Sound Design:

Top 10 best sound designed films:


Looking for influences in sound design for my short film, we decided against using music, but rather using more abstract sound such as ambient sound. Barton Fink (1991) is a good example of a film that uses interesting sound design. “Joel and Ethan Coen have consistently used music, effects and dialogue to shape the atmosphere of their films. This is most evident in the ‘world’ they created for Barton Fink.”  The Coen brothers envisioned the film being more sound-driven than music-driven. The script actually contains a number of scenes with little or no dialogue and a preponderance of sound effects that have a direct impact on the storyline. According to Burwell, “They were not even sure they wanted any score at all” (Barnes 2004). Therefore, if any music were to be included, it would have to be designed to work in partnership with the sound effects. (Randall Barnes 2007) While our film contains quite a lot of long pauses, and shots where there is no dialogue at all, I thought it would make sense to use the sound design techniques in Barton Fink as an influences when thinking about sound design for Eli.


In the above clip, there is no music present, the sound design is made up of ambient sound such as the sound of John Turturro’s footsteps and he walks down the corridor of the hotel, along with the sound of the fan. When Turturro approaches the front desk he rings a bell which sounds a piercing ringing noise, that ringing sound then incessantly sounds throughout, creating an almost musical sound, emphasising something foreboding is going to happen in this hotel. The clip is made up of exaggerated ambient sound such as heavy breathing, creaking of floorboards, footsteps etc. Which all create a strong sense of tension. When I first watched Barton Fink I wasn’t immediately aware of the absence of music, which is something I was worried about with our film, I was concerned that the absence of music would be noticeable and appear amateur as if we had simply not been bothered to find music to go with our film. However, after looking into sound design, and watching Barton Fink again, it has made me realise that the absence of music can be very powerful and cause significant impact to convey themes or moods in a film, which works very well in Barton Fink.

Another example of a film that doesn’t use music is The Celebration (1988)

One of the only significant choice of sound design in our film Eli, is the ringing of Eli’s phone before he throws it off the cliff. I decided that I didn’t want Eli’s ringtone to be music, as this would kill the mood of our film, and make it seem less serious. I chose a standard iPhone ringtone. I wanted to choose a ringtone with an incessant annoyance about it, I decided on Xylophone – to emphasise how irate Eli has become with his family. When I’ve received a phone call from someone I was either angry with, or didn’t want to speak to, having an annoying ringtone has always really wound me up. If you like your ringtone, if it’s a song that you like, when someone calls you it’s enjoyable to listen to, Xylophone definitely isn’t enjoyable to listen to. It has a piercing echo about it, which adds a sense of eeriness.



In Charlotte Smith’s poem Beachy Head, one particular section made me think about the sound design of my film:

From the rough sea-rock, deep beneath the waves.
These are the toys of Nature; and her sport
Of little estimate in Reason’s eye:
And they who reason, with abhorrence see
Man, for such gaudes and baubles, violate
The sacred freedom of his fellow man­
Erroneous estimate ! As Heaven’s pure air,
Fresh as it blows on this aërial height,
Or sound of seas upon the stony strand,
Or inland, the gay harmony of birds,
And winds that wander in the leafy woods;
Are to the unadulterate taste more worth
Than the elaborate harmony, brought out
From fretted stop, or modulated airs
Of vocal science.­So the brightest gems,
Glancing resplendent on the regal crown,

Smith’s line ‘beneath the waves’ made me consider Imelda’s line about immersing her head under the sea water, I wanted a sound effect that conveyed the impression of blocking out the noise of everyday life. We chose to use the sound of a rumble to create the illusion of drowning, blocking out other noises so that only the rumble is visible, to suggest what it would sound like to immerse your head fully under water.