The Bad Movie Report

Making A Bad Movie:
My Personal Nightmare


The Art of Noise

The art of applying sound effects to film is called foleying - reportedly after the fellow who created the Foley Board back in the days of radio. The foley board kept the most common noisemaking apparatus close to hand, and made the whole shebang mobile.

Back in my younger days, I was an ardent fan of old radio shows, and made some of my own. The process of sound I found The author in younger daysparticularly interesting - we did a very gruesome jump-out-of-a-building impact employing an old doll with a plastic head and cloth body, hurled from a attic window onto concrete; the soft splat was perfect. So when I was offered the chance to do the foley work for Forever Evil, I gladly accepted (the extra money came in handy, too). This involved director of photography Horacio Fernandez and myself working in a small room for two weeks, with only a microphone, a 3/4" tape deck, and an increasingly odd assortment of paraphernalia.

I look back today, when I am more likely to be editing video on a non-linear computer system with an almost infinite number of audio tracks, and see us composing the sound tapestry of an entire movie using only two tracks for audio, and I am inescapably reminded of sticks, stones and flint knives.

I spent several days recording ambient background sounds. I drove to a stretch of woods and recorded the sound inside the car during the drive. I then discovered how actually tough it is to get unsullied tapes of a forest setting; the sounds of cars passing and somebody building something traveled an unmerciful distance in the stillness.

The hardest ambient sound to get was a hospital background. Although we had spent a couple of days in their unoccupied fourth floor, the front desk personnel were unwilling to give me permission to roll tape. I asked when I could speak to someone in authority, and was told that they were at lunch. I averred that I would wait, sat down in a nearby waiting area, picked up a magazine, and serruptitiously hit my record switch. Twenty minutes later, I left.

Needless to say, some sounds were more difficult to achieve than others. One instance was the scene where the police detective, Leo Ball walks down the street late at night to the corner mailbox. Roger definitely wanted his footfalls on the sidewalk to emphasize that he was utterly alone. This posed a problem because there was no concrete in our second-story room, and taking the deck setup to some concrete was terribly impractical. I went downstairs and walked back and forth in the parkig lot, listening Charlie Trotter - nemesis or charming old geezer?to the sounds my boots made on the pavement. Then I went back upstairs and we recorded the footsteps.

In that scene, what you actually hear are my knuckles rapping against an empty tape case.

Leo was also my nemesis in the scene immediately prior to the sidewalk scene. In this scene, Leo walks to his desk, tosses the day's mail down, sits, shuffles through the mail, opens one envelope, opens the letter within, says "Son of a bitch!", opens a drawer, pulls out an envelope, stuffs the piece of paper in the envelope, addresses it, pulls a stamp off a roll, applies it, then seals the envelope and taps it pensively against his hand twice. Each and every one of these motions had a sound, and they were so close together, it was impractical to start and stop the tape. I called it the Leo Ball symphony, and it was the closest I came to actually building a foley board. I sat with a board across my lap with various pieces of paper, a sealed envelope to be cut open with a letter opener, and a roll of stamps (it's very hard to fake that sound). If I'm recalling correctly, I was seated in an old office chair which was easily convinced to creak in a realistic manner upon command.

I also seem to recall that the usual methodology was to try it a few times, fail, get frustrated, leave the room to smoke a cigarette (yes, I was stupid in those days), come back, and nail the timing. The only non-essential part of that process was the cigarette.

Ah, but the parts I am proudest of were the gruesome sound effects, the ones accompanying the various gore scenes. How are such horrifying, nauseating noises made? You start with a trip to the grocery store.

Zombies are notorious for failing to wear safety goggles

The first sound really requiring some perverse creativity was the scene where Marc gouges one of the zombie's eyes. I seem to remember that a sound effect was not planned for that, but I said, "No! No! I've got one! Let me do it!" and proceeded to demonstrate. The sound you hear is me blowing through a drinking straw into a tub of lukewarm yogurt.

There are two stabbings in the latter part of the film: one with Marc repeatedly stabbing the zombie with a ritual dagger, then later transfixing the bad guy with the same knife. Our victim for that day was a nice, fresh watermelon that we skewered retpeatedly with a black steel tanto I owned at the time. It produced a appropriately hollow CHUK sound when stabbed. I had to insist on absolute freshness, too, because Red (the actor) was really into twisting the knife - a nice, crisp rind was needed for an appropriately icky sound, especially when Red twists the knife sloooooooooowly in the villain.

SKkkkkkuh RRRRRRRRRRRIppppppp, glort.... drip.... drip...  drip...But my masterpiece, my undenied favorite sound effect was the demon baby birth, in the movie's grossest scene. Diane. my longtime pal and the lady playing the hero's dead girlfriend, Holly, gives herself a caesarian by basically pulling apart he autopsy wound. My weapon of choice: a ripe cantolope. I cut a wedge from it - just large enough to fit the fingers of both hands into - and as the scene progressed, pulled the melon apart. Again, it was necessary to hit exactly the right balance between freshness and near-over-ripeness. I needed the sound of the rind tearing apart, but I also needed a fair amount of juiciness in the sound mix. The result was wonderfully disgusting, and it's pity you can't hear it better in the final, botched sound mix.

Gosh, the rest of the foley process seems rather tame and boring compared to that, though I do recall using stalks of celery for something in there. (It was certainly hard to knuckle down and get back to more mundane effects, that's for sure) Of course, there was the time that we tried to get the proper fire sounds for the scene when the zombie is doused with gasoline and torched, and instead we wound up with a microphone on fire...



And Did We Learn Anything? Besides not putting microphones in fires, that is.