Sound Effects Editor
Without the noises and sounds that accompany all physical action in real life, a movie or television show lacks the reality that our brains expect and need in order to fully become immersed in the viewing experience. The sound effects editor works under the direction of the supervising sound editor and is responsible for manufacturing, recording, and editing all sound effects tracks included in a film or TV show.
Immediately upon being hired, the sound effects editor begins work on the script breakdown: making detailed notes identifying all sounds specifically mentioned in the script or implied by the action. Sound effects fall under four basic categories: hard sounds, background, Foley, and design. Most hard sounds and background can be sourced from sound effects libraries, which exist as digital files or on CDs and are carefully cataloged with precise descriptions. All production companies and motion picture studios have their own unique libraries, and a veteran SFX editor will have his or her own collection of recorded material. These sound effects are used to replace “dirty” (that is, unusable) sound recorded during principal photography, or to include as supplemental noises that enhance the environment but do not correspond to specific action visible on screen (for instance, wind and insect noise added to an exterior shot). Where Foley sound must be created, the sound effects editor will collaborate with the Foley artist to recreate natural sounds on a Foley stage, which is then synchronized with the visual action in the picture.
Designed sound is any unnatural audio that cannot be captured from real life. To represent the sound a spacecraft might make while hovering above the ground or a giant fairy-tale beanstalk bursting from the earth, the SFX editor will manipulate other recorded sounds or synthesize new audio tracks with the use of digital audio software. During the process of editing sound effects tracks, the sound effects editor meets with the director and sound designer to showcase work completed thus far and receive notes on elements to alter or replace. When all tracks are complete, the sound effects editor is responsible for delivering SFX cue sheets and tracks to the post-production sound mixer. He or she will be present in final reviews of post-production sound with the final picture edit, at which point further changes may be made until the director and producer are happy with the result.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production with an emphasis on sound recording and post-production editing is encouraged. Coursework should include dubbing, automatic dialogue replacement, music editing, sound effects editing, and Foley recording. Additional training on both analog and digital recording consoles, as well as software applications like Pro Tools, is necessary. Every sound effects editor should own a synthesizer and become familiar with the tools and techniques common to the trade. This career requires a technically savvy individual with a keen ear for sound and the creative capacity to deliver audio that emphasizes and complements the moving images on screen.
What to Expect
A sound effects editor may work as a freelance technician or as a permanent employee of a post-production sound studio. Those interested in pursuing this career should seek apprentice or entry-level positions within the sound department of an independent or low-budget project in order to gain experience and build a résumé. Specifically, try to concentrate your efforts on finding work within a post sound studio where you can work full-time or part-time under the mentorship of an established veteran. Participation on student films while in college is an excellent way to hone your skills. Work as an assistant sound effects editor or intern can provide a path toward advancement.
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