins: directors often have their actors and actresses hear the words around their characters, making it possible for them to play their roles in a much better way.
Other directors actually build their stories around the whole role that sound plays within the storytelling framework, although many others still have a lot to learn about the potential for sound. There seems to be a paradigm around the role of sound —like a generally accepted idea that suggests that good sound is only meant to enhance the images and the visuals being projected. Such paradigm would only suggest that sound is actually a slave within the project, and its implications would be less important and complex than they would be if directors could let sound act as a free element during the whole process.
Another misconception around the topic of sound and sound design suggests both directors and filmmakers start to pay attention, or at least think seriously, about sound is when the project is approaching its final stages and when the filmmaking process and the structure of the film are practically over. Many would say: how is a composer supposed to come up with an idea unless he is able to catch a glimpse of the final product? Some may argue that there is nothing wrong with this practice, and yes: sometimes it works uncannily well. But what’s the point in actually considering sound like a collaborative, functional component of filmmaking if it is only taken into account and addressed once the other processes are over? In order for it to reach its full potential, directors and filmmakers should not disregard the possibility of understanding the whole project within a collaborative framework, allowing sound to exert some of its wonders on the filmmaking process.
*The images used on this post are taken from Pexels.com