CAPSULE: This documentary is a study of the task of being a film Foley artist and the prospects for the future of sound effects art. A Foley artist is the sound effects person who manages all the minor and subliminal sounds in a scene. If the sound is not right it is the Foley's task to decide what the sound should be and what in the real world would make just that perfect sound. Lalo Molina scripts and directs this account of the Foley artists' use of the sound from props and the hunt for objects that make usable sounds. It also looks at the future of the Foley career. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Of late we have gotten some good documentaries about the internals of the process of filmmaking itself. Last year's HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY was about a storyboard artist and a reference librarian. This year we have ACTORS OF SOUND about Foley artists.
There was a crisis in shooting SPARTACUS. They were filming a huge panning shot of a Roman army. There were hundreds of extras playing Roman soldiers. After the scene was shot the actors were sent home in their hundreds. Then it was discovered the recorded sound was useless for some reason. They could not call back a whole army. What was there to do? Jack Foley (more on him later) pulled out of his pocket a ring of keys and shook them in rhythm. For all anyone knew it sounded right so hundreds of actors were played--on the sound track--by a ring of keys. That Foley artist was Jack Foley, the man whose name became the name of the task. All the studios except Universal Studios would orchestrate their sound like they orchestrated the elements of the picture. Starting in the very early days of sound Universal would re-record all of the sounds in the picture to get a perfect recording of each sound. The technician who did this for Universal Studios was Jack Donovan Foley. And the art he invented became an industry standard.
What is a Foley artist? Consider if you are shooting a (sound) film there are probably noises all around the actors. But few of those noises are initially recorded in a condition good enough to be incorporated into the final film. There may be dozens of sounds, each applied to the soundtrack of the film one at a time. The Foley artist has to look very closely at the frame of film and figure out what sounds should be present. If an actor is walking in snow the Foley artist will have to do something like putting shoes on his hands and grinding the shoes alternating into a box of kitty litter. It may not look like the actor in the scene, but what is important is that it sounds just right. The film shows and interviews Foley artists of this country and of other countries like India and Germany where Foley artists take it easy and perform sounds sitting down.
Foley artists do not get rich, but they still love their job. Artist Shelley Roden says her ideal job would be to be an athlete, a musician, or an actor. Those are exactly the talents being a Foley artist requires.
In an industry like the movie industry that is going high-tech, what is the future of the Foley job? Most sound people are convinced their job as they do it will not go away. There have been attempts to digitize Foley sounds and automatically create the right sound for the right occasion. The sounds it made sounded right but the sound overall sounded dead. The real Foley artists are making noises the old-fashioned way.
Foley is an art that has been going on in almost every film you see, but you have probably have not known it was happening nor known the names of the artists. They rarely get awards, but they love what they do. I rate ACTORS OF SOUND a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5675516/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/actors_of_sound
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper