Post Production

Should a Foley Artist Divulge Their Methods?

One of the first questions that a Foley artist will be asked, whether it is a formal interview or a casual encounter is, “What did you use for (name of prop or event) in (name of movie)?” Most Foley artists, unless they have specific and routine props for most cues will respond with, “I don’t know,” “I don’t remember,” or “whatever worked at the time.” I am aware that these are not the most impressive answers, and the artists don’t want to disappoint. The truth is Foley artists don’t utilize any method for keeping records for what they used for unusual prop sounds. The exception to this is if it was a preplanned set of sounds.

STORAGE AND SPACE

You will need a wide assortment of props to stock your stage. You will also need a prop room in which to store them. If you can manage some kind of storage near the stage for regularly used items, the props used less often can be stored farther away. Most major Foley stages have both kinds of storage. You will find you start seeing everything in the world as a potential Foley prop, and you will want a place to store these miraculous items.

Chace Audio prop room. Many props organized for easy location of specific props. Photo courtesy of Steve Lee, Hollywood Lost and Found.

It is hard to remember a time when there was not a car door or hood used as a Foley prop in a film. While sound effects editors will cut in door and trunk opens and closes, all the accompanying “life” needs to be performed on the Foley stage. Some stages have a variety of sizes and styles of doors and hoods. You should have at least one or two choices. Car doors and hoods are used for many different sounds, and as you get more comfortable with how things record, you will find a plethora of squeaks, creaks, and reverberant sounds on a good sounding door or hood. The handles and windows on the door will also be useful.

Foley artists have three main categories of prop sounds for any film, episodic show or game. The first category is comprised of the typical and predictable sounds that come up repeatedly, the second includes the sounds that accompany edited sound effects and the third category consists of the unusual designed sounds that are particular to a scene. It is most useful to address each category separately.

Storage, storage, storage . . . on the stage for everyday use, in addition to a dedicated prop storage area. Photo by the author.

To begin with, the Foley artist needs to pay close attention to the production track when deciding what to use for performing the prop sounds. With few exceptions, the Foley will need to blend into the track and sound realistic. Since production mixers also have variations in the way they place microphones and mix the sound, which alters the clarity and timbre of the props, the artist has to pay close attention to the style of the production mix as well as the style of the visual film itself.

Most Foley artists move around and have, at one time or another, worked with many of the others. If this is not the case, there is enough sharing of techniques where most of us use a lot of the same types of elements for the ordinary and predictable prop sounds. Most know each other and freely ask what is used. Only a few feel the need to protect the information. Since it is my belief that the individual artist has other qualities that makes him/her special, other than the props used, disclosing most of these techniques seems, in the spirit of openness and education, appropriate to divulge. Rather than be concerned with keeping personal practices secret, Meltem Baytok, a Foley artist in Bristol, says it best: “Nobody can beat your experience.”

Jody Thomas has an additional prop room outside her Foley stage. She used another shed, smaller and well appointed. Photo by the author.

Excerpt from The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games, and Animation, 2nd Edition by Vanessa Theme Ament © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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