It is one thing to talk about integration, quite another to practice it. Sound design – and post-production in general – is now a more important part of filmmaking than at any time in the history of film. Certain genres, for instance horror, have always relied heavily on sound or sets of sounds to create characters. But technological progress in areas like dialogue recording now allows post-producers to change the direction of a piece long after on-set shooting is complete. In the film industry, this means that sound designers and directors work more closely than ever during the production process. As much as sound specialists remain very much behind the scenes, they have essential roles needing to be understood by students of both Film and Sound. But integrating the institutional cultures and curricula of distinct programs is not always easy. Pulling together staff, students and instructors, coordinating meetings, work plans and deadlines can be a nightmare if it is not handled properly. For this reason, the Sound Design campus and Film department have been steadily normalizing relations over the past year, to the point where the two programs are now able to harmonize their efforts and produce short films with superior soundtracks.
“Having quality sound is an essential part of any good film,” says Sound Design instructor Alex Macfarlane, who is responsible for orchestrating much of his department’s collaboration with Film. “Sound designers play a very specific role in the development of a film, which often involves creating a soundtrack that matches the vision of the director or producer. Because of the integration we’re doing, our students are experiencing this now in a way that could never have happened before.”
For Film students, working collaboratively with colleagues in the Sound Design program gives directors a chance to interact with sound editors, emulating the relationship professional directors have with sound studios. “Before we started doing this, sound production tended to be tacked on to student film projects as something of an afterthought,” says Trent Hignell, Post-Production Supervisor in the Film department. “The sound production for most films would be sent out of the school, where a generic soundtrack would be added. Now, our students get a genuine feel for what it’s like to work with a sound studio.”
Contact between departments generally begins with a spotting session , where the director leads a Sound team through a frame-by-frame analysis of the film. After this initial attempt to communicate the film project’s soundscape, directors work closely with sound editors during the next week to ten days. “The way it works the Sound Design campus serves like an outside post-production studio whose client is the Film department, says Hignell. “It’s a great training ground for the students, and the people at Sound have been great about establishing the relationship.”
For film students – who have generally been working on their projects for at least two months before they interact with sound designers – being able to hand the film over to completely fresh sets of eyes and ears allows the film to be taken to an altogether new level. “It gives our students a tremendous advantage in the professional world,” says Macfarlane. “Having technical skills is one thing, but there is no substitute for experience, and students here are getting that.”
While the complexity of resolving scheduling and technological conflicts at times poses difficulties for instructors and students, those involved agree the benefits of integration are well worth the occasional headache. “There are definitely going to be bumps along the way as we do this,” says Hignell. “But there is no question this integration is beneficial for our students. They are coming out of the program already sound-savvy, so that by the time they start to work in the industry they already know how to collaborate with, and give direction to, sound editors.”