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"Sound is the best Storyteller" Part 1

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Posted 22nd April 2009 at 04:35 PM by Peter Neal

As I'm slowly gearing up to pick up my scriptwriting in the summer time, I just got thinking about THE single most underrated storyteller of all time, the sound!

I had my first "ear opening" experience at the age of 9 in the winter of 1982 when I listened to the radio play "Die Begegnung mit der Mörder Mumie" ("Encounter with the Killer Mummy") for the first time.
No, it wasn't the first radio play I'd ever heard and it most certainly wasn't the first radio play to have a huge impact on my (more or less) creative mind, BUT in a matter of minutes, it totally convinced me that I should start to write, to make radio plays of my own....
It was the closing scene to the end of the "A side" of the tape, when the scientists are trapped in the tomb with the living mummy just returning to its resting place.....Sure, the music to that scene was scary, BUT what really topped the experience was the echoing, stomping sound of the mummy's steps slowly coming closer to its human prey....Hearing those steps, I envisioned a gigantic, ultra threatening version of the mummy, which really spooked me out for the next couple of nights....Nevertheless, I was hooked, hooked for life!
As radio plays didn't really get such an imposing role in the popular youth culture of most other Western countries in the 70's and 80's, I'll muse about a few memorable sound experiences in our favourite movies.
You've most likely noticed them too, but unfortunately, with all the discussions about films, the importance of sound design to genre movies is still criminally overlooked imho!

What's he scariest sound in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (original)?

No, not Leatherface's chainsaw if you ask me.
It's that unnerving, shrill, echoing sound accompanying the hitch-hiker taking photographs of the corpses he just dug up....That sound is just plain........and I bet it's exactely THAT sound, very cleverly reused in the trailer for the remake, which sold "TCM (2003)" to the fanbase!

I don't want to underestimate the importance of a good score, but the following examples should give you an idea that without proper sounds, a lot of our cult faves would only be half as scary:

What would be.....

-"A Nightmare on Elm Street" without the sound of Freddy's glove scratching over metal...?

- "Halloween" without Michael Myers breathing heavy under his mask?

- "Predator" without the alien's animalistic sounds as he's stalking Arnie and pals in the jungle?

- "Friday, the 13th" without the "ki-ki-ki,ma-ma-ma" jimgle?

- "The House by the Cemetary" without a child's crying in the middle of the night in the Freudstein house?

IF I was making my living as a sound designer for movies, I'd be just DYING to make a radio play to give the sounds a stage which really pays them justice!


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  1. Old Comment
    KPWNINJA's Avatar
    Your exactly right Peter! Not many people realise that audio is one half of a movie. Too many times have I seen a film that is visually stunning but has lost most of it's atmosphere because they didn't pay the same amount of attention to the audio.
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    Posted 24th April 2009 at 05:01 PM by KPWNINJA KPWNINJA is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Peter Neal's Avatar
    Thanks KPWNINJA

    I think Alexandre Aja is one of the few modern genre directors, who seems to be really interested in using the possibilities of sound design and effects to enhance the mood of his movies. Particularly the farm assault in "Haute Tension" springs to mind when the "heroine" has to hide and the "killer" is slowly walking through the house in search of his victims. Every step, every breath, the noises in the house, dripping water etc seem to be carefully and thoughtfully arranged. I wish I could say that of more recent genre flicks.
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    Posted 24th April 2009 at 08:35 PM by Peter Neal Peter Neal is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Almar@Cult Labs's Avatar
    Peter is there a station, or an old collection or something of cool radio play stuff you'd recommend? What's the future for this kind of thing and how can it be developed?
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 28th April 2009 at 07:55 PM by Almar@Cult Labs Almar@Cult Labs is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Peter Neal's Avatar
    As far as German radio plays are concerned, there are countless titles of varying genres (with varying production values) available on CDs, even cassettes and downloads.
    Numerous stations still play radio plays, but so far I've never heard of one, which is solely dedicated to radio plays- interesting thought though!
    There's definetely a future for radio plays, as they combine the comfort of "being entertained", yet leave your imagination total freedom!
    """ would be a good place to look around, so is youtube- at least for getting an impression.
    Outside Germany, things are looking not nearly as good, as most countries didn't really have the same mainstream-boom in radio plays during the last 3 decades.
    The best way to do an English language horror radio play outside the radio would be to do it - seriously!- as a tie-in merchandise product for "Shameless", may be even getting at least 1 cherished cult actor for a supporting role behind the mike to draw some more attention.
    It could be sold via the "Shameless" homepage on CDs (or as a download).
    It shouldn't be much longer than 1 hr, it could easily be just 35-45 mins for starters.
    The future for radio play distribution will be the www, though collectors still prefer to get a CD with catchy sleeve into their hands...

    How does that sound?
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 29th April 2009 at 06:05 PM by Peter Neal Peter Neal is offline
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