Dear Filmmaker

Posted by SHM Pro Audio on

Dear filmmaker,

I write in sheer concern for our future as our destinies are interwoven one way or another, whether we choose to admit it or not. There is a lot to learn from our western counterparts who have mastered the art of film-making and turned it into a million dollar industry, however, this letter will focus on just one aspect.

Nigeria is a hard country for creatives and the lackadaisical approach of the government towards developing other sectors of the economy besides oil and gas has made things even worse. Funding is no doubt an issue and young practitioners in the artistic sphere have had to use whatever they can gather to make whatever they can. This has been the story for a long time and whatever solutions this letter proffers, they were made with this fact in mind.

As a sound engineer and music producer, I've had a couple of of indigenous movies (feature length and short films) brought to my studio for mixing and mastering or scoring or both. At the cinemas too I get to watch locally made films and while some are impressive, a lot still fall short in one fundamental aspect, SOUND. So I came up with this simple formula/analogy:

Assuming the story is the same,

Good picture + Bad sound = Bad movie

Average picture + Good sound = Good movie

Good picture + Good sound = Great movie!

This is so because a movie that will be highly praised is one that can capture the attention of the viewers for a good chunk of the movie's duration. Bad sound distracts. It makes the viewer uncomfortable and lose focus or struggle to maintain focus on the film. This is an exhausting experience, not a captivating one; an experience most viewers will term "a bad movie" no matter how crisp the pictures are. The sound is the soul of the picture, the emotion of the film.

Based on my experience so far, here are my own two cents as regards the way forward:

  • Filmmakers should allocate more money to sound when drafting a film budget. Too often, finances for sound hardly exceed 5% of the overall budget.
  • Prevention is better than cure, an experienced sound engineer should capture clean and audible sounds on set, instead of depending on post production to remedy noisy or poorly recorded audio.
  • Additional dialogue recording (ADR) in a studio and foley design should be practiced more in the film industry.
  • Good work usually takes time, don't rush audio production, pre or post. As a rule of thumb, the more time spent on pre production, the easier and consequently lesser time spent on post production. 
  • A good way to save cost is to leave out musical scoring of the film; clean dialogue and a well designed soundscape properly mixed is enough to bring a picture to life.
  • If the movie must be scored, original music scores made by indigenous composers, musicians and producers should be used. Using stock or free sound tracks and patronising composers abroad will not allow our industry grow.

The film industry has the potential to be a significant employer of labour, the end credits of Hollywood movies say it all. Yes the financial constraints are real, but if one cannot recognize the need for quality sound in a movie production, then stunt doubles, VFX, 3D integration and other production elements are but a distant dream.

Dear filmmaker, we need each other to thrive, let's join hands to make our film industry a robust and vibrant one.

Yours sincerely,

Chidi 'Yung Tite' Nnadi

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