Editing and Sound Effects

Following the recording session, Paul and I embarked on a near endless process of editing that was complicated by the fact that he lives and works in the Pacific Northwest, over a thousand miles from our editing room in Los Angeles. During the time we were sporadically editing this show I did all the normal book cover designs, marketing, editing, and rewriting that are my normal business (I completed four or five books of Louis L’Amour short stories while we worked on "Son").

I also wrote and produced a film, USA Network's "The Diamond of Jeru." In fact, I was often in the studio editing with Paul and writing Jeru at the same time. Our schedule came down to about one week a month and much of the time I was working on the film and the months of November and December of each year (a big sales period for louislamour.com) we took off.

The Anatomy of a Gunshot

The process of layering effects, allows us to bridge the gap between what something actually sounds like when recorded and what we, as listeners, think it should sound like. Gunshots are particularly difficult to reproduce effectively. They have all the negative aspects you could ever think of from a recording perspective. They are extremely loud, very fast and filled with lots of little details. Creating each gunshot requires several layers not all of which have anything to do with a gun.

HINT: Click the to hear MP3 sounds (requires an MP3 player like Quicktime - see apple.com if you need a free version.)

The shot that kills Klatt as he holds Mike hostage is a perfect example of the complex layering and sweetening involved in creating gunshots. Some of the layers have little or nothing to do with the original gunshot and some are modified in order to sound more like what I think the audience expects to hear.  

I usually choose a gunshot that is from the same or similar weapon used by the character in the scene. (Sharpes Shot) Using this as a foundation I begin to add layers.
A deeper boom. 
Some echo
The bullet sizzle was slowed down from its original   to a more dramatic

The bullet hit is comprised of an actual impact recording
A hand slap,
and last but not least, the sound of a hammer striking an anvil. 
All of these pieces are carefully placed, cropped, eq’d and filtered to create the final effect.

Editing dialog and sound effects is never as simple as cutting the words or sounds together in the correct order. It’s amazing how many layers there can be to a good effect and it’s amazing how many different takes you can use to make up the performance of an actor. The best is, of course, a single great take but those are few and far between. Often you can hear the moment the actor looked down at his script in his performance … you just have to hope he looked down at a different point in each take so you can cut from one to the other.

Timing is very important in creating a performance in the editing room and it’s the one great tool that the editor in audio has over an editor in film. In film everything is slaved to the picture and while you can play with the timing whenever it is justified to cut the picture, in audio you can play with the timing of every word if you have to. A tenth of a second can change a performance from heroic to insecure … you can control the speed at which the character reacts or even thinks!

Paul first cut together the voices, leaving space for possible sound effects or narration and he tried to make the scenes work as good as possible without either. Then I recorded a temporary narrator track and we cut in the sound effects around that.

Cutting effects together is a real art and it's one that, like cutting voices, Paul excels at. Although most of the effects in Son of a Wanted Man are the actual thing (vintage saddles, black powder firearms, nineteenth century doors, windows, safes and locomotives) there are often several layers to the effect and the intention is to make the audience have an emotional or sensory reaction to the sound. So if a punch might be mostly me slugging a piece of leather on a firm pillow, there might also be a layer of my slapping myself quite hard on the cheek with my mouth held open to give it a human or “real life” element. The first time I did this (the self-slapping thing) in a sound effects session for a movie the director looked at me like I was crazy. He had brought in a steak to hit. A steak has no bone and no hollowness, it was dead. There is a immediate, live, sound to a good effect and sometimes you have to pay the price to get it!

We chose Terrance Mann as the narrator based on his great performance reading dad’s short story collection, "Beyond the Great Snow Mountains". I called up David Rapkin, our New York based producer, and asked him to set up a recording session. Then I flew in and worked with Terrance to lay down the track.

Back in LA we replaced my narration with Terry’s and adjusted everything for the slight differences in timing.

All we had left to add was the MUSIC.



Son of a Wanted Man

Home | The Story | The Perpetrators (Crew) | The Co-Conspirators (Cast)

The History and Making of Son of a Wanted Man
The History | Novel to Script | Pre-Production | Recording Dialog | Recording Sound Effects
Editing the Dialog and Sound Effects | The Musical Score | Mixing and Mastering | What's Next?

Photo Galleries
Location Photos | In the Recording Studio | In the Field (Recording Sound Effects)

Audio Sound Bytes
Trailer | Music

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