You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Choosing a Listening Post

For sound design, it’s crucial whether the aud will be inside the character’s head, or outside

Sound pros are always hunting for noises or techniques that can rip moviegoers from their seats straight into the action of a film.

Most soundscapes are after the same end: immersion. Yet there is more than one way to immerse an audience in a film.

Some films use “subjective” sound to put the audience inside the action, immediately into the experience of a character. You hear what they hear, as they would hear it. It’s the noise made by a bullet screaming past you or hitting your gear with a thud. Others use “objective” sound, which puts the audience outside the action looking and listening in. It’s the wild car jump in front of you that lands with a bouncy thud as you watch the vehicle somehow drive on.

As supervising sound editor for “Lone Survivor,” Wylie Stateman realized early on that this personal war story, in which four Navy SEALs are sent on a mission in Afghanistan that quickly unravels, would become even more real if the audience got as close to the action as possible.

“We found ways to record sounds by putting mics in people’s backpacks or clothing so you would hear explosions and bullets going by as though you were with these guys as they were being attacked,” Stateman says. “It’s an entirely raw and intense way to get sound because there’s nothing separating the audience from the action.”

Stateman is not the only one who literally put the audience in the shoes (or at least the helmets and gear) of the characters. Glenn Freemantle, supervising sound editor for “Gravity,” was able to record sounds made by actual NASA space gear and created noises that sounded like they came from inside Sandra Bullock’s uniform.

For Freemantle, sounds had to be chosen carefully since there is no sound in space. He relied on Bullock to create the raw sounds he needed and went from there.

“In a way you experience everything through (Bullock) so we wanted the audience to hear her heart beat and breathing from inside her environment,” says Freemantle. “When the breathing becomes elevated and the heart beat speeds up, you know she is terrified and your own breathing might be come elevated, too, because we unconsciously try to match the breathing rhythm of those around us.”

While the subjective approach used in “Gravity” and “Lone Survivor” fit these personal stories, Andrew DeCristofaro, co-supervising sound editor on “Iron Man 3,” let the audience take in the spectacle mostly from the outside, not the inside.

“In these kinds of films it’s so easy to put sound everywhere but it actually makes the big moments bigger to have specific, clear sounds for things like metal suits and crashes into concrete,” DeCristofaro says.

“You’re letting the audience hear and feel these things from a perfect vantage point,” he adds.

Peter Brown, supervising sound editor for “Fast & Furious 6,” focused on giving the audience the best spectator seat in the house as well.

Brown is the first to admit fans of the film and the series are there to see and hear things they could never experience in person, like a tricked-out Mustang being crushed directly in front of them or a car making an impossible jump.

“The director wanted me to keep the eyes of the audience on the screen,” Brown says. “So this sound is largely right in front of you, because your perspective is that of someone watching it all happen, watching it all unfold right there.”

More Film

  • Roman Polanski extradition

    Academy Responds to Roman Polanski: 'Procedures Were Fair and Reasonable'

    UPDATE: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded to a lawsuit from expelled director Roman Polanski that claimed he was unfairly expelled from the industry organizaton. “The procedures taken to expel Mr. Polanski were fair and reasonable. The Academy stands behind its decision as appropriate,” a spokesperson said. Film director Roman Polanski [...]

  • Lorraine Warren dead

    Lorraine Warren, Paranormal Investigator Who Inspired 'The Conjuring,' Dies at 92

    Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigator and demonologist whose life inspired franchises like “The Conjuring” and “The Amityville Horror,” has died. She was 92. Warren’s son-in-law Tony Spera confirmed the news. Spera said on Facebook, “She died peacefully in her sleep at home.” He continued, “She was a remarkable, loving, compassionate and giving soul. To quote Will [...]


    'Exorcist' Star Max Von Sydow Doesn't Let Age Define His Roles

    Max von Sydow turned 90 this month, which is a milestone for most people, but age has always seemed incidental to the actor. When he played the elderly, frail Father Merrin in “The Exorcist,” von Sydow was 44 — meaning he was the same age Bradley Cooper is today. In the 1950s, von Sydow had [...]

  • 'Changing the Game' Documentary

    Watch the First Trailer for Trans Documentary 'Changing the Game' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Another hurdle for trans rights could quite literally be the track and field hurdle. Transgender student athletes are put in the spotlight in the forthcoming documentary “Changing the Game,” set to premiere at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Variety has the world premiere of the doc’s first teaser trailer, which gives an in-depth look into the [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Box Office

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Conjures $2.8 Million on Thursday Night

    “The Curse of La Llorona,” the latest entry in Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Conjuring” universe, conjured $2.75 million from Thursday preview showings, while “Breakthrough,” a faith-based offering from Fox-Disney, brought in $1.5 million from its second day of screenings. “La Llorona’s” haul tops recent horror counterparts “Pet Sematary” and “Escape Room,” which each took [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content