Thoughts on making 'Mother and Daughter'

‘Mother and Daughter’ (2018)
Running time: 10′ 51″

Format: DCI 4K
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Camera: Sony PXW-FS7
Lenses: Samyang Cine Primes 24mm, 35mm, 85mm


The idea for this story was inspired by an anecdote on the Humans of New York website, in which a mother told how, on discovering a letter saying her daughter had missed the application deadline for university, served the letter up for dessert after dinner, and they had started arguing.

See my notes on how I found and developed this story in my blog posts ‘Assignment 3 – finding and developing the story’ (Salisbury, 2018) and ‘Assignment 3 – screenplay’ (Salisbury, 2018), including how I gathered potential ideas, developed the story for ‘Mother and Daughter’ through log-line and step outline, and drafted several versions of the script.

There are two glaring errors in the film.

The first error occurs towards the end of the car sequence (01:44 – 02:02) in which the daughter gets out of the car and crosses the road to the school gate. This was filmed as a single master shot. I cut this part of the car sequence to show the daughter getting out of the car and crossing the road, an angle on the mother watching her daughter cross the road through the car window, then back to the daughter entering the school gate.

In hindsight, I now realise that I should also have filmed a POV shot from the mother’s perspective inside the car looking out, back at the daughter as she walks through the school gate. This would have put the viewer directly into the moment, through the mother’s subjective perspective. It would also have created a far more cinematic sequence of edits than simply cutting back to a very weak end segment of the master shot.

The second error occurs in scene 5 (05:31 – 06:12), in which the mother tells the daughter her father will be calling by to collect some things. This was the first dialogue scene we shot for the film and I was still finding my feet directing the actors. I had begun the day by filming non-dialogue scenes so as to help the actors settle in to the location and feel at ease with their roles. Lydia, who plays the mother, has both stage and TV acting experience. Leila had no experience acting for camera before making this film, other than a single class as part of her performing arts course last year.

Visually, this scene feels too static and a little awkward. In hindsight, I should have given Leila something to ‘do’ while delivering her lines, such as pouring herself a glass of water. Also, the framing feels too tight. A wider shot would have worked better here, with a slightly lower camera position to reduce the amount of kitchen counter in the foreground, and placing more emphasis on the actors’ performances rather than on the chopping of the vegetables. Maybe using this as the establishing shot and then cutting to medium shots as the conversation develops would have given the scene more life.

Fig. 1

Both of these errors could have been avoided. Adding the POV shot in scene 2 and giving the actor some screen business in scene 6 would have improved the overall feel and flow of the film.

Several shots in ‘Mother and Daughter’ where designed in response to films I have seen recently. For example, I was particularly interested in the way Kurosawa had framed characters in two separate rooms within a single shot in The Bad Sleep Well (1960). This gave me the idea of using a similar composition in scene 5, to show the daughter arriving home and seeing her mother in the kitchen preparing dinner.

Using a composition like this enabled me to show the two characters in separate rooms simultaneously. It also enabled me to draw the viewer’s attention to the daughter’s expression. I closed the scene with a push focus, from daughter to mother, drawing the viewer through to the next room, preempting the next scene in the kitchen.


Fig. 2 & 3

When storyboarding the film, I was continually thinking about how I would edit shots together.

For example, in the final shot of scene 7 and the first shot of scene 8 I designed a very specific cut between two shots of the daughter, where she sits up on the bed and where she is sitting at the dining table (06:30 – 06:52).


Fig. 4 & 5

In the first shot, she starts from a lying down position and moves into a sitting position, ending up in the right third of the frame. In the following shot in which the two characters are at the dinner table, she is still positioned in the right third of the frame.

This has the effect of holding the viewer’s gaze on Leila from the bedroom scene and into the following scene with her mother. Therefore maintaining the viewer’s attention on the daughter’s expression, out of one scene and into the next. So as we cut of one scene and into the next, our attention is already on the daughter.

This has demonstrated to me how easily you can manipulate the viewer’s attention within frame and drive the emotional emphasis of a scene forward in a particular way.

I also looked at ways of introducing visual motifs into the film. One idea I had was through the use of glass. Something which the Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, for instance, uses to great effect in Decalogue (1989) and Three Colours (1993-4).

I decided to place the mother behind glass twice, alone with her thoughts. The first in scene 2, after dropping her daughter off at school, and the second time in scene 3, after she discovers the letter in her daughter’s pocket.


