Ever tried watching a movie on mute? Well recently I was watching an interesting movie while I received a phone call and I had to put my TV on mute. As I was talking over phone there was this aggressive argument scene going on in the movie with the lead actors where they were throwing things at each other,breaking glasses,thumping fists and walked away into their rooms banging doors behind them.Now all this was conspicuous to me and was understandable,thanks to their acting but there was no ‘effect’.Or should I say,there was no sound.Sounds add so much value to an action,without which anything you see onscreen becomes unembellished.It expounds where you are,what you do and what the result of that action is. While the background music and songs in a movie amount to the emotional and entertainment aspects of the film,sounds become a fundamental part of it.
In the movie industry we have a special crew for ‘creating’ these sounds and are called ‘Foley’ artists named after Jack Donovan Foley, an American sound engineer in the 1920s and 1930s who came up with the first sound effects techniques.
So what kind of sonancy do these people make and what do they use to create them? When asked the same, Mr.Rajagopal, a musician and a foley artist working with the Kollywood industry for more than two decades,laughed it off saying, “Anything we lay our hands upon can turn into an instrument for a sound.Give me two bottle caps and I will produce three different kinds of sounds.Give me plastic covers and I can make fire and burning sounds.Give me a bucket of water and I will make you imagine a river flowing by your side.Give me the coconut shells and I can create footstep sounds.It all lies in creativity and the right understanding of rhythm. We see what is required for a particular scene and based on that choose our props and tools on a trial and error basis.It can be some mud,boots,sand,stick,blade..anything!” he says.
The working patterns of foley artists were unpredictable and their incomes were no different. “It once depended on the number of hours we spent re-recording a day” says Rajagopalan. “In 1970s we earned about 75 rupees per session and it took ten years to earn 750 rupees. We would work day and night with slow rise in income.” With digital intervention ,foley artists have less part to play as sound creators because most of the frequently used sounds are already available as part of the sound library and can be used multiple times in multiple movies without the need for it to be different like the gun shot,crackers,weather related sounds etc and hence these obvious sound effects are no longer created from scratch.Even then ,foley artists are turned to when there is a definite importunity for a new kind of sound effect for a movie.a film is usually recognises based on the on screen characters along with the Director and recently importance is being given to Music directors,Editors,Camera men as well, but when it comes down to the other technicians nobody knows what their role is and what kind of efforts they make to make a movie lively.
Incase of foley artists,what goes unsaid or rather unappreciated is that these people hold the key to the audience’s feeling of oneness with the movie, giving them the aura and tactility through sounds throughout the film. So the next time you hear and sense the bird chirps,the loud thrashes,the sword fights,the rain,the thunder,the boots,the leaves,taps,clicks,snaps,anything, make sure you stay after the movie,read the names of the foley crew and say Thank you.That was a SOUND effect!