Foley Artists: The Noise Experts

What we hear on film and television isn’t always what it seems. A visit to a foley – with lots of surprises

Goldberg, a town with 3,400 inhabitants in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, everything here is snoringly beautiful: old courtyards, lots of greenery, a pleasant neighborhood. And yet you hear about strange things that happen in this place: wild herds of horses roam the countryside and trample everything down, planes crash, people are stabbed in broad daylight. Only nobody has seen it yet.

Walk into Foley Farm in Goldberg.

© Florian Thoss / Barbara

Franziska Treutler, 51, lives in one of the old courtyards. She opens the glass door of the former stables, which have been converted into living space. “Welcome to Foley Farm,” she says. Some corners of the house look like a “Schöner Wohnen” photo backdrop, others like a shell. A Foley artist area is being created on a total of 1000 square meters. Currently it is still mostly a construction site and the origin of the strange events, all of which only took place in the recording studio. Because Foley Artists set sounds to music for films, series, computer or radio plays. They are named after Jack Foley, who accidentally invented the job. He was working on a silent film for Universal Studios in the 1920s, when Warner Brothers was already releasing the first film with sound. In order to keep up, Foley produced the sounds for the silent film “Show Boat” afterwards.

Foley Farm, 12 p.m.

One of the stars of the scene shuffles through the picture in his pyjamas: Peter Burgis, who introduces himself as Pete. Never heard? Maybe not his name, but his sounds definitely: from the “Harry Potter” films, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Batman Begins”, “”ames Bond 007 – Casino Royale” – just to name a few examples. When asked what he’s particularly proud of, the 60-year-old raves about “Band of Brothers,” a 2001 series set during World War II. “I was able to dive into a completely different world in terms of sound,” he says. He doesn’t mention that he won an Emmy Award for it. Pete excuses his demeanor by saying that he was on the night shift. He and Franziska are currently sharing a studio until everything is finished. The water stage is currently being built, so the concrete mixer is rumbling its rounds. “Whether you’re up to your neck in water or just up to your hips also makes an acoustic difference,” explains Franziska.

A year ago, just after she and her husband Matt bought the property, Pete from London stopped by for a project – and just stayed. Max, 22, from Scotland, has also taken up residence in one of the guest rooms. Together with sound engineer Albi, 31, he takes care of recording the noises.

We usually have five days to produce all the sounds in a film.

For her job, Franziska has a lot of tones in store – in a tubular room, with wooden shelves up to the ceiling. The compartments are crammed with objects. Including many things that are suitable as scrap gnome gifts, but also antiques that make you want to start haggling right away when you see them. Also: cartons of used glass, which is still being recycled here into movie-ready tones – jingle, jingle, clang. One could dawdle in the props for hours, but Franziska has no time to waste. “Usually we have five days to produce all the sounds for a film,” she explains. Ready-made tones from a sound library are only used as a supplement, like a pistol shot or a car door slamming, because each model sounds different. “But scoring an entire film with it would take far too long.” In addition, the feeling is lost: “If a person is tired, they should also put down a cup when they are tired.”

The squeaky “climb out of a bathtub and hold on to the edge” sound isn’t actually on the agenda right now, but Franziska still drags a broken extractor hood over to demonstrate it. For two minutes she rubs and rubs the metal part in different places, shakes her head, moistens her hands with water and strokes them again until she smiles contentedly: “There! I’ve got it.”

Born in Schwerin, she wears a tone-on-tone outfit: black sneakers, black leggings, black sweater. Everything inconspicuous – especially the sound. “Wide trousers would hit the leg and rustle, just like a blouse,” she explains of her work clothes. Because even minimal background noise can spoil a recording. That’s why she has also learned to breathe shallowly and therefore extremely quietly – sometimes she even holds her breath briefly during a recording.

Always looking for noise material

Imitating sounds is an art, consisting of fiddly work, good hearing and creativity. For the sound of a crackling open fire, Franziska uses a bast basket. She fakes steps in the snow with a pillowcase filled with cornmeal. “When I was new to the job, if there was bulky waste on the side of the road, I would often stop to hear how things sounded – and pick up something useful.” It was embarrassing for her children, who are now adults, and it helped Franziska to build up a sound library in her head.

She even looked for sounds in the fresh food department of the supermarket. To do this, she knocked on many types of fruit and stroked vegetables, loaded the shopping trolley with them and continued experimenting at home. And by all accounts, fruit and veg can be pretty damn dangerous: In the film, when someone gets stabbed, the sound usually comes from a knife being rammed into a head of cabbage — and a smack into a sliced ​​melon. “A sound has many levels, you get that by layering, i.e. putting different tones on top of each other. I create the gristle with the cabbage, the melon provides the wet,” explains Franziska. To break someone’s bones with a bang, she grabs fresh sticks of celery.

At every turn

Something everyday is particularly difficult: steps. “It’s important that you don’t tap on one point, then it sounds more real.” Franziska briefly demonstrates how it works: Step left, step right, back left, back right, each time she puts her foot down a little differently. The subsoil also plays a role. In the recording studio she has a choice of different types of stone, from the size of a pebble to the size of a brick, as well as debris, wooden slats and concrete slabs. Don’t forget the shoes! Of course, the woman has a large collection.

If you want to learn the craft of making noise, you have to find someone who can. There is no official training or degree. That’s also why they build Foley Farm: to pass on their knowledge. “I’ve only been working as a Foley Artist for six years, Pete for 30 years. He’s a real bag of tricks, I still learn a lot from him,” says Franziska. She herself previously worked in foley editing, i.e. edited the sounds that others produced on the computer.

Foley Artists: Shelf with bowls

Lucky bowls: This becomes the sound of robot joints.

© Florian Thoss / Barbara

The recording studio looks like a cluttered basement that needs to be cleared out. There is space here for the objects that you need almost every day, glasses, crockery, paper, jewellery. “We need about 300 things per standard film,” she estimates. A black and white film scene is currently being shown on the screen hanging in the studio. “This is from my current project: ‘Vindication Swim’, a biographical drama that will be released in 2022. It’s about the swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, who was the first British woman to cross the English Channel in 1927,” says Franziska. She has clarified that much with the director. Because for many productions, especially for Netflix or Hollywood, absolute confidentiality applies.

The junk of concrete mixers penetrates through the open studio door. Franziska closes the door of the soundproof studio and suddenly everything falls silent. “I love that quiet moment before I start work,” says Franziska. Max has headphones on and is sitting at the computer. She nods to him, he presses play. On screen, the actress is seen with a typewriter on her lap. In the same second in which she begins to type aggressively, Franziska hits the keys hard. That’s it for the silence.

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