Fig. 6 & 7

Both shots use window glass in similar ways to help add emotional depth to the respective scenes. The glass signifies a transparent barrier between the mother and daughter. In both cases, the mother is on the inside, with the outside world superimposed in reflection on the glass. It’s as if she is trapped inside her own world, while her daughter is on the outside, about to fly the nest.

With only one and a half days available for filming, I was conscious of the need to be fully prepared and to keep things moving on set.

Storyboarding was a key part of the process. I used A4 sheets of paper with five 16:9 shaped boxes down the right side and lines for notes on the left side. Each shot was sketched out and annotated with details on how that shot would be executed – e.g. shot types, pans, key lines of dialogue that occur in the shot, etc. A simple, but very effective visual road map of the film. The pages were inserted into a ring binder alongside the shooting script. Each shot was ticked off once it had been filmed. Shots that were omitted were given a cross.

Fig. 8

I also made copious notes in a large, soft covered journal bought specifically for this project.

Fig. 9

The journal was the first stage in planning the film shoot. On one double page per scene, I used it to plan blocking, camera positions and moves, to make rough sketches for the storyboards and for gathering reference images from other films to give a sense of how the scene will look.

I also used the journal for making notes on how I would light each scene.


Fig. 10

The journal was always kept close to hand when preparing each camera set up. Not only did this save time throughout the day, but it was also a great way of communicating how I was going to film each scene to my fellow crew member, who helped set up lights and operate the boom.

Interestingly, having already prepared and made notes on each shot in advance meant I could think quickly on my feet when things did not work out as planned and required a different camera position or lighting setup than expected.

Not only did I feel confident on set with my notes to hand, but the cast and crew seemed confident that things were organised and running smoothly.

The most complicated scene to shoot was Scene 8, in which the mother serves up the pavlova to her daughter and they argue. Although blocking the actors was very straightforward, finding the best camera positions for telling this part of the story was difficult.

The opening shot of Scene 8 was inspired by the dinner scene in Delicatessen (1991), which gave a nicely framed two shot of the characters at the table.


Fig. 11 & 12

From there I panned right, following the mother as she moves to the sink. This created an interesting composition, in which we see the two characters physically at odds with each other – the daughter in the lower left corner of the frame, with her back to her mother.


Fig. 13 & 14

Building up the scene in this way enabled me to use the kitchen counter as a metaphorical ‘obstacle’ between the two characters, across which they argue.

My choice of lenses for the film was based on a tip the Irish film director Ronan O’Leary gave me a few weeks ago while attending a filmmaking course in Dublin. He said, when using 35mm movie cameras you only need to use three lenses: 35mm for wide shots, 50mm for two shots and 85mm for close ups.

Transposing these focal lengths to the sensor size inside my Sony FS7 camera, this equated to the Samyang 24mm and 35mm lenses for the wide shots and two shot/medium shots respectively, and either a 50mm or an 85mm for the close ups. For close ups I decided on the longer of the two, as it gave a more intimate feel to the close up shots and threw more of the background out of focus.

This was very helpful advice when it came to selecting which lenses I would use in the film. Using three primes lenses for specific shot sizes seems to have resulted in consistent results visually and helped to give ‘Mother and Daughter’ an overall filmic style. A style that is appropriate to the film’s genre and content.

Most of the interior scenes required additional lighting. For this I used two Astra 1×1 LEDs, one as key light the other as fill, to help enhance the ambient lighting in the room in which we were filming.

In Scene 5, for example, we used two LED lights to help enhance the available daylight within the hallway. The first LED was placed in a room off the hallway to throw light into the far end of the corridor in order to light Leila as she entered the house and took off her jacket. The second LED was placed in the kitchen pointing back at the hallway, providing key light on Leila’s face when she stands in the doorway.


Fig. 15, behind the scenes Scene 5, and Fig. 16, behind the scenes Scene 8.

In Scene 8, we used two LEDs to enhance the available light coming from the practical lights in the dining area. Lighting this was fairly straightforward. First I exposed the camera for the practical light in the corner of the room, so as not to overexpose the light bulbs. I then added a key light, positioned near the practical light, to raise the exposure a little on the actors faces. Finally, I positioned the second LED on the other side of the camera and added some fill light to reduce the shadow area in the actors faces. This combination of practice lights and LEDs resulted in a natural looking interior night shot.

