getting a job in a film sound

There are many types of career path within the music industry. If your passion is music, you should know that music production and being music producer is not the only way how to succeed. l’m always amazed every time I have contact with a Film School and discover how few students want to work in the Sound side of Motion Pictures. Perhaps it’s because Sound lacks the glamour other departments in film making seem to have. Perhaps it’s because Sound rarely has publicity that young people fail to realise it is an important part of filmmaking. Certainly they cannot be blamed for thinking this way when they see that the credits for those involved in producing the sound track are after ‘The End”, lost amongst transport and catering personnel. I suppose I should feel glad that few want to be in Sound, as it will keep job competition down. Actually, I feel a little sad that people hoping to work in movies do not want to come into the side of the business that has been my life’s work. Remember to become a music producer, doesn’t meant that it will make you happier. At the end of the day it is all about our passion for music, sound and vibrations.

I would urge those contemplating a job in films to think seriously about Sound. I assure them that all jobs involved in sound track music production can give both technical and creative satisfaction. The average financial rewards are, perhaps, not as good as top jobs in direction, camera or editing, but a good living can be made by those with the right attitude and experience.

The production of a motion picture sound track can be divided into three phases.

Phase One – Production Recording

The sound recording that takes place during the period of principal photography. The personnel involved are the Recordist/Mixer, the Boom Operator, and a third person who may be a Sound Maintenance Engineer or a general assistant.


Phase Two – Sound Editing

This is the operation of assembling all the necessary sound elements – dialogue, sound effects, music, and editing the tracks ready for the re-recording mixing process, producing the final track. The personnel involved are the Dialogue Editor, the Sound Effects Editor, the Music Editor and their assistants.


Phase Three – Post Production Sound

This includes the transfer of production recording rushes to magnetic film or more likely Disk, automatic dialogue replacement recording (ADR); sound effects sound recording; music recording; the mixing of the final sound track and the transfer to optical sound of the final mixed track. The personnel involved are the Re-recording Mixer, Assistant Re-recording Mixer, ADR and Effects Recordist, Music Mixer, Magnetic Transfer Operator, Optical Transfer Operator, Dubbing Theatre Sound Camera Operator, Sound Maintenance Engineer with the possible addition of further assistants and trainees.

Music production career in a Film Sound

Music production Mixer

Responsible for all sound recorded during principal photography making sure that the dialogue is of maximum intelligibility and that wherever possible, the recordings will be satisfactory for use in the final sound track.If successful recording is not possible, music production mixer must advice Producer and Director to record as good as possible “guide track” for use during post-synching session.

Boom Operator

Responsible for microphone handling and microphone placement. Normally works on own initiative but always with reference to and in agreement with the Production Mixer. Liaising With Director of Photography and Camera Operator, regarding shadows cast by microphone and frame limits, to keep microphone out of picture.

For working in feature films and television series the Boom Operator must be able to operate a mechanical boom. This requires a high degree of dexterity which can only be acquired by hands-on experience. It also requires good physical ability as the boom has to be moved about on the set to position it for each scene photographed.

These days on location the hand boom is commonly used. Although not requiring the dexterity of the mechanical boom it still requires a high degree of skill and physical ability. A good knowledge of microphone types and characteristics is essential as is an understanding of lighting techniques and lens sizes. In the use of radio microphones, technical knowledge must be accompanied by diplomacy and respect for the artists who have to wear them.

Production Sound Assistant

Function is to help Recordist and Boom Operator handling equipment. Look after sound report sheets, operate playback equipment when used, operate second boom when required. A Production Sound Assistant is in an excellent position to learn about production recording and get good “hands on” equipment experience. Note well that the Production Sound Assistant is not a tea gopher.


Sound Editing

This singularly creative process is usually divided into the categories of dialogue, sound effects and music, with a separate Sound Editor for each. Sound Editors do not necessarily specialise in one category only but are competent in all. New digital technology in the form of hard disk editing is now almost universal doing away with the transfer to and-subsequent handling of the sound required for editing, on 16 or 35mm sprocket film. Once the dialogue, sound effects and music, along with the appropriate, time code, are recorded on the disks within the system, the Sound Editor watching the action on a VDU can by manipulation of the controls, cut, join, mix, fade in, fade out, lengthen, shorten, or alter pitch of any of the sounds. Besides good knowledge and experience of sound editing equipment Sound Editors should have a good understanding of sound recording techniques for motion pictures.  Understanding the film script and directors ideas is very important as he/she would be expected to make creative suggestions on how to produce music and sound effects, how to enhance the dramatic effect of the story, etc…


The Sound Effects Editor

Responsible for collecting together all the sound effects tracks, deemed necessary for the final mixed track and the music and effects only track, required for international foreign language versions. The sound effects required, if not recorded during production shooting, may be obtained from library, or recording sessions organised using special sound effects artistes. The sound effects tracks have to be edited in synchronisation with the picture action, the tracks laid in a manageable form for the Re-recording Mixer, along with suitable cue sheets indicating sound effects starts and stops.


