• Owen R. Horton


Below, we will discuss sound in film.

Sound adds depth to film through the introduction of an additional sensory experience. It can also contextual or add subtext to a scene.

When we think about sound in movies, we must also always think about silence. Just as shadow balances light, so too does silence balance against sound. Silence can add depth and texture to moments of sound, or just give us a break to focus on smaller details in a scene.

Sound Production

There are two distinct areas of sound creation: production (while filming the scenes) and post-production (after filming has wrapped). Very little sound that makes it into the final product is recorded during production; instead, most sound is created during post-production (in studios or foley workshops).

Sound Design

Sound design happens in pre-production, at the same time storyboards and shooting scrips are being created. As sound is a vital element of cinema, it cannot be treated as an afterthought tacked on to the end of a film. Image and sound are co-expressive, and good sound design allows them to play together.

Sound Recording

Prior to the invention of double-system recording, all sound was captured directly onto the film. Now, very little sound is recorded during production. Outside of dialogue, most sound recording is done after production in sound-proof professional booths-- even normal sound effects like grunting or breathing!

Editing and Mixing

These are processes by which sound booth sound is cut and integrated into the film. The goal is to create a sort of "audio mise-en-scene," with a rich and layered experience for the audience. We want to be able to distinguish between background, dialogue, soundtrack, and effect sounds without straining too hard.

Describing Sound

Pitch, Loudness, and Quality

Pitch describes the frequency of the sound waves. More frequent waves are considered to have "high" pitch, while less frequent waves have "low" pitch.

Loudness describes how "loud" or "soft" a sound is. The height of the peaks and valleys of a sound wave is considered here.

The quality of a sound is determined by its simplicity or complexity. The more waveforms applied to a sound, the more complex it is.


Fidelity plays upon our expectations of sound. A sound with high fidelity sounds exactly like the source-- a gunshot sounds like a gunshot, or a train sounds like a train. The most obvious example of unfaithful sound would be the gunshots in Western films, which often sound more like atomic bombs than actual revolvers.

Sources of Sound


We covered diegesis in Mise-en-scene and Narrative, but to reiterate: diegetic sound is sound that exists in the world of the film-- our characters can hear it. Non-diegetic sound exists outside the world-- this includes things like the soundtrack, which only the audience can hear.


On-screen sound is diegetic and on camera. Off-screen sound is either diegetic or non-diegetic sound that emanates from a source we cannot see. Asynchronous sound is a sound trick that moves us from on-screen sound to off-screen sound, as a form of transition between two scenes.


Internal sound are sounds that come from inside a character-- thoughts, narration, or interior monologue. External sound is all diegetic sound.

Types of Film Sounds


Dialogue or narration. Anything spoken on camera


Ambient sounds, sound effects, or Foley sounds.


Soundtrack, both diegetic and non-diegetic. Used to emphasize or complicate the images on screen. Music can heighten the emotion, create pace, or inject irony into a scene.


This sound typically plays alongside dialog and action. It is usually used to establish themes or characters.


The more sound we remove, the more we are forced to contend with the images alone.

Implied Sounds

Sounds that we cannot hear, but know must exist. A couple fighting in an apartment across the street; the music coming from an iPod into someone's headphones.

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