One thing that struck me about making this film was how wonderfully fruitful collaboration can be. Once I had written the script I decided to step back and give the actors room to make the characters their own. Rather than dictate a rigid vision of how I thought they should be on screen, I wanted to let the characters take on a life of their own. Trusting the actors with the characters has resulted in very authentic performances.

Also, on my suggestion at the script read through, Lydia and Leila created backstories for their characters, which generated some very interesting discussion during rehearsals on who the characters were, what they were like and, more importantly, what the dynamic between them was like.

One of the unexpected outcomes of allowing the actors enough room to build their own characters was the music I have used at the beginning and end of the film. It was great to discover that Leila was also a musician and that she wrote her own songs. While filming her scene in the daughter’s bedroom, she sang one of her songs on camera for us. When it came to editing the film, I was delighted to find that the song’s lyrics and style were a perfect fit for the story. So I decided to include Leila’s own composition rather than use generic music from a stock library. This has added greatly to the overall feel and authenticity of the film.


List of references

Salisbury, P. (2018) ‘Assignment 3, finding and developing the story’. Peter Salisbury Moving Image 1 Setting the Scene, August 25, 2018 [blog] At:

Salisbury, P. (2018) ‘Assignment 3 – screenplay’. Peter Salisbury Moving Image 1 Setting the Scene, September 4, 2018 [blog] At:


List of illustrations

Fig. 1 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 6.

Fig. 2 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 5.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot, The Bad Sleep Well (1960) Dir. Akira Kurosawa.

Fig. 4 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 7.

Fig. 5 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 8.

Fig. 6 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene

Fig. 7 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene

Fig. 8 – Storyboards for scenes 6 and 8.

Fig. 9 – Journal, notes for scene 2.

Fig. 10 – Journal, lighting notes for scene 5.

Fig. 11 – ‘Delicatessen’ (1991).

Fig. 12 -Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 8.

Fig. 13 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 8.

Fig. 14 – Screenshot ‘Mother and Daughter’, scene 8.

Fig. 15 – Behind the scenes, scene 5.

Fig. 16 – Behind the scenes, scene 8.

Cinematography: Composition and framing

The use of the frame is pivotal to a good film. A frame cannot simply be a representation of what’s in front of you. It must have three-dimensionality. It’s got to mean much more than what is shown on screen.

When composing and framing a shot, ask yourself:

  • How can I make this image more poetic?
  • How can I say more about the emotional state of that character in this film?

For example, in the film ‘An Education’ there’s a scene in which a girl is being driven by an older man. She finds him very exciting. He stops the car, gets out and goes across the road and sees a black family. She’s observing all of this.


This could have been shot very conventionally. But instead, it is shot in a more poetic and simple way. The scene is really about her and what she’s reflecting on, who this man is and what he is doing. The scene cuts from outside the car and a view of the street to her in the car looking at the scene. The car window is closed. So, it’s just a reflection of the black family with the man reflected in the glass. She is just behind it, thinking about it, creating a superimposition.

It’s just a question of using the focus puller to create the poetry of the shot – looking one way, looking the other way, and back again. It’s all done in one image – simple, concise, effective.

It can happen through the choice of locations.

The trick is in finding ways of creating scenes that imply more than the scene itself.

You can over edit a scene – where you are telling the audience what you are thinking about, as opposed to leaving it and letting the viewer decide which part of the shot they want to look at – are they looking at the background? The foreground? What exactly is the character's emotion and who they are with?


List of references

John de Borman (2015) ‘Composing and Framing – Cinematography Masterclass’ CookeOpticsTV on 20 November 2018)

The quadrant system of composing a frame

What makes a film visually interesting? It’s not just the story or the actors, it’s in the frames themselves.

In his article ‘The quadrant system: a simple composition technique explained’, Justin Hayes (2015) refers to the film Drive (2011) and the way in which almost every shot has a compositional balance – between left and right, top and bottom – a quadrant.


At first this might seem restrictive. But it allows a director to take a conventional shot and do unconventional things.



In this scene, the driver enters in the top left quadrant. We assume the next shot will have another person in the top right quadrant. But instead, she is in the bottom right quadrant.

When the camera moves closer, we get two shots in which the characters are short sided with tons of space behind them.


By emphasising different quadrants, you can create shots that are both tightly composed and weirdly unpredictable.

Play around with quadrants – they are an old, simple tool. All you need are top, bottom, left and right – and the good sense in how to put them all together.


