Post Production

Foley – 28 Weeks of Post Audio Redux

#17 Recreating human sounds

Editor’s Note: “28 Weeks of Post Audio” originally ran over the course of 28 weeks starting in November of 2016. Given the renewed focus on the importance of audio for productions of all types, PVC has decided to republish it as a daily series this month along with a new entry from Woody at the end. You can check out the entire series here, and also use the #MixingMondays hashtag to send us feedback about some brand new audio content.

Monique Reymond is is an award winning Foley artist.  Her experience spans media from features to scripted and unscripted television and animation. Monique won a 2008 Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Music and Sound – “America at a Crossroads / PBS Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” as well as a  2008 Golden Reel Award for her work on the animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” and one in 2013 for “The Penguins of Madagascar”.  Monique is also a busy writer and comedian and her latest work with that is the new web series B My Guest. It is not only well done and very funny, but of course, it has impeccable sound and Foley!

WOODY WOODHALL:  How do you define Foley?

FoleyMONIQUE REYMOND:  I sit in a room with a microphone and an engineer records me making sounds for use in television or film.  At a minimum, I cover all of the human sounds, by this I mean footsteps, hand pats and grabs, and props that the folks onscreen handle.  This does not preclude animal sounds, we do animal footsteps and movement as well.   There are sounds that are covered mainly by Foley, and others by a sound editor that may be cut from a library.  Who covers what is dictated by: time, budget and available resources.

WW: What’s the typical time-frame for a feature to get Foleyed?

MR:  Five to ten [days] is the most I’ve been given.  Budgets have gotten tighter.  ProTools has been really good and bad for the industry.  In some ways it’s been great because you can redo a take very quickly. But it’s also brought down the budgets because people are doing guerilla Foley in their garages.

WW:  Do you see the engineer as a partner in the collaboration of the Foley recording?

MR:  Oh absolutely.  I don’t really know how to articulate how important the engineer is in the entire process. The recordist is huge, huge, huge – on the level of morale for the space that’s created because it is such an intimate space, especially if I’m working by myself and the person on the other side of the glass is my only contact.  There have been many times that I have worked with people that have had such great, great, great ideas that I would not have come up with on my own, and together we build on each others ideas and it is an amazing thing.

Also, I don’t always have the best judgment of how the sound is translating through the microphone. I can’t always tell how the microphone is picking up what I’m doing, and I heavily rely on the recordist’s judgement.  I work with a bunch of different types of engineers.  Some are truly mixers and have taken it to an art form and EQ, and modulate, and do all sorts of things. Others I work with just do straight recording, but are very picky about my interpretation of what I am doing. The people that I work with are really quite incredible.

WW:  It’s great to hear that you rely on the collaboration with the engineer.

MR:  It’s more important than anything.  It’s more important than the props I have to use, it’s more important than the stage I have to use, it’s more important than the show I’m working on.  I’d have to say it’s singularly the most important thing.

WW: How do you determine what specific movements or items to cover within a scene?

MR:  That comes from experience, and budget, and time.  Usually when we start a film, we’ll start at the beginning and we’ll work reel by reel.  Let’s say we’ll start with a cloth pass. And that will be the first time that I’ve usually seen the film.  I generally don’t see what I’m working on, until the time comes that we are recording [the Foley session].  When I do the cloth pass, I like to wear headphones so I can listen to the production audio, so I can hear what the film sounds like. This involves me, close mic’ing manipulation of cloth, to emulate the characters’ movements.  I’ll have a variety of types of cloth depending on what the people are wearing.  A denim shirt kind of does it all, it sounds like almost anything, but if someone is wearing a silk blouse, for example, I’ll have a piece of silk handy.

Then we’ll do a footsteps [recording] pass where we will get all the characters’ footsteps on the various floor surfaces [that they walk on in each scene].  A good Foley stage has a cement surface, a wood floor, a dirt pit, a gravel pit, a way to make the sound of grass.  We will do the footstep pass and then we will do a [recording] pass of props. You pick your battles.

FoleyWW:  What are the tools of your trade? Since every project is different, I imagine that there needs to be a range of props that will work in many different situations.

MR:  I’ve got about forty pairs of shoes.  I’ve got a small portable kit that I bring with me.  I have a Foley purse with some stuff in it that rattles kind of cool.  I’ve got a lot of metal things, some hinges and wood, glass, plastic and rubber items.  Things are basically categorized into like materials.  I have a backpack with various paper (photos, newspaper, cellophane, wax paper, etc.  I’ve got some different clothes that I carry with me (a leather jacket, nylon windbreaker).

It’s really great when you can find something that squeaks or creaks.  It’s invaluable stuff to me. My favorite props, I think lately, are a couple of pillow cases filled with cornstarch, which I use for snow.  The reason I put the cornstarch in the pillow cases is [that] it contains it, so I don’t leave the stage with a nice white powder covering everything.  But cornstarch has a nice screech and creak to it that’s really, really cool.  The crunch sounds like snow.

It also works really well for body falls in animation.  If somebody falls in sand, it’s got a lot of loft to it, and it’s more of an interesting sound than just using sand, for example.  A chamois has been a great friend of mine.  When you get them wet, they make lots of cool dimensional gushes and mushes and things like that.  And I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of a pine cone.

WW:  When you go to a Foley stage or a session, what items do you anticipate they will have there for you?  I would imagine that the large props need to be in available at the stage. Cars can be a big part of some Foley sessions, obviously you aren’t going to be carrying a car door around with you.