The Music Editor

Responsible for recording the music. As well as good technical experience, should have a musical education, in order to be able to communicate with the composer. Responsible for laying the music tracks and synchronising them with picture action. May have to make edits in tracks so therefore should have good knowledge of music.


Assistant Sound Editor

Each Sound Editor will have assistants to help them with the various operations. Not yet specialists in sound editing they must have good knowledge of equipment, techniques and procedures.


The ADR/Sound Effects Mixer

Responsible for recording of dialogue that is being replaced because of technical or performance inadequacies in the original recording. Also responsible for the recording of sound effects needed to make up the International Track. Works in conjunction with the Dialogue Editor, Sound Effects Editor and the Footsteps Artistes, who produce the necessary sound effects.


The Music Mixer

To converse with composer and musicians. Good ears are necessary for quality or recording judgement, as well as musical appreciation. Must understand film dubbing process and be able to advise composer when music may clash with other sound components. Music these days is usually recorded at studios not solely engaged in motion picture music recording.


The Re-recording Mixer (Dubbing Mixer)

Responsible for the sound quality and balance of dialogue, sound effects and music in the final sound track. Work includes pre-mixing dialogue, which means re-recording all dialogue tracks on to one track. During this operation the tracks have to be “cleaned up”, equalised and levelled out. “Clean up” means getting rid of, by filtering, all or as much as possible, of extraneous background noise on the production sound tracks. “Equalise” means altering the frequency spectrum of post synch dialogue to match production recorded tracks. “Level Out” means adjusting the loudness of dialogue from shot to shot, so that all artistes sound to be engaged in the same conversation.
Sound effects also have to be pre-mixed, the quality and level of them adjusted to suit the action and mood of the picture. Much the same applies to music. Finally, all the tracks have to be mixed together and the levels of music, dialogue and effects, adjusted for the final balanced track.


The Assistant Re-recording Mixer

Responsible for assisting Re-recording Mixer in pre-mixes, taking control of one or more of the tracks to be mixed. The very experienced Assistant may, in fact, do most of the sound effects pre-mixing. In larger dubbing theatres there may be two Assistant Re-recording Mixers. Re-recording Mixers and Assistant Re-recording Mixers must have good sense of hearing, good eyesight and fast reactions. With the new automated mixing consoles, now in use, a knowledge of computer operation is essential.


Optical Sound Camera Operator

Responsible for transferring the final mix to the master optical negative. Sound Maintenance Engineer Responsible for the correct running of all electronic & mechanical equipment used in sound recording processes. Must be able to diagnose and rectify faults in any of the equipment, whenever they occur. Faults developing during a recording session must be repaired with the minimum of hold up. The Sound Engineer should also be capable of developing and constructing equipment, and keeping pace with new technology.


Desirable Qualifications for Careers in Motion Picture Sound

Specialist Education Anyone involved with sound recording should have a good knowledge of magnetism & electricity, the physical properties of sound and an understanding of the properties of light. The physiology and psychology, of human hearing is also necessary. Practical computer operation is desirable especially in the Sound Editing and Sound Dubbing Departments.

The opportunity to join an amateur dramatic society while at school should not be missed. An understanding of what it is like to learn lines and move and speak with intelligibility will give those involved in Production, Recording, sympathy with and understanding of the artistes’ problems.

If Sound Maintenance is the favoured career, then it must be realise this work demands a very high degree of electronic training.

Good knowledge and understanding of ALL motion picture production techniques is desirable for all persons working professionally in the film industry. Understanding other people’s problems is a great way of solving your own.

Getting a Job

Many post production facilities companies take in trainees, usually advertising such posts through the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) Job Sheets. Television Programme Contractors and the BBC have their own training schemes. A postal enquiry with CV would be a good idea.

CV’s these days seem to be quite important, so prepare a comprehensive one and convey strongly your desire to make Sound your life’s work. Good luck.

Cover photo by Sue Langford