List of references

Heyes, Justin (2015) SLR Lounge on 16 November 2018)

Subjective and objective character perspective

Cinematic techniques can be executed in a way that gives the audience something more than simply the information presented in front of them.

We react viscerally to the screen.

The camera functions like the human eye – it sees, and it presents what is put in front of it to the spectator on the other side of the lens.

So, why is it that the lens the filmmaker uses, the angle we see the shot from, and the rapidity of the edits, affect us in emotionally captivating ways some of the time, but other times it leaves us disengaged or unactivated?

In his video essay, Travis Lee Radcliffe says:

  • A lot of credit has to be given to what the camera sees – the performances of the actors, the power of the story and script all have an enormous impact on how we are affected.
  • How the camera sees plays a decisive role to those materials.
  • A big part of the effectiveness of the way these tools are deployed is the strategic use of objective and subjective perspectives.

This can be a confusing concept to filmmakers when first introduced to it.

  • An objective perspective is the use of cinema’s visual language just to convey information, as if from an outside point-of-view, with very little emotional emphasis of any character’s perspective.
  • A subjective perspective uses the visual language of the scene to convey an emotional impact that grounds the scene in the mental or emotional ‘perspective’ of a particular character.

But what does this mean in practice?

The filmmaker has several creative decisions at their disposal:

  • Angles – the angles you’ve written the scene from
  • Lensing – the millimetre of lenses you use
  • Camera movement – the use or absence of camera movement
  • Editing – how the scene is cut together

Every decision could be screened through the question of whether or not you are injecting a subjective perspective or grounding the scene in an objective point of view.

Whose perspective is it?


The camera begins with a Close Up (CU) on a young woman asleep in bed. It then pans left across the room, revealing another woman sitting smoking a cigarette in a Wide Shot (WS). The camera follows the second character as she stands, walks to the window and opens the curtains. The camera cuts back to the first character in bed as she sits up (CU). Then cuts to the same character looking through a window in the follow scene (CU).


Fig.1 ‘Carol’

The use of the camera, the position, the lenses, and the framing, they all contribute in both subtle and not so subtle ways to the emotional vantage point within the scene.

Fig.2 ‘There Will Be Blood’

From an objective perspective, we observe the action from a distance. The camera may remain separate from the headspace of any of the participants in the scene. This tool can be used creatively to create dynamic, impactful storytelling.


Fig.3 ‘A Nos Amours’

Scenes can begin in an objective perspective. A Medium Shot (MS) of two characters, Suzanne and her father. The camera expresses an emotional distance and puts us as the audience in an observational place. Then a beat happens. The camera frames Suzanne in an over-the-shoulder Close Up (CU). Followed by a reverse angle on her father. The scene has radically changed. We experience the emotions of the scene much more vividly and through the perspective of Suzanne.

The subjective perspective is not a POV shot. These are two completely different things.

  • A POV shot shows explicitly what the character sees.
  • What is unique about the POV shot is that while it manages to convey information that is useful and impactful, it is actually quite alienating on its own.
  • Not quite subjective or objective.
  • When we are in a POV shot for a long period time, we find that we have no real insight into the mental or emotional perspective of the character whose eyes we are supposed to be seeing through.
  • The loss of seeing the emotions of the character on screen through the visual language of the camera and the editing somehow distances us from the experience.
  • Seeing through the eyes of a character in a POV shot is alienating. Films that use the POV throughout never manage to provide the audience with the same level of engagement with the characters that traditional cinema has sustained.

The POV shot is useful for conveying emotions. But primarily where it is used in short intervals and juxtaposed with a good objective perspective shot.

For example, in Vertigo, the POV shots function to give you information about what the character would be seeing.

No matter what the scene is, there is a dimension of objective and subjective perspective always at play.

While character perspective is a valid tool and is one way of analysing how the visual choices are working in any given scene, there are always other ways of looking at the same tools and choices that are available to the filmmaker.

Many filmmakers choose to think purely in terms of visually exciting imagery and design their story to facilitate a kind of visual spectacle.

Some filmmakers focus totally on the performances of the actors. The camera work and visual language is there only to facilitate the performance and does little to create perspective on the part of the characters in the scene.

These choices are just as valid as a tool to create emotional perspective.

Each filmmaker in each film establish their own rules for how visual language should work on the audience.

Think of a film as an interior dialect within the larger language of film grammar.

The role of the filmmaker is to determine how those rules will work and how they will interact with the story they are trying to tell.

