On the first day of any film course, wherever in the world, it is rare to find a room full of people who want to become sound editors, sound designers, and foley artists. Yet the few who do develop an insatiable passion for sound. It really is a breathtaking, complex, hidden art form buried within the lights and glamour of film-making. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound attempts to chronicle and explore the journey of film sound from the first live orchestra accompaniment straight through to modern cinema with thousands of interwoven tracks of FX, dialogue, foley, music, and more. This is no behind the scenes doc on your favourite DVD, this is an immersive deep dive into how sound become such a fundamental part of modern cinema.
That being said, the documentary does begin with a rather dry history lesson which touches lightly on developments such as The Phonograph, and early sync sound films such as The Jazz Singer. While this is interesting, this segment is somewhat dry and feels a tad like a BBC documentary on the history of sound. However, the film takes a more interesting turn as it begins to touch on Star Wars and Pixar, and the idea that sound design is an innovative, experimental, playful art. From there it brings us into the present with interviews from the likes of Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and Ryan Coogler. Yet the soul of this piece is the incredible women behind the sound desks: Anna Behlmer (Re-Recording Mixer Braveheart, Moulin Rouge), Pat Jackson (Effects Editor Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet), and Victoria Rose Sampson (Dialogue Editor Pirates of the Caribbean).
With an incredible mix of specially recorded interviews, archive footage, and film clips breaking down what it takes to create the soundscapes of iconic Hollywood films such as Saving Private Ryan and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Making Waves strikes the right balance between educating and inspiring. Midge Costin takes the time to go back into these iconic designers childhoods and experiences that lead them toward sound. She picks up on Ben Burtt, (Star Wars) and how he played with a tape recorder as a kid, long before he ever met George Lucas. This approach gives a human side to what usually feels like an overwhelmingly technological aspect of film. With a project like Star Wars it was about discovering how lightsabers sounded, what noises R2-D2 made, and how to capture the noises of spacecrafts that didn’t exist. The archive footage of Ben Burtt whacking a cable fence with a spanner to create the sounds of blasters captures the playful absurdity of Sound Effects and Foley.
What the film really wants to communicate, however, is the vast amount of people and varying skill sets it takes to create our favourite soundscapes such as Inception or Saving Private Ryan. The doc names this the ‘circle of talent’ and likens each aspect of sound: Production Recording, Dialogue, ADR, SFX, Foley, Ambience, Music to a section in an orchestra. There will forever be debates over who is really ‘authoring’ a film, Costin does not want to assert dominance but turn the audience’s head so they can listen to how much work sound does for a film.
A particular case study is that of Pixar and Luxo Jr. When Ben Burtt was not available, Gary Rydstrom (Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monsters Inc.) was asked by John Lasseter to do the sound design for their first short. Again, it was a peculiar challenge of figuring out how sounds worked in the new, digital space of CGI animation. Not only that but getting these inanimate objects to emote and talk in ways that an audience will understand. The creativity is mind-blowing. Driven by simple curiosity and willingness to discover the answers to their questions.
That is the overarching theme of this documentary, that is sound is an art. A complex, emotional, innovative, incredible art and should be considered as such. Sound is not an afterthought or a temp track stuck onto a film, but an organic development that comes from the minds of these artists. For a filmmaker, this doc is an absolute must see, regardless of your chosen discipline, and particularly if one is interested in one of the big three (writing, directing, producing) as this film opens up a whole new arsenal of instruments one can use to enhance your work.
For a more mainstream audience, Making Waves pulls back the curtain on some of the most beloved Hollywood creations and would inspire anyone to pursue a career in sound. It may take a good chunk of the film to really get into it, but if one overcomes that barrier it is completely and wholly worth it. So brace yourself for a journey into the immersive, imaginative world of film sound.
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has just finished her first short ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied. Her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864