​​The Most Valuable Filmmaking Skill That You Can No Longer Ignore

I have a confession to make.

When I was getting started with filmmaking, about 8 years ago, I was told constantly that sound was just as important as picture. There were even great quotes from guys like George Lucas and David Lynch saying as much.

But if I’m being honest, that idea went in one ear and right out the other. Since those days, sound has been an afterthought in most of my filmmaking endeavors.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Through each stage of the filmmaking process, the majority of our attention goes towards making the visuals as good as they can be.

We write scripts with clear visuals in mind. We make extensive shot lists and storyboards. We spend most of our time on set tweaking lights and nailing the perfect camera moves. We jump into post and obsess over the pacing of edits and the nuances of color.

Then, and only then, do most of us start to really think about sound. And more often than not, we do the bare minimum. We might clean up the dialogue, add in a few stock sounds, then throw some music on top and call it a day.

Basically, if the way we approach the entire filmmaking process is any indication, we just don’t value sound as much as we value visuals.

I mean, that’s exactly how I approached all of my film projects for years. I got caught up in the rat race of trying to make my visuals better and better, all the while my sound skills never really moved beyond the basic stuff I learned in film school. And I thought that was totally ok.

But after a recent conversation I had with Dallas Taylor, my perspective on sound has shifted immensely, and I’m guessing yours might, too.

A handful of great reasons to start taking your sound very, very seriously

Just in case you’re not familiar, Dallas is the founder and lead sound designer at Defacto Sound, one of the country’s leading post-sound facilities. Dallas and his team have worked with massive clients and indie filmmakers alike, snagging all sorts of awards along the way (including an Emmy and more Staff Picks than you could count on 7 hands).

Dallas is also on a self-declared mission to bring sound to prominence in our culture. He not only wants filmmakers and media creators of all types to focus more on creating great sonic experiences, but he wants audiences to be able to revel in those experiences.

Anyhow, during our call the other day, Dallas and I spent a good deal of time talking about the importance of focusing on sound for modern-day filmmakers. And he had some insights that really made me think twice about how I’ve approached my work these past few years.

Why sound is such an insanely powerful tool

We all know that sound is important, but there were a few “ah-ha!” moments throughout the conversation that finally helped me understand why it’s so important.

Here’s are the key points that really stood out to me:

  • Visuals show audiences the world of the story, but it’s sound that actually immerses them in that world. As Dallas said, “Visuals are a window into a new world. Sound erases the borders.”
     
  • The reason sound can do this is that it quite literally surrounds you in physical space. It allows you to feel like you’re part of a three-dimensional world, even though the image is 2D. It has the power to draw you in and keep you there.
     
  • Beyond that, sound affects us in different ways than the other senses. It activates different parts of our brains, and elicits a different set of feelings and physical/emotional experiences.
  • That’s why sound can express the nuances of story and emotion in ways that images can’t. 
     
  • Sound also has the ability focus our attention on the important parts of an image in much the same way as cutting to a close up. This is one of the key ways that sound helps us tell a more focused story.
     
  • Last but not least, when you add compelling sound to compelling images, you get something altogether more powerful than if you just opted for either or. The result is greater than the sum of its parts.

The real reason filmmakers need to focus more on sound

So yes, sound is a super powerful and underutilized tool. But beyond the theoretical stuff, Dallas also emphasized two important points about why we, as filmmakers, stand to benefit by focusing more on sound.

Great visuals just aren’t enough to stand out in an increasingly crowded and noisy market. 

Thanks to inexpensive cameras and software, the playing field for image creators has become significantly more competitive. With enough time and skill, someone with an $800 camera and a copy of After Effects can create high-end visuals that would have been reserved for professionals just 10 years ago.

On the other hand, compelling, well thought-out sound is still one of the largest dividing lines between professional and amateur films. So if you can learn a few tricks of the trade and utilize sound more intentionally, you stand a much better chance of your work getting noticed.

You don’t always have the resources for creating better images, but you can dramatically improve the quality of your sound for relatively little money. 

Since sound is such a powerful, immersive tool, this means you can dramatically improve the overall quality and impact of your film without having to get a second mortgage on your house.

Basically, focusing on sound is one of the best investments of your time and energy as a filmmaker. That’s not to say that visuals aren’t important. Clearly they are. However, at a certain point you’re going to hit a point of diminishing returns, where focusing your energy on better visuals just won’t have the same impact on the overall quality of your work.

Needless to say, I’m going to be focusing on my production sound and sound design a lot more from here on out. 

Like most filmmakers, I want my work to stand out in an increasingly noisy world. I want it to impact audiences as much as it possibly can. I want to keep honing my craft and master the art of connecting with people through film.

And now I know that sound is one of the keys to unlocking all of those outcomes.

If you’re like me, and you’re ready to take your sound game to the next level, Dallas is putting on post sound and sound design workshop next week that’s likely to rock your socks off.

In it, you’ll learn many of tricks of the trade that have made Dallas and his team at Defacto some of the most in-demand sound designers in the industry.

Here’s just a small taste of what you’ll learn:

  • How to capture great audio and process it in post for maximum effect
     
  • When, why, and how to use EQ, compression, and noise reduction for clean and crisp dialogue
     
  • How to use music, foley, environments, hard effects, emotional effects, and silence to enhance your stories and immerse your viewers
     
  • The principles of mixing all of your sound elements together, and what levels are appropriate for different applications
     
  • Deliverables, splits, localization…and why they’re important
     
  • And much more

To grab your seat in the workshop, just head over to the Together Workshops site and make it happen. 

I’ll see you there.

Justin DeMers