In an Ozu movie, the visual language will always obey strict rules – the camera will refuse to move, it will remain close to the ground, frames will always seek balance and harmony, a 50mm lens will often be employed. We might call these frames objective and observational. The impact of the moments when Ozu breaks his own rules and moves his camera are all the more intensely felt because of the austerity upon which he has built his cinema on.

If your goal is to reach your audience on an emotional level, you have to think carefully about the tools you have at your disposal and what those tools do beyond creating a frame.

These choices have a psychology to them. And when combined together in unique ways, they have an impact that rises above individual merit.


List of references

Ratcliff, T. 2017 ‘What is character perspective?’ On: Vimeo At: (Accessed on 29 October 2018).

Widescreen framing

I’ve been experimenting with widescreen format in my recent film projects.

‘Widescreen cinema creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio. The screen becomes a band or strip, emphasizing horizontal compositions’ (Bordwell 2017 p.183).

‘By offering more image area, a widescreen format offers bigger challenges about guiding attention than does  the 1.37 ratio.’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But how do you compose for wide screen?

Bordwell suggests that while it is an obvious format for sweeping spectacles such as westerns, travelogues, musicals and historical epics, it raises questions about its use for ordinary dramatic conversations and more intimate encounters between characters.

One common solution has been to fill the frame with a face. The wide screen format challenges directors to design more screen-filling compositions. ‘They can’t be as compact as the deep-focus compositions of the 1940s, but they can achieve pictorial force’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But wide screen compositions can build up significant depth, even in a confined space.

Director’s multiply points of interest within the frame – requires care with staging and timing actors’   performances.


Gradation of emphasis

In his essay ‘CinemaScope: Before and After’ (1963), Charles Barr offers some interesting ideas about widescreen film. One of which he calls the gradation of emphasis:

‘The advantage of Scope [the 2.35:1 ratio] over even the wide screen of Hatari![shot in 1.85:1] is that it enables complex scenes to be covered even more naturally: detail can be integrated, and therefore perceived, in a still more realistic way. If I had to sum up its implications I would say that it gives a greater range for gradation of emphasis. . . The 1:1.33 screen is too much of an abstraction, compared with the way we normally see things, to admit easily the detail which can only be really effective if it is perceived qua casual detail’ (Quoted in Bordwell 2008).

Bordwell(1985) argues, when using widescreen format ‘the good director will not flaunt the ratio itself…the composition should enhance the narrative situation. As for participatory freedom, the widescreen allows the viewer to notice nuances of character interaction by virtue of the director’s gradation of emphasis’ (p.18).


Key points for me

  • Wide screen format creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio.
  • It emphasizes horizontal composition.
  • Can achieve pictorial force.
  • Can contain multiple points of interest within the frame.
  • Enables complex scenes to be covered more naturally – integrating detail in a more realistic way.
  • Contains a greater range of gradation of emphasis – while the 1.37 screen is too abstract compared to the way we normally see things.
  • The widescreen frame offers the viewer an experience in which they can see nuances of character interaction.


List of references

Barr, C. (1963) ‘Cinemascope: Before and After’ Film Quarterly, 16, 4, pp.4-24.

Bordwell, D. (1985) ‘Widescreen Aesthetics and Mise en Scene Criticism’ The Velvet Light Trap Review of Cinema No 21 At: (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2008) ‘Gradation of emphasis, starring Glenn Ford’ At: (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2017) Film Art New York: McGraw Hill

John Smith – ‘Playing with the Power of Language’

The Girl Chewing Gum 1976

Artist filmmaker John Smith began making films when he was 18, at a time when ‘people were wanting to make work which was in opposition to mainstream cinema and particularly undermine the illusionism of cinema, and were reminded in whatever way that you were watching a film.’


The Girl Chewing Gum (1976)

He simply recorded what was going on in the street and then wrote a script which added voice-over directions to the film. I appears as if the actions you see in the film are being directed by an unseen film director.

  • ‘A film like The Girl Chewing Gum is in one way fitting into the ideas of that time. But it’s also playing with the power of language to condition how we actually see images, and that has a kind of humorous outcome…although it is a very, very serious film.’
  • ‘When I am editing, in my head I’ve got two parallel things going on, one is the image and one is the sound.’
  • ‘The dynamics of the film come from that relationship between image and sound, how one can be dominant at one point and one can be dominant at another…It’s completely intuitive. It’s just to do with how it feels, those balances between different things.’

