The Magic Of Sound

An appreciation of sound is often overlooked in video production. Wrongly viewed as playing second fiddle to the visual, a good quality soundscape can lift your choice of shots  and create a more compelling narrative. A poor soundscape will distract your audience from the story and at worst make them click away.

There are three core elements that make up the full soundtrack to a video.

  • Things people say

  • Sound Effects

  • Music

Let’s look at each of these turn:

Things people say

Your script or questions determine what people will say. You need to have authentic, easy to understand messages that are concise and interesting.  How well your on-screen talent communicates will confer different emotions, feelings of honesty and entertainment value.

To hit all these marks, take time to select the right on screen or voice talent and direct them appropriately on set.  Think of how different people can tell the same joke with different results.

When recording sound you need high quality mics as close as possible to your source to get a clean, high quality audio recording. There are lots of different mics for different situations, learn when and how to use them. Background noise and reverb is your enemy. Wherever possible check out your location beforehand so you know what to expect and have the tools and time to deal with it. Large hall giving you echo, you need sound blankets. Air conditioning unit playing havoc with your interview, turn it off!

Sound Effects

We naturally hear sound effects all the time. Our brain has an innate ability to tune out various background sounds and respond to more immediate ones. Think of the sound of distant traffic vs. a screaming baby in the next room and you get the picture.

Sound effects and background noise can bring realism, context and emotional punch to your video. If you’re opening on a beautiful forest landscape, the sound of birds or trees swaying in the wind will take us deeper into the world.  If a graphic or animated effect pops up you might have a “swoosh” or a “pop” to augment the movement and travel of the element.

There are many useful sites to find good royalty free sounds but it can be a lot of fun to create your own, in the film industry this is known as foley sound.

Music

Arguably one of the hardest things to get right in your soundscape is the music. Good editors spend a lot of time trying to find the right track to fit the narrative, pace and tone of the video. Of course videos don’t have to have a music track but if you omit music this needs to be motivated. For example you might have some awe inspiring spoken word or incredible natural sound effects to drive the narrative and additional music might prove to be a distraction.

Most often though and especially with short online videos music will be needed to help grab your audience’s attention, drive your story and keep your audience engaged.

When selecting music you have two choices - buy a stock music track from a site or have a professional musician compose something for you. The former is cheaper but the latter can if done well literally be a perfect fit for your video.

Note you should always check you have the rights to use the music and it should be labelled as “royalty free” for online use. You should always provide credit to the artist when using their track this is called “attribution” unless specified that this is not applicable. Creative commons has a great explainer on the different licensing types out there for different media.

Choosing the right music track takes time so be careful to avoid well trodden ground and tropes. A lot of music labelled as “corporate” can have a bland quality to the feel of piece with overuse of upbeat “plucky” guitars and ukuleles.  Find an instrument that fits, pay attention to the speed (BPM - Beats per Minute) and length of the track so it fits your narrative.

Sonic idents or “jingles” also form part of your soundscape. This is essentially a jingle or sound effect that introduces a brand logo, designed to remind you of the experience you've had with that brand, which is hopefully a positive one. Think “mmm Danon”, the little whistle from Mcdonalds or “Boing te boing, boom boom…” from Cbeebies and you get the idea. They help make your videos more consistent, memorable and unify video content across different channels.

Next time you’re planning a video, have a think about the three elements of your soundscape and decide on the best use of each element to strengthen your narrative and make your video more memorable.

Your audience will love you for it.

Why do we watch movies?

 For the past century movies have played a significant role within our lives. Whether you’re looking for some easy entertainment to pass the time, see the next ‘biggest film of the year’ or taking your partner on a date. People often imply that a movies whole purpose is to just entertain, but is that entirely true?

Movies allow us to explore our minds -- to experience and feel things we wouldn’t normally feel within the real world, to escape reality. It’s not every day you’re going to be caught up in a car chase down a military runway (Fast & Furious 6), getting hunted in the woods by a psychopath wielding a machete (Friday 13th), or be enlightened by romance (When Harry met Sally).

Think about that time when you tried to decide what movie you were going to stream, you flicked through every page of every genre to pick out movies you were interested in. How did you decide on the film? Flip a coin – doubtful. You more than likely thought to yourself and questioned “What do I feel like?”, “What worlds can I explore?”. We watch films to feel something – love, fear, escape, peril...

Social network1.png
Social network.png

Most directors will tell you that their job is not to entertain others, but to tell a story.  Let's talk about David Fincher, someone I really admire. One of his traits to impact a viewer's feeling is the use of camera angles. The Social Network follows this within the opening scene of the film, we’re shown Mark Zuckerberg and Erica Albright positioned in a narrow field of view to show us their relationship with one another. As the scene moves forward Erica ends the relationship with Mark, then the shot becomes wider justifying the distance between the two characters. The final shot of the scene we see Mark sat by himself, the camera still holding the wide shot.

In short, the use of different camera techniques helps us feel the disconnection between the two characters, but as it’s subconscious we don’t realise this initially which is the hallmark of a great director.

I went to go see Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the day of release with high anticipation (as I’m sure many others did), however, as I’m sat there trying to engage with the action I couldn’t help but feel “I like it but I'm not enjoying it... Its Star Wars I should enjoy it! Wait am I watching a Star Wars film?” The codes and conventions of Star Wars were there but it just felt as though I was being forced to feel something that wasn’t on the screen. Moments where emotion were intended as part of the scene felt as though it was being forced upon me.

