Creating a Unified Voice
This article is not what I originally intended. I started it, nearly completed it and then decided to rewrite it from a different angle. It’s core subject remains intact, speaking to our collaborators…the people who hire us to make their pieces of media “sound good.” Whether we work in film, television, games, mobile applications, interactive art installations or any other existing or emerging medium, the majority of us work in service to another. Many a sound professional can be found lamenting the working situation they find themselves in; proclaiming, “ if only…”
When I first wrote this article, it’s title probably would have been “How NOT to Promote the Importance of Sound.” And I’ll still touch on that later. When I was nearly finished, Randy Thom sent me an article for the site. [To be posted tomorrow.] It’s relation to my original musings can’t really be called direct, but there was a relation none the less…and it gave me an idea for a different direction to take with this discussion.
There’s been a push to give sound a better seat at the creative table in each of our respective mediums. It’s not a new idea; it’s been sought for a long time. We seek to assert ourselves as story-tellers and artists, not mere “technicians”…to serve another’s vision without being subservient to the visual. We know that we can add to, and drive, the story…and we want that opportunity. To get it, we have to affect change. We have seen its beginning, but we need to continue the campaign to see it realized. If that’s to happen, we can’t continue to sit back and rely on people like Randy Thom and Gary Rydstrom to do the work for us. We all have to contribute; that’s the hard part. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and daydream about the ideal situation. It’s a lot harder to actively pursue it. There are those of us out there that are doing just that, but we’re fractured and isolated.
That’s where I want to start.
This is a call to arms…well, maybe not arms…that implies battle. We don’t want to battle with our collaborators. That immediately puts us in an antagonistic situation…counter-productive. I think you get what I’m saying though. It’s time we stopped doing this alone. What I’d like to see are stories from people who are pushing for greater collaboration. Were you successful? In what situation? How did you do it? Did you fail? Why? How do you even measure the success of your efforts? All of these question require honest reflection…particularly in cases of failure. For example, “The director just doesn’t get it,” is not a valid reason for failure. If he or she was not interested, that’s one thing. Was it just something do with that particular production? Did you continue the discussion outside of that production?
What ideas can we try to promote the use of sound in story-telling?
We should be working together on this. Looking at what worked in what situation, and what didn’t in others…as a group…empowers us all. As a community, we can learn from each others’ mistakes and successes. Designing Sound can become a clearing house for this discussion. That doesn’t mean you have to submit your story for posting on the site. If you’d like to, then certainly bring it here. We’ll be happy to put it in front of the rest of the community. Post it to your personal site if you prefer, then let us know that you have. We’ll be just as happy to direct traffic to it. This is a topic that’s too important and central to our work to restrict to just one month. This should be an ongoing discussion, and we should continue to analyze and adapt approaches. Let’s crowd-source the process and work towards an effective voice for our community.
How we present ourselves in this process will greatly affect our chances for success. Which now brings me back around to the original article I wrote…though this will be much abridged compared to its original incarnation…inspired by this little piece: 6 Ways Directors Screw Sound Editors.
This article aggravated me before I even read it. The title alone is a lesson in what not to do. While I appreciate the sentiment of the article (written by a visual editor “on our behalf”), I have a hard time imagining any of its intended audience (directors…not sound editors) taking it seriously. Just look at the responses left below it; they’re mostly from sound folks. It manages to be both condescending and whining at the same time. Do NOT speak this way to our collaborators. In my mind, that kind of tone says one thing, “This job is too challenging. You should have made it easier for me.” That leads people to another thought…you lack confidence in your ability to do the job. Either that, or you just don’t want to be bothered with it.
We’ve all had to deal with the issues associated with sub-par production audio and/or working conditions. There are ways to address these without giving the impression that you don’t belong at the desk. If you can’t be enthusiastic and professional working in sound, even in less than ideal situations, then go find another career. We already have enough of a struggle without being seen as an industry of complainers, so don’t make us appear to be one. [We may be past that point already; in which case, we now have yet another river to paddle against.] In some respects, how we speak to other sound designers needs to carry over into our conversations with directors/producers/leads/etc. Story, design, aesthetic…our collaborators need to be exposed to our thoughts in these areas. Then there are the conversations we have amongst ourselves, that are less appropriate outside of our circle of peers. Think about your audience, and adapt accordingly. If you’re not sure how to present an idea to a collaborator, talk it over with others first.
I recognize that I’m calling for action and providing little direction. This is meant as merely a starting point. Where we go from here does not have to be so rigidly defined. As I mentioned before, we shouldn’t be relying solely on a small group of champions to extoll the virtues of sound in narrative mediums. We all should be contributing. Just remember, that you’re not alone when you do so. We have an amazing community of peers at our disposal. Use it. Take support from it, and bring your experiences to it. Together we can create a unified voice to advance sonic story-telling, and make it one that is hard to ignore.
Some suggested starting points for discussion and reflection:
- The Sound of Simon Killer – Interview with Antonio Campos and Coll Anderson
- How About a Sound Ideaboard/Storyboard? – Randy Thom
- Filmsound.org: Designing a Movie for Sound
- The Tonebenders: Episode 9 & Episode 10