Nathan AshtonNathan Ashton

What I want doesn’t matter

There are several differences between a professional and an amateur – talent is not one of them. Many amateurs make amazing product. The point I want to touch today is a professional’s ability to deliver what the Director wants… What I want doesn’t matter.

When I am hired to design sound for a film, the Director has already been living, sleeping, and eating with the story for years. When I ask, “How do you want this [thing] to sound?” sometimes they say, “I don’t know.” This is an honest lie. They might not know how to articulate it or won’t know what they want until they hear something they don’t. But they ALL want something.

Assuming what I imagine is what they want can be dangerous. It costs you time and money.

So one of the first things I need to do is sit down and try to hear the script from inside their head. One trick I use is to ask them to use adjectives. The conversation might go something like this:

Me: Lets talk about the treehouse scene

Director: Where the trees light up?

Me: Yes. What do you want the trees to sound like?

Director: I don’t know. They are electric trees. They glow.

Me: OK. Can you describe them with lots of adjectives?

Director: Well, they are big, but delicate. I want them to be shiny, lush, and bright – like a crystal.

Me: What kind of emotions do the characters feel?

Director: Beauty, hope, wonder.

So I sit down and try to deliver those sounds. This is the final approved sound effect track from the film “Ace Wonder”:


Now if this were a steam-punk genere film, the director might have said,

Director: Make them big and dangerous. There needs to be an undercurrent of machinery and steam. And maybe a feeling that everything is on the edge of exploding.

So I would sit down and try to deliver something like this:


But in both cases I am trying to deliver something that furthers the Director’s vision…. Not my own. A professional embraces this. This brings freedom. They are flexible enough to avoid creative ruts and deliver what this particular Director wants.

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