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Sound Effects Editor


Crashes, footsteps, sneezes, strong winds, clapping . . . these are just a few examples of different sound effects that get reworked in post-production stages of television and film. Sound effects editors are sound editors who specialize in editing sound effects. Sound effects (commonly abbreviated as FX) refer to the sounds, other than dialog, that objects or people make, coupled with the sounds that occur naturally in the background. What these sounds may or may not sound like in real life is not always in question. In fact, some sounds that are injected into film may not even sound like the real thing. How do we know what bee sounds like when pollinating? Sometimes it does not matter provided the sound effect works within the creative framework of the movie.

Sound effects editors work with sounds and events happening on or off screen. For example, the footsteps of an actor walking down the street may be an on-screen event if we see the actor, however, footsteps of a killer, coming down the hallway, outside of a closed door are an off-screen event intended to create suspense. We cannot see this killer, but we are conscious of his or her footsteps. Similarly, background ambience often refers to off-screen activity that the audience may never see, such as a passing siren, restaurant noise, birds and crickets, a thunderstorm, and so on.

Editors may work in post-production with foley artists, who will dub in sounds. Briefly, the foley process consists of recording the sounds of an artist while he mimics the actions of an actor on the screen. A short section of the film is projected over and over again for the Foley artist. The artist watches the movements of the actor or objects carefully, and mimics both the action and rhythm using a variety of props, and these actions are recorded in sync with the picture. However, editors most often build sound effects tracks from scratch. They focus on selected sounds to create tension, atmosphere and emotion. They also impart personality to film characters. For instance, a figure that is associated with a particular sound, such as squeaky shoes, has a real presence that is pervasive even when the scene is about something else or the character is off-screen.
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  Interests and Skills  
Sound effects editors must be patient, understanding and flexible because they will spend long hours in the studio. They must have good ear for sound, pitch and tone and have the ability to pay close attention to details. Good communication skills and an outgoing personality are necessary to clarify which particular sounds are desired, and they must constantly make suggestions and accept criticism.

Sound effects editors need to have an open mind when it comes to a variety of film styles and genres and work as part of a team. They should also enjoy using electronic equipment to perform tasks requiring precision, and troubleshooting problems. Finally, they must not only love producing sound effects, but also be able to create interesting sounds, and have a solid understanding of the film editing process.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Operate audio equipment to record and edit music, dialog and sound effects for films, videos, radio and television
  • Build sound effects from scratch, using one's imagination to create sounds
  • Mix and edit sound effects in the studio
  • Work closely with a foley artist to generate the proper sounds
  • Use control board to coordinate and balance pre-recorded sound effects with movies or TV shows
  • Use console board to adjust volume and sound quality during recording sessions
  • Keep a log of outgoing broadcast signals and recording sessions
  • Work with varied and sensitive performing artists to help create the desired product
  • Think of creative ways to mix sound or coordinate camera feeds
  • Handle sound boards, microphones, sound effects, antennas and other recording equipment
  • Implement ideas for creating sound effects in difficult situations
  • Create MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) programs for storing sound effects styles
  • Sound effects editors may be required to work extremely long hours in a studio or on a film set to meet project deadlines, however hours will vary depending on the field. They work indoors in soundproof, windowless studios. Days are usually the longest when deadlines are looming.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Sound effects editors work for sound recording firms, film and video production and post-production houses, multi-media companies, television and radio stations and on film sets. Some freelance sound effects editors set up their own "basement," " project" or "boutique" recording studios.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What is the long term potential for sound effects editors? At the beginning of their career, they may start out as a gofer or assistant sound editor and work their way up. In this industry, it is important to be willing to work for little money to gain practical experience and establish a reputation for good work. Experienced studio sound effects editors may advance to producer positions and senior film editor positions. Therefore, sound effects editors should keep updated on technological advances within their field.

  Educational Paths  
It can be extremely difficult to break into the sound effects business. Experience working at a co-op placement through a school training program or as a volunteer at a cable television station is an asset. Beginning in radio commercial production is another option.

Although a related postsecondary degree, certificate or diploma is an asset when seeking employment as a sound effects editor, there are no formal education requirements. Formal training is very specialized and relatively few schools offer such programs. Most sound effects editors acquire a working knowledge of today's computer-based recording technologies, such as digital mixing and random access editing, and adapt quickly to many different recording formats and devices by learning on the job or taking related training courses.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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