Hotel Diaries (2001-07)

He was eager to take on the possibilities of the spontaneity of using handheld video cameras. Something that had not been possible when working with film.

The six year series of videos came about by accident while in Ireland for the Cork Film Festival. Britain and the US had just started bombing Afghanistan. He switched on the TV in his hotel room to find the image had frozen

  • ‘something which was possibly just a technical glitch was actually…I was finding traumatic…in my head I was thinking just how different my reality was from the innocent people in Afghanistan who were having bombs dropped on their heads.’
  • ‘having these contradictory things going in my head, I just got my camera out and just filmed the TV screen and had this stream of consciousness.’
  • ‘I really wanted to make work that looks like anybody can do it. I thought if I can make something which looks like a home video and I just forced myself to actually not edit it at all, so I’m going to say stupid things that I’m going to regret, I’m going to mess things up, and stuff like that, this should undermine any kind of potential didacticism.’
  • ‘and the work kind of intended to be conversational on an equal level with the audience, so like a lot of my work really, those videos were saying I’m bothered about this, what do you think?’

Dad’s Stick (2012)

His father showed him a cross-section of a stick he used to paint the house with, so you could all the different layers of paint.

  • ‘I found it really poignant. In a sense I felt like there was a whole history, an important part of someone’s life, that were encapsulated in this tiny little object.’
  • ‘When I put the stick in front of a magnifying lens, it become even more poignant for me, because I realised I was looking at colour that I remembered from fifty years ago.’

In recent years, his work has become shorter.

‘I like to think that I’m sort of distilling things down, that I’m making haikus now. But it might just be that I haven’t got the energy…’


List of references

TateShots (2018) ‘John Smith – Playing With the Power of Language’ At: (Accessed on 15 October 2018)

Reading: 'Seeing with your ears – Spielberg and sound design'

There are three ways you can build up tension in a scene – camerawork, pace, music.

Films have two ways into your brain: eyes and ears. When you are watching a film, these two senses are interconnected.

The visual side of the film gets the most attention because it is in front of you. But the visuals are in many ways the ‘face of the operation’. The sound ‘is actually the puppet master, the one that really holds the power.’

Sound affects what you see and from what perspective you see it.

As soon as the audio starts, you should be placed within a perspective. The sound design picks specific sounds out to tell the story within the scene.

In film, you see with your ears. The power of sound design is its invisibility behind the image. If dialogue sounds close, then the viewer is close to the person that is speaking, wherever they are.


Example: Munich (2005) dir. Stephen Spielberg

The Assassins arrive outside an apartment building to detonate a hidden bomb.

The 4′ 50″ scene is without music and almost entirely without dialogue. How is the tension built within the scene?

By building a bed of constant, noisy, city ambiance, and singling out and stringing together like beads on a wire, key noises that the tell the story.

The background that Eric Bannagh and his team are going to assassinate a man in his home by getting him to answer a phone they have secretly installed a bomb in.

The string of isolated plot sounds

  • the car with the assassins arrives
  • the dialogue of the targets wife and young daughter, and their car going away
  • the coins and rotary phone that make the call
  • the priming of the detonator
  • the truck passing by

The first moment of trouble in the scene comes in sound. Up until this point in the scene, isolated noises represent the steps of the plan going smoothly. The truck passing by represents a break in that chain and a hitch in the plan. At this point the ambience outside starts to take on some strange qualities. There’s a high pitched whine, like a train stopping, on top of everything. Just like the moving truck blocks the assassins view, the movers talking keeps them from hearing the daughter’s car returning back to the apartment. We hear her footsteps, not her voice this time, which continue indoors. In the apartment the ambience is quiet. The incredible thing about this scene is that Spielberg builds the tension, not by working towards a great crescendo of noise, but by gradually subtracting elements. While the daughter is in the apartment, the danger is signalled by a single sound effect, the rotary dial of the telephone. The climax to the scene is silence. It’s a silence that works so well because it anticipates the noise of an explosion to come. At this point, the ambience has become really impressionistic. When it comes back in, it has echo that reverbs the hurried footsteps and an anxious siren. The whole sound universe corresponds in a way to the assassins, to their feelings and their nerves.

This scene is made with no dialogue, no music, just camera work and sound design.


Key points for me

When making a film, I always ask myself ‘what do my ears see?’ Because sound affects what the viewer sees and the perception from which they see it, it is important that you build scenes using camera work and pace, and a sound design that carefully picks out key sounds to tell the story.