MR:  Exactly.  A car door is important. A wood chair is nice because nothing sounds quite like a wood chair, especially one that has a little bit of creak to it.  I prefer not to carry dishes and glassware with me, so it’s nice that, even if they don’t have a proper Foley stage, usually the places I work will have a kitchen.  I will grab whatever is around the facility. Nothing is sacred or off limits. I won’t break it or anything (usually).

I’m definitely resourceful and I will find things and use them.  Some of the creativity comes from, in my experience, trying to make do.  Working at little boutique studios, they don’t have everything that one needs, literally.  So trying to figure out how to make a wide range of sounds working with very little is, I think, a great part of the creativity. If I would have always had the chance to literally use “the thing” [to Foley the sound with] then I wouldn’t have grown in the way that I have, needing to improvise and make do.  Also, the literal prop does not always sound the best.  It just depends.

FoleyWW: You do Foley for feature films, but you also do a lot of television as well.

MR: I get to work on a really nice variety of projects which I think is helpful, as far as one not getting into a bit of a rut.  I work on feature length films, good and bad.  I work on television. I sometimes get to do animation, which is the most difficult thing I do from a creative standpoint.  I work on reality TV, which most people are just amazed that there is Foley in reality TV. I’ve done Foley for “Survivor” for 13 seasons. I’ve worked on “American Gladiators” and “Wipe Out”.  I did Foley for many years for “Fear Factor”.

WW:  So you’re actually doing the munching of spiders?

MR:  Yes, yes, yes.  People eating intestines and things, the sound of people in a fish tank full of roaches moving about. At first when I started “Fear Factor” I was very creeped out by the content and then what I grew to realize is it was one of the most creative things that I’d ever gotten to do from a Foley standpoint because it’s not straightforward.  It’s not setting a wine glass down.  There’s only so much pizzazz that can have.  But having to come up with a way to make the worms sound different than the roaches, and the pig intestine chewing sound different than the hundred year old egg, involves some true thought.  And plus, they actually play the stuff up, which is really nice.

WW:  How did you get into Foley in the first place?

MR:  I was very fortunate.  It was accidental.  I had been doing art department work and I knew that was not where I wanted to end up. I thought I wanted to get into picture editing.  I was at a party and I met someone and he said he was in post and I thought that meant that he was a picture editor.  I didn’t know anything, I thought that post was picture editing.  And I said, “oh I’ve always wanted to do post.”  And he said actually he was in post sound.  And I said “oh, I’ve always wanted to do that.”  I just went along with it.  He said he actually recorded Foley and I said you know, that has always been interesting to me. So the guy called me a couple of days later and he said “we’ve been trying to train somebody and it’s been about a month now and he’s just not getting it so we’re auditioning people.  Would you like to come in?”  So myself, along with about ten lucky others, all had a chance to come in and try to walk footsteps in sync or move a piece of cloth.  Nothing real taxing or complicated, but just to see if you could hit sync with what was being projected.  They picked me and ironically I worked for them for about a month before the purchase of their building fell through and thus, their Foley stage went along with it.

I was really lucky.  My timing was good and I met some very kind people who were willing to show me some things, which is extremely rare. It’s funny.  It’s very, very difficult to break in to.  It’s very, very competitive.  No one wants to show anybody anything and I managed to get some people to show me some things and to hire me.  I still am stunned. If I would have known how hard it is to get into Foley, I may have not thought it realistic.  I meet people all the time that say they’d love to do Foley and I wish them well, but it’s very hard to break into.

WW:  When you see the final project, how much of what you do, do you think, makes it?

MR:  It really varies. I have learned through some disappointments early on.  I was doing “Gods and Monsters” maybe my second year of doing Foley, and I remember there was this one scene where Ian McKellen’s character operates on Frankenstein.  He opens his head and he removes his brain and then he stitches it back up. The sound supervisor said “oh we want something really cool for this,” so it was really something that kind of freaked me out.

I remember the sound supervisor called me in to a room where they were watching down the Foley and the director was there, and they were so complimentary.  And they were saying, “Monique this is just amazing, this is exactly what we want!”  They were thrilled and I was thrilled and everybody was thrilled and then I went to the screening a few months later and I was all excited about my big scene and all I heard was music. (Laughs)  So I’ve learned to separate myself from attachment to the outcome of what makes a mix.

FoleyWW:  Do you enjoy the work?

MR:  Yeah!  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’m picky about where I work. The show doesn’t have to be good, it’s nice when it is, but really the most important thing is who I’m working with. Sometimes we take our work for granted. We’re really fortunate to be living in a beautiful place, [Southern California] working in this industry that so many people would love to be a part of.

So many people have jobs they don’t care about.  They just do it as a means to an end, but I’d like to believe that if I came into a windfall of money from the sky, that I would still do Foley because it’s fun.

WW:  Well I hope I’m behind the glass with you!

This series, 28 Weeks of Audio, is dedicated to discussing various aspects of post production audio using the hashtag #MixingMondays. You can check out the entire series here.

Woody Woodhall is a supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer and a Founder of Los Angeles Post Production Group. You can follow him on twitter at @Woody_Woodhall

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Woody Woodhall, CAS is Head of Allied Post Audio in Santa Monica, CA and is an award winning supervising sound editor, sound designer and rerecording mixer. He has sound supervised and mixed feature films, documentaries…