Sound is 50% of the cinematic experience and 0% of what most people consider when they watch a movie. It’s just not something you pay much attention to when the pretty people are on the screen hitting things, even though every detail of their action — a shield leaving their hand, flying through the air, striking the enemy and then flying back — is constructed by an artist of extraordinary talent.
Making Waves feels like a rejoinder to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ attempt to bury its awards for sound editing and sound mixing behind commercial breaks for the at-home audience. It features award-winning sound artists breaking down a short history of sound design, as well as technical descriptions of what each person contributes to the overall tone of a film. Notable directors such as Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan and Ryan Coogler chime in to talk about how sound design impacts their most famous works.
Funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Making Waves feels, in every way, desperate — impassioned — to inform. Director Midge Costin was the sound editor for dozens of films during the 1990s, including Armagedddon, Con Air and Hocus Pocus. She is now an associate professor of sound editing at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Costin’s credentials speak for themselves. In many ways, Making Waves feels like a film created to show in the first few days of a 101 class — lots of famous faces imploring the audience to recognize an element of filmmaking that gets too little attention but attracts real creativity.
Star Wars — and its Oscar-winning sound editor, Ben Burtt — and Apocalypse Now constitute two particularly large segments of the film, but it’s not just New Hollywood that gets all the attention. Costin flashes back to Edison and the development of cinema in general before moving forward to talkies, the golden age of Hollywood and, eventually, today to show how old techniques still apply. Inception, Nolan’s mind-bending dream-thriller, also features heavily due to its multi-environment action sequences that required tremendous amounts of creative sound capturing.
By using familiar and beloved classics, Costin drives home the importance of understanding the work that goes into sound design. Once awards season rolls around again, here’s hoping we won’t need to re-litigate whether to properly honor these artists.