Guest Contribution by Randy Thom
During pre-production on a film it’s common practice to gather lots and lots of still photographic images, and video as well, that might relate to the story. The stills are often displayed on walls for everyone preparing the film to see and talk about. It’s basically an “idea board.” The purpose of gathering these images is to stimulate thinking about the way the film should look, or about some other element of the story taking shape. Shots of potential locations for shooting, or locations evocative of those in the story, images of objects and props, shots of people similar to those in the story, animals, food, vehicles, landscapes, structures, etc. are compiled as concrete starting points of reference for constructing the look of the movie. Eventually a storyboard artist will draw images representing almost every shot in the film. It’s a way to help the filmmakers pre-visualize how each shot will be designed.
Usually the only sonic research like this is done for music. Especially if there is likely to be source music in the film then some energy will be put into gathering music that might either be used in the film, or music that can start the conversation about what will eventually be used.
It seems odd to me that gathering other, non “musical,” kinds of sounds in pre-production is so rare. It seems odd, but it isn’t surprising. For reasons I don’t understand, we as a culture resist using sound as a starting point. It’s the tradition for sound to follow, not to lead. But that’s strange because we also know that sounds are evocative. Sounds suggest images at least as much as images suggest sounds.
I think it would be useful to have a sound idea board for many films. I don’t have any doubt that listening to sounds of places, people, vehicles, animals, machines, etc. would not only be a concrete way to begin figuring out how the movie should sound, it would also stimulate thinking about visuals, and would sometimes suggest compelling shots that wouldn’t occur to anyone who was thinking exclusively in visual terms.
Yes, there is an enormous amount of inertia that would need to be overcome to get productions to spend time and money gathering sounds in pre-production. It isn’t going to happen quickly, if at all as a frequent occurrence. But I think it’s worth pushing for whenever there are filmmakers who might be open to it, because it will make better movies. I’m writing this to start a discussion. What do you think? I know many of you will say it’s nutty to shoot for things like this when we often can’t even get productions to pay for things that are patently obvious. My response is that I think we need to push the idea of sound’s importance at all levels. Some directors who wouldn’t consider giving us another minute to adjust a mic on the set will love the idea of a sound idea board. Sound needs to get its foot in any door that’s cracked open. It’s good for us, and it’s good for storytelling.