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Sound Effects Editing "Standards"

By David Mann
Published: 5/16/2011

When you cut sound effects you learn pretty quickly that there are many sounds you put in quite automatically. For the sake of this article let's call them "standards". For example, if the show you are working on has a crime scene where the police are coming to the scene right after a shootout, an experienced sound effects editor will always put in police sirens, police radio, helicopters circling above, and clicking light bars (that's the blue and red light on top of police cars). If you don't put those sounds in, you are most likely going to hear about it from your sound supervisor if he watches the show with you before the mix or much worse, from the mix stage.

Let me put a disclaimer here - I personally don't like those standards because they had been used so often in so many movies. When added, you are risking adding a little bit of a B-movie quality to the movie. However, most directors, mixers and sound supervisors will ask for them more often than not and this is why I always put those sounds in. Adding the necessary standard sounds in is common sense. But, if you haven't cut sound effects before you might want to go over the list below. This list is far from being complete and never will be, but the list will give you a "heads-up" regarding adding sounds you might not think about. Of course, the list is for sounds you most likely have to put in. You should always think of other things you can put in and in general, the more you add the better. The mixers will always want to have a lot of background sounds as it helps make the movie come to life.

1) Ocean scenes: always add seagulls and waves.

2) Restaurants: Always add crowds, forks and knives clicks. You can also add a cash register door with bells, cooking sizzle, etc.

3) Jail: Jail doors, jail door buzzers, guards' walkie-talkies, jail inmates Walla *.

4) Office: Phone rings, drawers opening and closing, printers, keyboards or typewriters (for period movies), Elevators bells and doors and of course, office Walla *.

5) Bad Neighborhoods: Traffic (Try to use older badly maintained cars) distance sirens, frequent honks. If appropriate you can also add dogs, trains, gangster type of Walla*, etc.

6) External day: If it makes sense add birds, wind, traffic.

7) External Nighttime: Unless it is very cold or the scene is in the center of a city, always have crickets (you can also add distant dogs, distant traffic, wind, etc.)

8) Parks: Birds, traffic (if it's inside the city). If there are any sign of kids, always put kids playing.

9) Busy City: Car Horn, heavy traffic, pedestrians' voices, and footsteps.

10) Car chases: Tire squeals, Doppler horns, and sirens - if the police are involved.

11) Gun fights: Bullet hits, bullet shells drop, Rico's, and gun cocks.

12) Traffic Jams: Angry drivers honking.

13) Police stations: Police Radio , Office ( see number 4 ) Sirens coming in and going away.

14) Hospitals: Nurse Station Walla*, Phones, EKG beeps, Hospital PA Paging, Sirens coming in and going away.

15) Airport: Airport crowd, Public announcement, Tarmac( for external and sometime internal).

16) Bad part of town apartment building: Distant baby crying, Distant sirens. You can also add TV show ( thought wall sounding ) and couple arguing loudly.

I will keep on adding to this list every time I remember something new. If you wish you can contact me with things I didn't think of, I'll be happy to add them in. Click here

Have fun making your show come to life.


* Walla is Unintelligible conversation of crowd.


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