When walking out of the cinema I felt disappointed, because I didn’t feel any empathy for the characters due to a lack of emotion. There is also a lot of historical baggage with Star Wars - we, the fans set our expectations too high, when a new film is released we’re quick to criticise it against the previous instalments.

Often we are told how to feel something about a particular film, not by the story but by the marketing. We all understand the meaning behind ‘hype’, and we’ve all been caught up in it at some point. Trailers play a significant role with this and push marketing to the limits to make us feel as though we need to watch the ‘next big thing’. A good example  of this is the recent film Meg where the hype of trailer far exceeds the quality of the film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsLk0NPRFAc

People go to watch the movies to feel and to escape from reality, movies transport us to a different time, place or situation we may never be able to experience. The emotions we feel when we’re engaged by a movie is what makes us come back for more.

So, when you’re next thinking about commissioning a film or a video ask yourself what do you want your audience to feel?

We’ve rebranded, so what’s in a name?

What is a name worth…nothing and everything. 

Independently a name is worth nothing - it’s just letters and words on a page. But a name is infused with power by the meaning we give it - through our values, experiences and associations. That’s why I felt it time to change our name as we’ve grown - moving from a solely freelance model to something with scale. A name that better represents us in the marketplace and reflect our values but still keep our brand heritage. Little Dragon Films has become DragonLight Films. 

Why a dragon you may ask? Well, the dragon origin comes from my formative years spent living in China, my Chinese birth animal is the snake or in China known as the “Little Dragon”. The dragon is one of the world’s most ancient symbols and in Eastern culture is associated with good fortune, wisdom, strength and benevolence - values we aspire to.

Light is what filmmakers use to illuminate a scene and much like an artist's paintbrush, light evokes feeling, tone, depth and aesthetic quality. Light as a metaphor is also powerful in that we shed light on a subject and so reveal it, a big aspiration for us is to take on more challenging documentary projects and reveal things hidden to our audiences. 

So, we’ve joined these two ideas together to form Dragonlight Films, a corporate and documentary film production company. 

We are really honored to work in film - no two days are the same. We get to discover all these wonderful organisations, interview experts, uncover truths and tell stories that change the way people think and feel through film. In the last year alone we collectively created over a million views on YouTube for our corporate clients and audiences, produced dozens of corporate films and released three documentary films. We’re also passionate about using video to educate and are currently producing the world's largest video-based genomics course for the Wellcome Genome Campus on the FutureLearn platform.

Here are some nice things our clients recently said about us: 

We hired Colin to do a short video that would have a big impact for our charity. He exceeded our expectations. Colin was extremely professional and creative in his approach. We are delighted with the outcome and have had lots of positive feedback about it. I wholeheartedly recommend Colin and am happy to speak to anyone who'd like to know more. 

-- Nick Sireau, Chair and Co-founder, OCD Research Partnership

Colin worked with us on a project that marked the culmination of a three year cultural change programme. He did an excellent job of interpreting the brief, thoughtfully interviewing staff and producing two great films that were very well received. I’d happily recommend DragonLight Films.

 -- Anthony King, Head of Programme, Cambridge English

DragonLight Films played an integral role in ensuring the success of our new Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences and FutureLearn programme of online biomedicine and genomics courses. Guiding our leading-edge researchers through recordings and filming, Colin and his team produced a suite of high-quality multimedia and video elements - that are central to our courses. More than 7,000 international learners accessed our genomics education and hands-on bioinformatics training in just two months.  Rates of completion are exceptional! We are all thrilled with these outcomes. Many thanks to Colin and his team for expertly enabling our venture into the realm of multimedia assisted social learning. 

-- Pamela Black, Education Lead, Wellcome Genome Campus 

The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS) worked with Colin and Dragonlight Films on videos for our launch event back in January. Colin was fantastic – professional, easy to work with and put everyone very much at ease on camera. His highlight reel of the event was gorgeous and even left our director with a tear in her eye! We’d highly recommend Dragonlight Films to anyone looking for beautiful, professional videos.

 -- Helen Gardner, Events and Engagement Coordinator, The Healthcare Studies Improvement Institute.

Dragonlight Films have produced a number of films for our clients - software demos, founder interviews and explainer videos. They have a diligent approach to video production - making sure that the business goal for the video is always front and centre - and a calm and reassuring approach that puts people at ease when on camera. 

-- Sue Keogh, Director, Sookio

I’m also pleased to introduce our newest member of staff - Joe Gillett, our new Digital Marketeer. As well as helping out on filming Joe will be carving out a stronger presence for us in social media - sharing production advice, insider video knowledge and behind the scenes updates. Joe works alongside our trusted team of talented freelancers - James Uren - Director/Editor, Jeremy Dawson - camera operator/DoP and Alex Mallinson - Animator extraordinaire. 

We’re also part of the Sookio creative hub, working collaboratively on video projects alongside Sookio who specialize in content marketing strategy. 

Things can and do change, I hope our new name will rally people and projects to our cause and through the power of film create better stories to engage, educate and excite audiences worldwide. 

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Choosing the right video platform for your content

Unless you have the magic viral touch, gone are the days when you could just upload a video to the web, sit back and let the views role in. Too much of video content marketing is a game of throw the sticky man at the window and see if sticks or falls. Chances are you’ve created some amazing content but’s it’s languishing in a buried youtube channel at the bottom of your website. It doesn't have to be this way.

This post is to help you choose the right video platform to share your content BEFORE you create it. Thereby optimizing your production choices and making it more likely to be viewed and shared by your target audience.

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Inside Out and the power of emotion in film

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