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As much as I consider myself a student of film, history and craft, I must admit that there are aspects of the craft that I have taken for granted. One of the more glaring omissions from my film education is a study of sound design. Now, don’t misunderstand, I am aware of good sound design. I know it when I hear it. But, I must admit, I haven’t done much studying on the actual art behind sound design.
New to DVD and On-Demand documentary, Actors of Sound: A Foley Art Documentary is an educational and entertaining foray into what goes into sound design in film. It focuses on the specifics of Foley Art, the art of creating background noise; to give you the least educated way of describing it means that I have a ways to go before I fully understand the craft of Sound Design but this is a good first step.
For years, I assumed that Foley was a tool of some sort or perhaps a catchall term for the kinds of natural sound that can’t be captured on a movie set in a believable fashion. The reality of the term is that it only came to existence in the 1960s, despite being an essential part of the filmed arts since the beginning of sound in movies. Foley Art takes its name from its inventor, sound effects artist Jack Foley.
While you may not know Jack Foley, Hollywood will never forget him. It was Jack Foley who saved the production of the movie Spartacus with a simple set of keys. The film had lost the sound of a massive march of thousands of armored extras and was forced to recreate the sound in Foley’s studio. Using sound effects, specifically heavy marching a set of jingling keys to approximate the moving armor, Foley seamlessly rescued the expensive scene and from then on, sound effects artists were known as Foley Artists.
Actors of Sound features talking head interviews with the biggest names in Foley Arts, though sadly not Jack Foley, who passed away not long after his legendary work on Spartacus. These interviews illuminate the art and the ridiculous fun of being a Foley Artist, which can one day turn you into a dancer and another have you rolling around in dirt to approximate the sounds of a fight.
We see men in high heels recreating the sound of women walking on streets in their unique footwear, women in marching boots creating entire armies, and people with modified coconuts approximating the sounds of running horses. It’s a fun and fascinating look behind the scenes of an art that you are supposed to take for granted and if you don’t, then something is likely very wrong.
Actors of Sound gives us a look behind the scenes and a look toward the future of film as Foley continues to be phased out and cut back. As of yet, computers can’t quite do what a Foley Artist can do, but each year whether it's George Lucas or James Cameron or a nameless Hollywood executive continues to try and put these Actors of Sound out of a job with incremental success.
One sad portion of the film details the closing of New York City’s biggest Foley Arts houses, Sound One. With television executives pushing further into the digital world, and TV driving much of the New York industry, Sound One became one of the first casualties of the digital revolution. It’s a sad section of the documentary but the film isn’t all doom and gloom regarding this unique and entertaining art form.
The final act of Actors of Sound explores the world of Foley Art and the surprising ways in which Foley Art is the same all around the world and slightly, strangely different. I encourage you to see for yourself how different the rest of the world views Foley. It’s a lovely and fun way for the documentary to come to a close and the international interviews with Foley Artists are among the most enlightening interviews in the film.
Actors of Sound: A Foley Art Documentary is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD, and On-Demand services and if you’re as fascinated with the way film works as I am, you won’t want to miss it.