Nerdwriter (2018) Aeon At: on 14 October 2018)

Project 13: Soundscape - "...and you can go inside if you want to"

Soundscape: “…and you can go inside if you want to”

NOTE: For full effect, please listen through headphones

Feeling very much out of my depth with this project, I jumped straight in by recording a variety of short and long sounds for the soundscape. The idea of manipulating  these sounds for the soundscape felt very alien to me. I couldn’t see how pulling and twisting them was going to produce a pleasing result.

Collecting sounds

All the sounds were recorded using the SoundDevices 633 mixer/recorder with Rode NTG-1 shotgun microphone. Except for three stereo sounds, ‘traffic’, ‘wind in trees’ and ‘a breath’, one of which I planned on using for the background track. These stereo sound tracks were recorded using an iPhone6 with a Rode i-XY stereo microphone attachment (see post ‘Field recording with the Rode i-XY‘.

Short sounds

  • light switch
  • footsteps on tarmac
  • footsteps on leaves
  • door squeak
  • wine glass
  • fridge door closing
  • metal gate slamming shut
  • dripping tap
  • chair scraping floor
  • an exhale of breath (stereo recording)

Long sounds

  • conversation (on radio)
  • inside fridge
  • kettle boiling
  • wind in trees (stereo recording)
  • traffic (stereo recording)

Not all the sounds were used in the final soundscape.

Editing in Pro Tools

I have decided to purchase a twelve month subscription to Pro Tools, as I know I will continue to use the software for sound editing. Having not used Pro Tools before, I needed to get to grips with the basic functions. The layout and controls are very different to what I am used to when mixing sound in Media Composer. Again, I feel a little out of my depth using Pro Tools.

My first attempt at assembling the soundscape was very poor. It felt shallow and uneventful, nothing more than a simple, joined-up sequence of sound effects with Delay and EQ. Something was missing, but I didn’t know what. So I began experimenting with the placement and juxtaposition of the sounds. Each sound was ‘treated’ with an EQ to remove high or low frequencies and a Delay for reverb effect. Pro Tools comes with a wide range of plugins for this. A range of factory presets within each plugin provides great creative flexibility when applying Delay and EQ to sounds. Through trial and error, I was able to create some unusual, but effective sounds.

The turning point in my investigation came when I realised I could create a ‘sound space’ – by first laying down one of the long stereo sounds for atmosphere, allowing it to run for the full length of the soundscape and applying the techniques suggested in the project brief (slowing it down to half speed; adding reverb and reducing the volume so it sat in the background) and then adding other sounds on top. So the whole thing would work together as one cohesive piece.

I also discovered I could blend two or three short sounds together, end to end for effect, or overlay two sounds to create a new one with a greater depth of character. It was only through trial and error like this, that I made any progress with the project.

As I was creating a soundscape with no corresponding picture, I realised I needed to treat this as a sound composition. Letting the sounds bounce off each other. Creating a sense of movement through the juxtaposition, blending and pace of sounds. Treated with a range of different EQ and Delay settings.

Sound selects and treatment

Audio 1

  • Track: ‘traffic’ (stereo)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio: 1.5  – reduced to half speed
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Stereo
  • Plugin: AIR Kill EQ; Preset: Kill and Boost Low
  • Gain: -3.8 dB

Audio 2

  • Track: ‘T16 – light switch’
  • Plugin: AIR Reverb; Preset: Basic Large
  • Gain: 0dB

Audio 3

  • Track: ‘T15 – fridge interior’
  • Plugin: Modulation/SciFi; Preset: Dirty Drums
  • Gain: +6dB

Audio 4

  • Track: ‘T06 – metal gate slamming shut’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘ T07 – footsteps – shoe on tarmac’
  • Plugin: Air Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: +2.6dB
  • Track: ‘T08 – footsteps – shoe on leaves’
  • Plugin: Air Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: -12dB
  • Track: ‘T18 – kettle boiling’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘T19 – fridge door closing’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘T23 – chair scraping floor’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB

Audio 5

  • Track: ‘T11 – conversation on LyricFM’
  • Plugin: EQ3 7-Band; Preset: Telephone-1
  • Gain: +6dB

Audio 6

  • Track: ‘a breath’ (stereo)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio 1.5 – reduced to half speed
  • Plugin: AIR Reverb; Preset: Cathedral
  • Gain: -6dB

Audio 7

  • Track: ‘traffic’ (right channel only)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio 1.5
  • Gain: +8.6dB

Master Fader

  • Plugin:AIR Reverb; Preset: Basic Medium

Finally, I applied a little reverb to all the sounds by adding the Reverb plugin to the Master Fader, and using the ‘Medium sized room’ preset. This has helped to gel them together and sound like they are all in the same acoustic space. The finished Soundscape was output as an MP3 audio file.

