Sound is often overlooked in films but it is often the single most important element in setting the mood for the scene. When events are about to unfold in the story, music has that ability to build tension to give the audience a head start in feeling the unease of what’s about to come, this may be by progressively building music to signify that a dramatic event is about to happen or it may be upbeat to lighten the mood. Horror films rely heavily in sound clips to create a scary scene. I you were to remove the sound from a horror film its fear factor would decrease dramatically.
Music plays a key role in a horror film because it immediately sets the tone. Before the actor says anything the audience knows what their fate is going to be based on the type of music that is playing in the background. The music sets the tone but it does not give away how events are going to unfold. There are several musical cues that indicate to the viewer what is going to unfold in the upcoming scene. For example, a long eerie musical buildup suggests that a big event is just around the corner. A rapid sequence might suggest stress or panic, making the audience feel anxious.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
‘The Blair Witch Project’ is the perfect example of a horror movie which sets the scene using only sound. When the film was first released, it established itself as one of the first and best examples of world-building and transmedia storytelling in the horror genre. The film follows three college students as they shoot a documentary about a witch that has been said to haunt the woods around Burkittsville, a small town in Maryland that was formerly known as Blair. The students disappear and only later their video footage is found in the woods, edited together and presented as The Blair Witch Project.
Sound plays such an important role in the film – as does in any other found-footage film. The absence of any score or music in this film, as well as no fancy sound effects that have been added to support a jump scare, is what made it authentic to audiences. The raw soundtrack of untreated location sound recordings helped to establish an immediate closeness to the material and opened it up for emotional involvement. Even if sound effects had been added during the process of audio-postproduction, the soundtrack as it appears to audiences feels raw, real and trustworthy. The subtleness of inexplicable things happening in the film are translated into a considerate soundtrack. The filmmaker’s consequence in over toning an authentic found-footage-feeling to their film can also be seen in their decision to not mix the film in 5.1, but in stereo. Instead of going for big and effective cinematic surround sound, they chose to stick with authenticity and presented their material with two audio channels, just like it would sound if the student’s material had really been ‘found-footage’ – and nevertheless orchestrating crackles and snaps that make the nighttime tent scenes so utterly scary, with nothing but blurred visuals to guide us as we follow the characters run for their lives.
A lot like ‘The Blair Witch Project’, non-diegetic sound is used frequently in James Wan’s 2010 film ‘Insidious’. The film being from the genre of horror this is essential for fulfilling the films purpose, which is to draw out emotion from the audience. This emotion the film wants to draw out is fear and using sound to do so at the very beginning of the film is to set a scene and help the audience understand what is being and is about to be presented to them.
An orchestra is used, dominated by mainly violins and stringed instruments to create a jumping and running sound which comes out of silence and frightens the audience. The instruments used sound like they are out of tune and are clearly inspired by old Hollywood horror film’s music – The music being high pitched and manic. This music comes out of silence and gives the audience a scare before the film has even started – this sets the scene and setting for the entire movie as the audience feel already frightened they can tell they are in for a good horror movie. James Wan has also used a very similar technique in one of his earlier films ‘Dead Silence’.
“Insidious Chapter II’ continues Wan’s approach for sound to tell the story. In one scene, a medium shot portrays Renai sitting at the kitchen table. A soft, diegetic piano tune drifts out and the camera swipes to the right, highlighting the dimly lit hallway. The use of a sweeping camera shot emphasises that something is lingering down the hallway, but it is the use of the soft piano tune that eventually builds that creates the suspense. This cinematic effect could be explained through, “… the complex semiotic and narratological functions of film music and sound design, not just an affective supplement, but in constructing destabilising tensions and conflicting ontologies which demonstrates how music can close the comforting visual gap between ordinary American life and the monstrous ‘other’” (Johnson, 489). Renai sits in her typical American kitchen, but what lingers about the house is anything but typical. The diegetic sound of the piano’s tune is what pulls the narrative along. Renai must get up to investigate. The piano’s tune also becomes an essential part of the films narrative.” (Info from: Brill, Mark. ‘Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear’, Johnson, Bruce. ‘Terror Tracks: Music. Sound and Horror Cinema’ Edited by Philip Hayward Popular Music, Vol. 30 & ‘James Wan Biography and Filmography – James Wan Movies.’)
