Sound Chat #25 - Louise Brown (Foley Artist/Editor)

Hey Everyone, Matt from here and today I am joined by Louise Brown for my 25th Sound Chat. Louise is a Foley artist and Foley editor and am going to ask her a few question from not only myself but some of Sound Chats facebook supporters and Sound Chat subscribers.

I'll start with the questions from our loyal fans:

Nathan Ashton asks: I read in your blog that you stepped the 90 minute "Our Girl" in two days. Wow! Often I face extremely short foley timelines as well. Some projects turn out OK. Others don't. How do you predict when to raise the warning flag, and what can be done to increase chances of success on crazy short timelines?

You can often see at the beginning of a shoot whether the schedules will allow for full coverage. If the Foley editor has forwarded recording cues, then you work through those and see what time there is at the end for any embellishments. This was the case for Our Girl as Steve Chase, the programme's sound supervisor, had cued up all the passes he wanted and we covered them all over the course of the two days. The programme didn’t need an M&E mix and production sound was good.

If full coverage is required and the schedule doesn’t reflect the amount of work needed, I’ll flag it as early as possible. The supervisor can then choose to allow more time (and as always, more money), otherwise we decide on where to concentrate efforts.

Billy Turchinetz ask: How do you deal with a lack of cadence over cuts or big changes in the speed of walking from cut to cut?

Sometimes I’ll record the cuts in two passes to make sure all the feet are there and the Foley editor isn’t having to spend time cutting missed feet, otherwise I just adjust speed as I go along. It depends upon how drastic the pace change is. When it comes to fitting, I try and smooth the continuity issue by faking the pace for the last few steps on the previous cut and the first few steps on the second cut.

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I am interested to know how you made a career out of being a foley artist, did you have a mentor?

I started out by track laying sound effects for commercials but really missed the tactile work that Foley encompasses. After working on short films in the most guerrilla fashion you can imagine, I was picked up by Alex Joseph who had been supervising Foley for some of the UK’s best films and had moved into sound design. He trained me up as a Foley editor and encouraged me in the artistry side of things, I wouldn’t have my career without him.

What part does the Foley editor play in terms of prepping tracks to go into a final session? Are you the only one that touches the Foley tracks once edited?

It depends upon the team that I’m working with. Sometimes I’m simply tasked with fitting, other times I’m looking after the Foley from the spotting session to completion of the mix. If I’m prepping the tracks ready for a shoot, I’ll include a bounce of any Foley and FX that have already been cut into the film. I’ll also include a notes track asking for any specifics or requests to omit certain passes.

I’ve also found myself working with other Foley editors on a film, we will split reels and deliver separately. Most of the time I edit by myself. If I’m working with Alex, he’ll take the tracks and premix them; adding reverb, adjusting levels, panning and maybe complimenting them with any ideas of his own.

Do you find it valuable to be able to not only create Foley but to also edit Foley?

Yes, very much so although it comes with its own issues. If I’m also editing a project, nine times out of ten I’ll be coming home from the studio with a headache. As I’m working on all the passes throughout the day, I’m also thinking about the edit. It’s exhausting enough just performing the Foley!

That said, I do find it advantageous to be able to have a clear idea of how everything needs to sound before the mics are even plugged in. The number of times I have to ask the Foley mixer to just “trust me” because I plan on layering some tracks in the edit alongside the recordings. It can however be quite easy to become bossy or dismissive of the Foley mixer’s input and ideas on the day, which is entirely unhelpful because it’s all about sharing ideas and experience. Foley is a very collaborative process.

How do you draw up budgets for the cost of a Foley session? is it comprised of props needed or just a flat fee plus an hourly rate?

Foley sessions that I’ve worked on have all been budgeted for the studio, artist and mixer’s day rates. This tends to be the norm in London, the supervisor budgets for how many days they believe will be required to record and fit.

What is your favourite Foley sound to produce?

I quite like gore! Earlier this year I spent one day elbow deep in a bucket of water, sponges and fruit pulp for extensive autopsy scenes. It gets pretty sticky but the sounds are always quite satisfying. Gun handling is my favourite sound to hear back, I really like cheesy 80s action films so I guess there’s something reminiscent about it. Same with car tyres scraping on tarmac too.

What mics do you mainly use for footsteps and cloth noise?

Ah well that often depends upon the studio. I’ll record to whatever they have available. If I get to choose, I really like every DPA mic I’ve come across and the Neumann U87 works well on many of my feet. The Foley mixer will tend to propose ideas and we’ll have a listen and work out which will work best on different surfaces and distances and prop types.

When it comes to cloth, the quietest mic possible is the one for me. The Rode NT1 or maybe 2… I’m not very technical.

In terms of Mic placement are you always recording as close as possible or does perspective of the picture play a role?

Perspective recordings are essential! One of the hardest tasks is to getting Foley to sound natural. Interior scenes need a room mic to add some air and distance to the recording, the mixer will balance this against the close mic pointed directly at source. We’ll record very close to the mic if the item in question has an extremely low volume level or if there’s a creative decision made. I’ve recorded handling the mic itself for any… microphone handling effects, that’s about as close as I’ve got!

What are the common mistakes new Foley artists should avoid?

Practice your footsteps all the time. Props are often easier and more fun to record but the feet need as much attention as possible. The other, if not more essential thing I’d recommend is getting into the minds of the characters. Foley artists are body actors, we give a lot of information to the viewer with our movements. Don’t get lost in the mics, surfaces and shoes… remember to play the character.

Finally, how many pairs of shoes do you have for footsteps?

Well having a look in the bags I’d say there’s around fifty pairs - too many and not enough! The shoes all have their own distinct characters but they change surface to surface and irritatingly enough - studio to studio. I have to remember which shoes will behave in what way at different places.

I don’t necessarily use them all, there’s a selection that tend to get used time and time again. I believe everyone has a favourite pair; mine belongs to my mother and cost her £80. I’m quite thankful she’s forgotten that I ‘borrowed’ them and that we happen to be the same shoe size.

Thanks so much for taking the time to take part in this Sound Chat with me Louise!

Pleasure was mine Matt!