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The Role of Sound Design in Creating Movie Magic: The Story of Farmer Ed




When we think of great films, our minds often drift to stunning visuals, gripping performances, and captivating storytelling. While all these elements are undoubtedly essential, there's one aspect that often goes unnoticed but is just as crucial in elevating a film to greatness—sound design. In this blog post, we'll delve into the importance of sound design in filmmaking, using the quirky and award-winning short film Farmer Ed as a case study.


The Birth of Farmer Ed and Its Quirky Concept


A few years ago, an intriguing project called Farmer Ed landed in our laps. The brainchild of a talented filmmaker, Azwan B, this short film immediately captured our attention. It was quirky, it was interesting, and it presented a unique challenge for our budding sound design business. It marked one of our first forays into the world of short films and would become an unforgettable journey…for many reasons.


In those early days, our equipment was far from the top-of-the-line gear we use today. We relied on Sennheiser G4s and ME2 microphones, handling bulky mics that needed clever concealment (which actually is not-so-concealed in one of the scenes). But we knew we could edit out any zips in the G4s shoddy RF signal and we always had the boom for backup (We've upgraded leagues since).


Listening back to the film now, you’d think it was professionally recorded in Hollywood. Sometimes it pays to hire dialog editors... and its even better when those dialog editors were your production sound team to begin with


DP Alvin Joo and myself recording Pam's scene... honestly one of the funniest moments in the whole film.


Alvin, Azwan, and myself surveying the script and planning how to finish the Brain Sequence on the final night of shooting.


Sound Design as the Unsung Hero


Farmer Ed unfolds as a whimsical yet eerie tale, centered around a farmer who discovers a brain growing on a tree. This unusual premise set the stage for a quirky yet nuanced short, balanced evenly between surreal horror and comedy. We were tasked with bringing this story to life through sound design. Something that took time, careful planning and bit of luck!

The brain, an unexpected central character in the film, presented a unique challenge for us. It wasn't merely about crafting a voice; it was about giving voice to a bodily organ. We needed to make the brain sound distinctive, yet surreal, capturing the essence of an intelligent yet inexplicable entity. For this we not only pitch shifted Quinn’s (Yes, the brain has a name... doesn't yours?) voice as it grew, but we added layers of what we came to call, ‘mouth slop’ sounds to bring out the vile squishiness of the character. Can you guess how we recorded that?


However, the true sonic masterpiece lay in the film's dream sequence, affectionately referred to as the "brain sequence." This segment served as the climax, a psychedelic odyssey into the depths of Quinn's mysterious world. Here, sound design had the opportunity to shine and create an otherworldly experience that would captivate the audience.

The key to success in this endeavor was not to replicate the sounds that one might associate with a human brain but to transcend the ordinary and venture into the realm of the wild, whimsical, and weird. We embarked on a creative journey, asking ourselves how we could make it as captivating and surreal as possible?


To achieve this, we employed a range of sound design techniques:

1.     Alien Bird Noises: We introduced otherworldly bird noises to the soundscape. These alien sounds created an eerie and unsettling atmosphere, blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination. For this effect we used pitch shifting and flanger effects as well as wildly panning the sounds around to make them as confusing and chaotic as possible.

2.     Ambience Shifts: The dream sequence demanded swift shifts in ambience. Seamlessly transitioning between alien outdoor, hushed auditorium audience, and malevolent hellscape.

3.     Voice Manipulation: The brain's voice, central to this sequence, underwent meticulous manipulation. We worked closely with the director, Azwan, who also voiced Quinn, to create a sound that higlighted Quinn's boisterous and egotistical personality. Through pitch adjustments, careful layering of additional sound effects and various digital processes, we brought the brain's character to life in a way that was meant to evoke disgust, discontent and amusement in the audience.

4.     Auditory Text Painting: Because of Aswan's expert script writing, every word spoken by Quinn carried meaning and significance. Through text painting, we enhanced the impact of certain phrases, such as "This is my church," using reverb and spatial effects to underscore the character's control over the dream world.


The result was a dream sequence that transcended the boundaries of conventional sound design. It submerged the audience in an audio landscape that was both bewildering and captivating. The shift from the mundane to the surreal was immediate, and viewers found themselves immersed in a world where the boundaries of reality and imagination blurred.

In essence, this sequence exemplifies the power of sound design in storytelling. It demonstrates that sound design is not merely about making things sound real; it's about harnessing acoustic energy to amplify the narrative, evoke emotion, and transport the audience to places far beyond the ordinary.


The Brain Sequence


Collaboration


Our approach to sound design goes beyond the basics. We meticulously scouted the film with Azwan, creating a detailed cue sheet that outlined sound effects, dialogue edits, and the synergy between sound effects and music. It was a painstaking but essential process that allowed us to align on key moments and plan the acoustic trajectory of the film.


A snippet of the cue sheet we created!


Farmer Ed's Remarkable Success


Our hard work paid off. Farmer Ed found its way into some prestigious film festivals, including Holly Shorts, LA Shorts Fest, and the Seattle International Film Festival and has received accolades such as Best Actress and Best Director awards.

The film also reached a wide audience through Omeleto, a YouTube channel with 3.5 million followers. See the full movie here! The success of Farmer Ed isn't just about the awards though. It's a testament to the power of collaboration and extreme attention to detail as it pertains, on our part, to sound design.


Conclusion


Azwan had high praise for our work on Farmer Ed, saying:


''I had the absolute pleasure to work with Brandon & Will of Kinsmen Sound on my horror/comedy short film Farmer Ed. From the get go they were professional, highly skilled, fun and creative, all the things you look for in a sound team. Brandon did an amazing job on set capturing dialogue as well as ambient sounds and live action sounds for later use in post.


This was a unique project in that it required a heavy amount of creative ingenuity (it's a surreal film to say the least). During post both Brandon and Will exceeded my expectations by creating dazzling sound design/Foley/transitions/unearthly soundscapes (you name it!) with technical expertise as well as collaborating on coming up with ways to best service the story. True pros.


Kinsmen Sound elevated Farmer Ed in every way and would not have been the same without them (it'd be much worse!) I will absolutely have them in mind for future projects.'


The success of Farmer Ed demonstrates the vital role sound design plays in filmmaking. Whether you're working on a high-budget project or a passion project with limited resources, there's no excuse for neglecting sound design. It's the unsung hero that can make the difference between engaging the audience and driving them to boredom.


If you have a film in need of exceptional sound design, we invite you to reach out to us at info@kinsmensound.com. We're passionate about helping filmmakers bring their stories to life through immersive sound experiences. Our goal is to pour our expertise and creativity into every project, just as we did with Farmer Ed. As you embark on your filmmaking journey, remember that sound design is more than an afterthought—it's the magic that can take your audience on an unforgettable ride!


Here's a quick scroll of the entire Farmer Ed audio timeline.


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