May 5, 2017 at 4:01PM
A Wonderful Night: A Dissection of Sounds
by Blauw Films
dir. Leonardo Verkoelen
The soundscape of a film is one of the most important aspects of the final product. Having loud upbeat music, soft melancholic themes or a lack of sound altogether has an enormous emotional impact on the film. It is important to note that sounds on their own have little impact in a film if the accompanying image hasn’t been well chosen. And when an image is badly chosen, the accompanying sound might lose it’s force completely.
As a first experiment for Blauw Films I believe in the importance of understanding sound before we start delving deeper into aesthetics, meaning, technology and presentation.
Instead of stating facts I will be putting forward ideas. Which to me is far more valuable as it gives the audience the opportunity to disagree.
1.1 A Familiar Soundscape
What we wanted to achieve was the feeling of a familiar soundscape. Before dissecting a soundscape and revealing the separate layers of sounds, it is important to be able to hide the sounds. The audience shouldn’t be aware about what sounds are in the room. Except for when that is the goal of the scene.
We decided to recreate the sounds of a bedroom. A setting that is very familiar to most people watching. The setting of the bedroom also strongly influenced the story of the film, which we will address in Chapter Two.
1.2 Dissecting the Soundscape
The ambience we wanted to recreate was one of a cozy bedroom. A bedroom that felt warm and enjoyable. This is why we played around with many different types of White Noise.
The white noise is what we used as the base layer of sound. This creates a tone that is consistent throughout the sequence. Think of it as the foundation of a building, with every next layer of sound build on top of that, adding to what has already been put in place.
Usually when creating a soundscape for a film it is common practice to record Room Tone, which is the ambient sounds of the room that the scene was shot in. Or when shot on Green-screen, for example, this ambience would be recorded separately. However, for this experiment we decided to not record the Room Tone itself as we wanted to “recreate” the room tone with separate sounds.
Thus we used the white noise as a relaxing/meditative sound to fill up the ambience.
On top of the white noise it was now our task to record and add multiple layers of sound that will get us that cozy feeling. We experimented with different sounds like a dripping tap, birds chirping in the distance, neighbors talking on the other side of the walls, cars driving past, the wind rustling through the trees, etc.
Many of these sounds didn’t work for what we were trying to achieve because they are not continuous. With that I mean that birds don’t chirp continuously for long periods of time, neighbors don’t continuously talk to each other even though some might, and cars aren’t constantly driving past. If we would be using these sounds they would have a sense of surprise. Every time you would hear a bird chirping, it would be like a small treat. This in the end felt more distracting than positive for the end result.
The soundscape we ended up deciding on consisted of different sounds that were seamless. We could loop them without the audience ever noticing a beginning or and end point. This is all done specifically so that when we start cutting out sounds you start hearing what layers it was made up from for the first time, and not having the audience notice the different layers anytime beforehand.
The layers were:
-Soft Rain outside the house
-Breathing from the characters (We recorded 2 minutes of breathing in and out in a fixed rhythm)
-Vinyl Player Button switch
-Vinyl Player Needle and Crackle
-Vinyl Player Buzz from the rotation
-“Berceuse”-Composition by Georges Bizet
-Foley of Character Movement on the pillows and blankets
We cut the dialogue and the character movements first as that is emphasized by the scene content.
The song is the only sound that is particularly louder and will take up most of our attention. This is a deliberate choice as from this moment on the audience has something that is clearly supposed to be “listened” to. Thus when the song stops playing, you should already be listening carefully and we can start dissecting the sounds. First the sounds that have to do with the song. Which includes all the Vinyl Player sounds. Followed by the sounds that fill up the room namely the rain and the white noise. Finally we are left with the breathing of the characters. We felt this was a very meditative sound and the contrast between “silence with breathing” and “total silence” is very heavy. From a meditative feeling we almost get to a feeling of discomfort. At least when we were experiencing viewing the film for the first time.
The cinematography was a very interesting problem to solve for this film. It being a small experiment meant we didn’t have a budget and we were paying for it out of our own pocket. This meant we could scrap the plan of renting equipment or paying for locations.
Our shot construction was thus very limited to what we had available to us from the start.
As the original goal of the film was to have the audience listen to the sounds of the room and the story consisted of having the characters “freeze” into a moment for the majority of the film, we decided that simplifying the cinematography to the bare essentials was key.
When you approach a scene and you look into the room there is an infinite amount of possibilities of how you can shoot the scene. You can shoot it in 100 different angles. Or you can shoot it all in 1 angle. And even then you have the option to choose whether you’re showing this actor, that actor, both of them, or neither of them.
We decided that it would be interesting to play with the idea that “we” as the audience have gotten ourselves in the middle of this situation. So we decided to play with the camera as if it’s an observer and not locked to the actual environment.
What we mean by that is that the 2 shots we are constantly cutting between after the Master Shot look like POV Shots. However, one will notice that we specifically placed Alex Tabrizi slightly higher than Gemma Tubbs, who is laying with her head on the pillow. In an official POV we would have had Alex looking slightly down while the camera would’ve been looking slightly upwards. And the reverse would’ve been the camera looking slightly downwards at Gemma while she is looking up.
These shots would in our opinion work if we were trying to capture a sense of realism. However, we were not. And cutting between the Low-Angle and the High-Angle got very frustrating after several times of seeing the same image.
This is why we opted for a Subjective POV. It feels like a POV. But it’s not a POV. The character are addressing the audience and are giving us the look. Not each other. And we are placed exactly in the middle of the two characters. Stuck in this situation
As the first experiment of Blauw Films we really wanted to delve into the Soundscape of films. We had a fun and enjoyable shoot and we feel like we have a better understanding of how to create our future Soundscapes in a way that is adding to the story. Thank you for reading.
- Leonardo Verkoelen