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Using sound to convey lack of attention
  • Here is the situation. An actor is not paying attention to the person talking in front of them. But phasing out and remembering a conversation that occurred earlier. How do I convey this on the soundtrack ? I tried to just overlay the audio from other conversation - but it has a different ambience and sounds strange..

  • 13 Replies sorted by
  • Often just a bit of reverb on the "remembered speech" can convey this. In other words make it very different from the sync speech quality.

    EDIT: If reverb doesn't work you could try extreme eq and/or overlay that part with some simple music or a particular noise we come to associate with this "zoning out" - especially if it occurs more than once in the film.

    As well as treating the audio, could you do something to the image to suggest the actor is not paying attention - like starting to degrade the pov image at the point the remembered audio starts?

  • Not to over do it. But it might be OK to cut to the earlier scene with a little bit of the original guys audio going over it in the background.

  • I just realized that its easier to reshoot the scene with the changeover in mind.

    Maybe I could pan to the non-attentive actor as the other one is speaking and then pan back. This way I could fade in the sound when the non-attentive actor comes into the pan and fade out when it pans back to the other one.

    I could also use reverb and the different ambience on the external sound.

  • The 'phasing out' part is the key. That experience of phasing out needs to reflected in the sound as well as the image. It could be as simple as fading out the original audio to signify that your character is not listening and then slowly fading in the 'remembered' conversation. As others have said, some effects could be used like reverb, but it might not be necessary.

    Remember, film sound is all about being convincing, so the less noticeable use of effects is often better unless you really want to make a dramatic point.

  • OT I know but I love the way the Simpsons cartoons depict Homer when he's not paying attention - usually the sounds around him fade out, and there's a little bubble showing what's going on in his head, which is a mechanical monkey clashing a pair of cymbals and flipping over occasionally. Love it! Don't suppose that would work for this, though.

  • A bit of dull 'Zzzzzish' sax music over the top always works... :-)

  • With your actor, watch Michael Caine in "Hannah and Her Sisters" - Put it in the hands of the talent. Hope this helps

  • You could always look at a spy movie or cop scene where their ear transmitter comes on and see what has been done to reduce the current conversation to the background.

    A few things come to mind: fade, distortion, eq. or combinations thereof. seems to me if you eq'd out the mids and highs during the 'phasing out' that would convey that idea.

    my $.02

  • I think I remember what bheath is talking about, sounds right. How it's shot/paced is probably more important than how exactly you go "out of phase" (I like going simple, just fade the audio down and up). I'm imagining a 2 shot, fairly wide favoring the guy talking. If your next cut is to a single, probably CU, of the dude not paying attention, you've just isolated him. You can then fade that audio, and take your time with it and hold the shot. Your next cut could even be a pov reverse back to the talking guy but we hear the other scene. Come back abruptly with even more ambiance from the scene as was in it before as the guy "wakes up" to the present. All kinds of fun you can have. I'd hate to ask advice though. Takes all the fun out of picture making!

  • I just saw Hannah and her sisters for the first time. It has all the answers about the questions I asked. I would also rate this movie next to Citizen Kane as a study of camera framing and blocking.. Perfect!

  • Cool! You should tell Woody that, I bet he'd be pleased with the comparison!! (he's around, just shout it out) Seriously, though, wade further into the Woodman's filmography. Some minor work in there, but man, talk about volume of fantastic movies.

  • @zcream Excellent choice for inspiration.

  • Glad you liked that. Watching his films is cinematic prozac for me. Zoloft. Viagra... The ending scene of "Hanna and Her Sisters" slays me. Woody's recent BBC biography is not to be missed. His sheets of yellow legal paper in his bedside drawer... Hollywood Ending is another great of his, with all kinds of inside jokes for the likes of us. But still within the grast of most attentive viewers.