In horror films, sound is just as important as the direct images are, in ‘Insidious’ James Wan uses sound to his advantage and creates scares before images have even appeared on the screen, which can be seen as using the audiences psychological state of the knowing of being involved in a horror scenario to get in as many perfect jump scares as possible.
Using the inspiration from ‘The Blair Witch Project’ And James Wan’s creative techniques, i have been experimenting with the backing audio for my promo – demonstrating the extensive contrast it makes with the smallest changes throughout a soundtrack.
Audio Experiment 1:
Audio Experiment 2:
I experimented with various backing tracks, whether it was going to be and original song or something different. I decided to go with the ‘Ring around the Rosy’ nursery rhyme – with the simple explanation of it being ghostly especially slowed down and sang by a little girl. I felt that this gave the chilling aspect i was looking for.
Instead of focusing on jump scares – this being only a promo for a horror, i experimented with non-diegetic sounds to create tension and unease. Typical non-diegetic sounds that feature in horror movie trailers tend to be big bangs, eerie sounds, added footsteps, tensional music, orchestra, piano, contrapuntal sounds and stabs.
Final Cut Without Credits
Once i had completed my audio i began to insert my footage. Using the inspiring images i had found for my previous short ‘Woman on Screen’ (see post: Monstrous Feminism), i started to pick out the most appropriate clips for my trailer which also looked familiar to what i would have filmed for this project. I kept to my original plans which was to edit this footage as if it was taken from an old VCR tape, giving it a vintage aspect.
As i started to add in my chosen footage i editing the backing track with flickers and white noise where i found appropriate to help the trailer run smoothly. With something so simple i believe it to have an extensive effect when watching.
When selecting a song to play, i like to use this to my advantage by the power of Irony. I have always found using music to describe a situation or story with lyrics helps the viewer to have better understanding of what is being shown. Using the song ‘Easy Living’ by Billie Holiday (@00.54) helps to reflect my story. With the selected lyrics, “…and i’m so in love, theres nothing in life but you” combined with the images being shown, suggests that the film in some form or another include romance or possible consequences from this circumstance – this being the same reason for editing in the song ‘I you were there, beware’ by Arctic Monkeys (@00:43), using the chosen lyrics, “…There’s a circle of witches, ambitiously vicious they are“, simply indicates what the film is about – witches. If the viewer hasn’t figured that out already of course.
Many of the clips i have used are from vintage television advertisements, motion picture and home films such as Radley Metzger’s ‘Camille 2000’ (1969). With the femme fatale aspect of the film, i wanted the theme to be a little vintage, not necessarily noir (where the femme fatale character first came to light) but more retro, which i have explored in previous film projects, mixing retro with modern times by using a location or specific objects – for example a vintage car, to give the feeling the film is set in the past, however the modern day mobile phones being used also suggest the characters are in present-day, this also refers back to the witches history and age.
I feel I succeeded in what I wanted to do with my promo. With my theory of promoting a film through only using pre-made footage seems to have been influential, with my feedback from chosen viewers stating that my short only made them want to see more, with enough information to get the theme, story and setting across without giving too much away – making it a proficient and dexterous way of promotion, especially for a teaser trailer before the release of authentic footage being released.
What i want to continue with in my next module is the editing in both video and sound, this includes using already made films (motion pictures) and re-imagine them into my own film, some will keep their original genre and some i will change into other genres – for example, The Great Gatsby is a Drama/Romance, i will edit the film to look more like a Horror/Thriller.
Also as i work on my Sound Design, i will be testing my skills on making my own background sound for these trailers, using a mixture of Foley and various royalty free music edited together.
Furthermore, i will be practising and developing my Title skills using the programme ‘After Effects’. With a decent amount of knowledge about the programme i know the basic tools (having been introduced to it in a prior course), i can improve on the whole progress of trailer cutting, start to finish.