Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Have you ever watched the Academy Awards and thought, “What is the difference between ‘Sound Editing’ and ‘Sound Mixing’?” Those awards are often given to the same movie, and the difference is never really explained in the ceremony.
Well, if you have had that question, Making Waves is the perfect movie for you. It takes you through the history of sound design in film, and all the elements of the sound design process. Featured are insights from trailblazers of the industry—Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, and Gary Rydstrom—as well as insights from seminal film directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Barbra Streisand.
I learned so much in this documentary that I wish it could have been a documentary series, with several episodes I could gobble up. They fit a lot into 94 minutes, but I found myself wanting it to go on for hours. I saw a preview screening of it at the Tribeca Film Festival, and as soon as it was over, I was excited to write my review.
Making Waves covers King Kong, Singin’ in the Rain, Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, Star Wars, and many more. At every stage, I got excited because some of my favorite movies were being discussed. And it made me love them even more because I was learning about the hard work and artistry that went into even just their sound. I was also learning about why they were groundbreaking. For example, did you know Apocalypse Now was the first film to feature surround sound? Moviegoers were blown away as they heard, for the first time, the sound of a helicopter go from back right, to back left, to front left, to front right.
The only weak point of the film is the insufficient coverage of film music—which is understandable because that is a big enough topic to warrant a documentary of its own. (Still, I didn’t appreciate the shade that the Star Wars creators cast on Forbidden Planet and The War of the Worlds for using synthesizers instead of organic sound effects. Those films were groundbreaking in their use of film music.)
That being said, I adored this documentary from beginning to end. It is clear that it was made by people who truly love movies and their craft. And, indeed, director Midge Costin has, up to this point, only worked in film as a sound designer (on movies like Armageddon, Con Air, and The Rock). Her passion for her work and for cinema shines throughout Making Waves, so that something which could in other hands be a dull lecture about what goes into making sound becomes in her hands an enthralling overture to film appreciation. It is a celebration of film as much as it is an exploration of the art of cinematic sound, one that invites as well as explains.
For more information on the project and to view the trailer, check out the kickstarter page.