Film Sound

(Above: I can’t think of the Star Wars title crawl without hearing the famous theme song that plays at the top of the movie)

Noah Sniderman
RTA 907
Lori Beckstead
November 29th, 2016

Sound and Image:  David Sonnenschein

Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic

Diegetic – Diegetic sounds occur within the character’s world, and might be audible to them. Ex. Dialogue

Non-Diegetic – Non-diegetic sounds do not occur within the character’s world, and is audible to the audience alone. Ex. Star Wars theme music

Musics’ Role in Film

Emotional signifier – Music that helps the audience to suspend their belief, by enchanting them into a fictional reality. Ex. Music as students arrive at Hogwarts in Harry Potter.

Continuity – Music that runs through video cuts creating continuity.

Narrative cueing – Music that aids the audience’s interpretation of a scene, or that cues them for something surprising like comedy or dangers. Ex. Jaws theme.

Narrative unity – Music that aids a movie’s narrative structure through repetition, variation etc. Ex. The variations of The Godfather’s Waltz in The Godfather trilogy.

Programmatic Music – Music that is chosen to match the action on screen. Ex. The Cat Came Back

Amempatheic music – Music chosen to contrast with the audience or character’s feelings. Ex. Stuck in the Middle With You scene from Reservoir Dogs

Designing a Movie for Sound: David Thom

Efficient dialogue – There is a tendency to densely pack dialogue into a movie in the hopes of making every moment work. Thom proposes that moments without dialogue are opportunities to accentuate the sounds of the environment, and make it a character as well.

Character’s need to listen – On a related note, an audience is better able to assume the perspective of a character if we allow that character time to actively listen to the diegetic sounds of the movie.

Picture and sound as collaborators – Sound does not only need to occur when a visual needs audio explanation. In the Thom example, the sound of a steel mill may be very loud, and can be heard from a distance. If characters are travelling towards the steel mill, and the audience is able to hear the steel mill before they even see it, it will make for a very realistic and immersive experience,

Sound’s Talents

Heighten realism – The clash of lightsabers in Star Wars

Draw attention to a detail/evoke a feeling – The loudness of the breathing during the spacewalk in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Indicate a geographic locale – Somali music in Black Hawk Down

Define a character – Captain Jack Sparrow’s arrival to Port Royal in Pirates of the Caribbean

Work Cited

Sonnenschein, David. Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2001. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Thom, Randy. “Designing a Movie for Sound.” FilmSound. N.p., 1999. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.


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