That phrase doesn’t have quite the cachet of “Lights, camera, action!” But it’s just as important to the production of a movie—it means that sound is being recorded on the set. But if you think the set is the only place a movie gets its sound, you’re sorely mistaken.
From set to screen, it takes a highly skilled, specialized team of experts to capture, control, create, mix, and score a film’s soundtrack. The exact process varies from film to film, but these basic steps happen with most productions. (Click the image to the left to see an infographic describing the process.)
It begins with the production mixer, who captures dialogue and a host of other sounds on the movie set with a boom (a long pole with a microphone at the end covered in a sound-absorbing fuzzy fabric) and shotgun microphones (long, cylindrical microphones that are great at picking up sounds in front of them while filtering out sounds to the side and rear).
If an actor flubs his line on set, not to worry—he or she can repeat the line during ADR (automated dialogue replacement, also known as additional dialogue recording). In some films, up to 80 percent of the dialogue comes from ADR sessions. In the Academy Award® nominated film Her, director Spike Jonze replaced Samantha Morton’s entire vocal performance with one by Scarlett Johansson.
When a film requires really authentic sounds, sound editors find the source of the sound in the real world—whether it’s recording the buzzing of a bee or the roar of a tiger—and record it. When sounds or noises need to be created, Foley artists can create them through an endless variety of surprising sound generators, such as sticks, bags of corn, or old chairs.
Sound editors take the dialogue, recorded sounds, and sound effects—everything but the music—and arrange those sounds in sync with the film.
The director and composer (often with input from other members of the sound team) view a rough cut of the film to decide where it needs music. Composers typically get about six weeks to write the film’s score. In some cases, they may lead the orchestra or other group that records their music.
Now the sound mixers come in to create the perfect mixture and volume level for all the film’s sounds. If the film is produced in Dolby® Atmos™, the mixers have the power to place and move sounds anywhere in the theatre.
All of this hard work can be wasted if the sound system at your local theatre isn’t up to snuff. Theatres equipped with Dolby Atmos typically have dozens of speakers, including some overhead, to make you feel like you’re in the picture.