How To Use SFX to Add Depth to Your Film

Jul 1, 2019

Sound. It’s an incredibly powerful component that supports your videos. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that sound can make or break your project. It’s either really spotty and distracting, or it’s so well executed that it elicits the perfect emotion out of your client or audience. Sound is always critical to your video, and few can argue that.

Not all of us are producing blockbuster movies and operating with million dollar budgets. Yet one thing is certain for all creatives in video: visual storytelling requires the effective use of every creative tool in the shed, and sound is certainly no exception.

Consider the following reasons to use SFX in your videos. 

1. Sound stirs emotions.

SFX can be used is to elicit an emotional response from your audience. The horror genre uses SFX for this purpose exceptionally well to add tension to scenes and cause the audience to experience heightened moments of dread. In one particular scene from The Conjuring 2 (2016), sounds that are usually quiet “background” fixtures are now very loud and prominent. The rhythmic ticking of the clock pushes the audiences’ rising pulse; the water drippings are amplified, making the audience even more aware of the deafening silence. The quiet before the storm. We know it’s coming: the inevitable “jump scare.”

2. Sound informs.

Another creative use of sound is informing the audience of something in a way that visuals can’t and dialogue shouldn’t. A great example can be found in one particular scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). The SFX we hear when the camera pans over to Kim (Alison Pill) almost immediately informs the audience that things are not “good” between two characters, contrary to what Scott (Michael Cera) would have Julie (Aubrey Plaza) believe. The SFX in this scene truly drive the point home in uncomfortable yet comedic clarity. Imagine if the writers had decided to try and write in dialogue to explain this. It may have felt too “on the nose.”

3. Sound is a character.

You read that right! Sound is often a character, and this was most recently (brilliantly) exhibited in the Netflix movie Bird Box (2018). Throughout the film, the audience never actually sees the creature that is wreaking havoc on the world. Instead, we hear it. Since we have no visual reference for the monster, the story’s antagonist is defined with our ears and what we hear, making the SFX themselves embody the monster and—in effect—become the character. Pretty amazing, right?

So what can we learn from all this? Whether you are making the next blockbuster flick or the next viral YouTube video, you should always remember to take advantage of every filmmaking tool at your disposal—especially creative sound design. Always think a little outside the box. Push and challenge yourself, and never settle.

Keep creating.

Note: This piece originally debuted in the Soundstripe Digital Magazine. Please subscribe here for spotlights, interviews, tutorials, and much more.

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