It’s amazing to think this soundscape has been made out of a handful of very ordinary sounds.

An exercise in listening

One of the most memorable sound effects I can still hear even now, is the twang of the swinging door of the dining room in the hotel in Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953). A very distinct sound, caused by people walking through as it swings back and forth, closing with a whoomp. Sound effects like this help bring a film to life by building a sound picture of the story space.

Space 1: Attic office


  • ticking clock
  • passing cars
  • room ‘tone’ (?)

This space gives the impression of being a quiet room. The ticking clock adds to the atmosphere of the room, giving a strong sense of place. I had not expected to hear the sound of cars passing on the main road outside the estate. This shows clearly how no room is totally silent. I was also aware of some kind of room ‘tone’. This shows it that there is always some kind of background sound in a room, however quiet it might seem.

Space 2: Woods and stream, beside Edmondstown Road


  • water flowing
  • traffic – cars and lorries
  • a dog barking
  • breaks squeaking
  • birds
  • aeroplane

Surprisingly loud background sounds. Although varied, they were predominantly cars and lorries. Standing in the woods beside the stream, I had expected to be surrounded by woodland sounds (water, trees, birds). But, with the headphones on, I was surprised to hear how loud the road sounds were. Our brain filters out certain sounds, depending on our perception of the place in which we are standing.

This has been a very useful exercise, for several reasons.

It has shown me that every location comes with its own range of background sounds. Some expected, others not. That it is important to listen carefully to the sound space of a location in order to get a full picture of the place I would like to portray on film.

It has also shown me that relying solely on an ‘atmos’ track may not be the best thing to do, as it may contain sound elements that are irrelevant to the picture or are simply just distracting. A sound space is designed. This requires the recording of separate sound effects, that will then be manipulated in post-production to create the desired effect on the viewer’s experience of the film.

Field recording with the Rode i-XY

To get great sound you need three things:

  1. Good microphone capsules.
  2. The ability to provide enough ‘gain’ to the microphone capsules, so that they can record an accurate representation of the original waveform.
  3. High quality analog to Digital (A/D) conversion, so that the fidelity of the source sound is preserved when it is saved in a digital format.

Combining an iPhone6 with the Rode i-XY cardioid condenser microphone attachment integrates all three of these things into a pocket sized high fidelity field recorder.


Rode i-XY stereo microphone

The Rode i-XY is a professional grade stereo microphone designed for the iPhone, with the ability to record at 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution. It uses a matched pair of 1/2 inch cardioid condenser capsules, fixed in a 90 degree ‘near-coincident’ alignment. Which results in immersive, true-to-life recordings that are captured in extremely high detail.

The theory behind recording stereo sound seems quite straightforward. There are several approaches to recording stereo sound, one of which is the X/Y technique used by the Rode i-XY.

Fig.1 XY pair

The X/Y setup is known as a coincidence stereo technique, in which two microphones are arranged with the capsules positioned at the same point. The most common X/Y set-up consists of two cardioid microphones positioned at 90 degrees to produce the stereo image.

Cardioid microphones are directional, so the two capsules point in different directions to the left and right of the immediate area to capture the stereo field. The stereo image is not as wide as a spaced pair of microphones, but it is a simple and effective setup.

As it’s true X/Y stereo pattern allows you to record exactly what you hear, it is particularly suited to capturing high resolution sound effects and stereo ambience.

The input levels are set using the Rode Rec app, which is quite straightforward to use.

However, I am unable to work out how to monitor the recording with headphones. So, although the Rode i-XY records amazing sound, my preferred method of recording sound remains my SoundDevices 633 mixer/recorder.


List of references

Rode (n.d.) ‘Stereo Microphone techniques’ At: (Accessed on 10 October 2018).

Sound Training College (2017) ‘Stereo recording techniques’ At: (Accessed on 10 October 2018).


List of illustrations

Fig.1 XY pair, ‘Stereo recording techniques’ At: (Accessed on 10 October 2018).