How do I Become a Foley Artist?
There are a couple of different paths a person can follow to become a Foley artist, but in almost all cases the job is one that takes time and a lot of background work to break into. You’ll probably need to start as an intern or assistant in a sound production company, and with time you can work your way up to positions of more responsibility and creative license. It’s also really important to hone your networking skills; selling yourself to influential players in the field and getting your name known by those with clout is often one of the best ways to get started. Even people with a lot of natural skill usually start at much lower levels and work to gain industry respect and make a name for themselves. Some schools offer technical degrees in sound engineering and audio technology, and this sort of training is often helpful. It isn’t likely to be definitive, though. The field is usually intensely competitive, and success is often as much about your selling strategy and your identity with producers and directors as it is with your skill level and expertise.
Job Basics and History
Foley artists are highly skilled sound technicians and editors who produce special effects to re-create sounds that the production microphones fail to pick up during filming. Sound effects range from the mundane to the sublime, and enhance the story by building tension, creating atmosphere, and heightening emotion. From the whisper of the wind to a violent storm, the sounds of a Foley artist’s work permeate a film, yet few viewers are consciously aware of the effects.
The profession takes its name from Jack Foley, a sound engineer from the early days of the film industry. Foley pioneered the use of props and other tools to create and record sounds that were missed while the cameras rolled, adding the sounds to the final soundtrack later on. His legendary work includes using a rocking chair to simulate the sound of a tentative foot on a creaking stair, and the rattle of a key chain to mimic the sound of a manacled prisoner.
Study Existing Work
Paying attention to an already-filmed sequences and studying the work of leaders in the field is often one of the first things you should do when considering a career in sound design; this isn’t necessarily a tangible skill, but it will give you good insight into what technicians can do and the sorts of tasks you’ll need to be able to execute. Usually, the process involves two steps: the sound effects must be designed and recorded, then they are must be dubbed into seamless synchronization with the action.
Look For Ways to Break Into the Field
Once you have a sense of what the job entails, you’ll want to start building your resume. It isn’t always possible to become a Foley artist right away, and you should be prepared to begin in much lower roles in sound and audio engineering. Serving as an intern or production assistant are common positions for those just getting their start. Volunteering at a cable television station or looking for work on the sound crew at a commercial radio station can also be good strategies, and don’t necessitate moving to or living in a motion picture hub like Los Angeles.
Unless you have solid connections in the field already, it’s likely that you’ll be starting in an entry-level role that may not involve much creativity or actual sound engineering. Gaining experience and building a solid reputation are two of the best ways to advance to the ranks of senior film editors or producers, though.
Another advantage to these more menial and basic jobs is that they often put you into close contact with directors and other influential players in the field. These people are often instrumental when it comes to getting a job as an actual sound engineer.
Importance of Networking
Networking and meeting as many people as you can in the field is also usually a really important part of success. Sometimes networking happens on the job, as you engage and interface with others around you and on production sets. It can also be a good idea to seek out opportunities to meet people. Those with a lot of influence and who are in important roles already are of course valuable contacts, but casting as wide a net as possible is often the best advice. Make yourself and your work known to others at your level or a bit above; you never know when friendships and professional acquaintances can lead to job prospects and inside information about openings. Just one break is often all it takes to set you on a trajectory to success.
Training and Certification Options
You don't typically need a college degree to become a Foley artist, but the most successful people in the field often have some formal technical training or hold certificates in broadcast technology, electronics, or computer networking. Some are also graduates of music or art programs.
Since most sound editing is done on computers, you will need to be comfortable working with information technology if you want to become a Foley artist. Manipulating electrical and mechanical equipment should not be strange to you. This is a field where it is critical to keep abreast of the latest technological advances.
I am looking for a foley artist or someone training to be one who lives in CT. We are starting up an Old Time Radio Troupe in the Hartford, CT area and will begin rehearsals this fall for a live Christmas show. Please let me know if there is anyone who would be interested in joining us! --Susan S.
If you wanted to get some college experience preparing you for being a Foley artist, what sort of program would you enter into? The article just mentions music or art.
I know when I was in college, they had a pretty good theater and performing arts department. I was wondering if maybe someone might be able to get a degree like that that would at least expose them to certain production techniques and things.
The other thing I was thinking, too, is that some places have sound engineering programs like where you learn how to produce music albums. That might also be a useful degree. You would definitely have a lot of experience with editing sounds into different types of tracks.
I really like getting DVDs and watched the extra features that come with them. For a lot of movies, especially animated films, there will be a special section showing how the Foley artists made a lot of the different sounds that showed up in the movie. It is really neat to see what they come up with.
Along the same lines, I love some of the sound effects in the old cartoons like Looney Tunes and Disney. I think my all time favorite would have to be the bongos playing when someone is trying to run.
I bet it would be really difficult to match the timing with a lot of those sound effects, too.
@jmc88 - I know I saw a documentary one time about how Foley artists make a lot of the sounds in movies. I remember for punching noises, they actually used pieces of meat and slapped them or threw them down on a table or something. Thunder was a pretty easy one, they just shook a piece of sheet metal.
I think a lot of being successful in a job like this would be having the ability to come up with ideas that no one before you has used. Production companies are always looking to get the most bang for their buck. If someone can make the same types of noises with less expensive things or reuse certain props, I'm sure they would be favored over someone else.
I always see the term foley artist at the end of movies, but I never really knew what one was. It sounds like it would be a really fun job if you could get it.
I'm curious what some of the other sound effects a foley artist might use in a movie. What about when someone is getting punched or falling down or something?
@JessicaLynn - I've never heard of this job either. But I'm not in the audio industry, so I guess that doesn't mean much!
It makes a ton of sense though. Imagine how weird movies would sound without all the "everyday" noises! No footsteps, no keys jingling in a pocket...I think it would really distract from the movie.
I also never realized the camera doesn't pick all that stuff up. I guess because Foley artists have been doing their jobs all these years!
I've never heard of this job, and my boyfriend is in the audio industry! I guess that's just another testament to the fact that this job is pretty difficult to get.
It's funny that the article said it's easier to get an entry level position in a smaller area. When I was reading the beginning of this article, I was thinking a person might have to go somewhere like LA to work as a Foley artist.
I guess I was only thinking about movies though. As the article pointed out, a Foley artist could definitely work for a radio station. And radio stations are all over!
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