Something which is commonly overlooked by beginner independent filmmakers and film school students is foley.
It’s the subtle bits of audio in film that give it that realistic feeling to everyday sounds we take for granted. Footsteps, car doors, clinking of cutlery etc.
It’s easy to miss, especially when you are a small, independent film company or just getting started into the foray of film.
Independent filmmakers know filming on a budget is one of the biggest challenges to creating a movie, but you don’t have to spend hundreds of $$ on sound effects libraries because you can make your own.
As the editor of our feature film The Umbrella I discovered it’s not actually hard to come up with your own foley. Sure, it’s great if you can afford to use a professional recording/foley studio, but most of the time you just have to make do with what you have.
All you really need is a reasonably sound-proof room, an audio recording device and pretty much anything that makes noise.
Just take whatever you have and make noise with it. Rename it as something that it sounds like and you’ve got a foley library.
There are so many things you can do.
The ol’ boiling-water-in-a-pot trick
During the production of The Umbrella, there was a scene, which took place in a kitchen. There were several little background noises which would have had to contribute to the general atmosphere of the room.
Not all sounds were picked up though. Not all noises sounded realistic either, which is why we had to recreate the audio in post production – much like most films do.
We wanted that nice bubbling sound of the pot boiling in the background so it was a good idea to get some crisp audio up close as we realized the pot didn’t actually sound like it was boiling. It had more of a hissing sound, something that just didn’t match the visuals.
If you’d like to know how to achieve the same thing then you can read the step by step process below, and afterwards, hopefully you can apply the same process to other sounds you need.
For this particular exercise, here’s what you’ll need:
- Recording device
- Memory card
- Smartphone (if you don’t have any other recording device)
Find the most sound proof room accessible and move in – not permanently.
The best kind of room would be as far away from outside noise as possible, like household appliances in other rooms and traffic.
It could even be a good idea to stand up a couple of mattresses around the room as they would absorb the sound rather than having it bounce off the walls
Set up your recording device: which can be either a professional microphone from a studio or just your own smart phone.
I used a small recording device called a TASCAM. All that was required for this was an XLR cable connecting it to the microphone and an SD card. It had a record button which recorded it straight onto the memory card so I could simply take it out and insert into my lap top.
If you don’t have something similar then you can use a smart-phone and record the sound as a voice memo. I also used my own phone so I could have variety in the types of recordings to use.
Find a large bowl (or the actual pot you used). Using the same pot will give you the most realistic sound according to what you see on screen.
If this is not an option (you don’t have that pot anymore or the pot is quite small) then use another large one. The reason it should be large is so you can include others in this adventure.
It is not essential to have more people than just you but as the pot would be boiling over the whole surface the sound would be more realistic if there were more than one string of bubbles popping simultaneously.
Place a tray (or towel) underneath the pot in case of spills. This is more so if you are doing it on the floor or the table and don’t want to spill water everywhere.
Find some straws. (One for each person is fine) It doesn’t matter what kind of straws you use. Just make sure they’re long enough to reach the water while creating enough space for yours and your friends’ heads.
Create enough space on the floor (or table) for you and your friends to gather around.
All blow into the pot at once.
Record. If you have a mic stand or something you can place the recording device on then put it as close to the source as possible, otherwise you may just have to hold it with one hand while holding the straw in the other.
This could be difficult so try and be as steady as possible.
Make sure you communicate to the other participants not to make any other noises while recording. ie. avoid moving by shuffling feet or knees on the carpet. It may seem like common sense but as soon as you listen to the recording later you will notice every ounce of sound that shouldn’t belong.
Add the audio recording into your new foley library. You just need to create a folder in the place of your choosing where you decide to store all of your audio files.
Label the files. This is important, otherwise it gets confusing when you have hundreds of clips titled ‘100_089.wav’ etc. Labelling may be tedious but it definitely saves you a lot of time in the future.
It’s even a good idea to categorize types of sounds into their own folders as well. The more organized you are, the easier it is to find what you’re looking for in the future.
Do this for everything…
Everything makes a noise, all you need to do is capture the sound and add it to your library. Just make sure you have your recording device handy and accessible (it could just be your phone if that’s all you have) in case you hear a sound worth recording.
If you have even one friend with interesting and whacky voice, record them. They don’t have to be saying specific dialogue, they could just make a range of noises. You never know if you might need an animated sound effect in the future.
Having a database of foley and sound effects on hand can only be to your advantage, even if you never use some / most of the recordings.
Footage of a pot boiling with it’s original camera audio.
Same clip with new foley audio: recorded with a Tascam.
Same clip with audio recorded on a smartphone – the quality is actually not much different.
Being prepared as an independent filmmaker is essential. Sometimes our only option is to to take what we have and be creative with it.
To take a further look at an example of our own attempt at foley for our first feature film: The Umbrella behind the scenes: ‘Foley Loaded’