How Sound Editing Works

The Role of the Sound Editor

Background noises might interfere with the actors' lines. Here, Tom Hanks works on the set of "Angels and Demons."
Background noises might interfere with the actors' lines. Here, Tom Hanks works on the set of "Angels and Demons."
Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

The sound editor’s job begins once the movie has been filmed and all the dialogue has been recorded. This is called the audio post production stage of filmmaking. During postproduction, the director works with various editors to choose the best shots to include in the final cut of the film. This is also when all special effects are added. The sound editor’s responsibilities are to prepare all dialogue, background sounds, sound effects and music for the final mix.

The first step is editing and cleaning up the dialogue. When shooting on film, sound is usually recorded separately using a digital audio recorder. Once the director decides to include a certain take or shot in the movie, the sound editor needs to locate the right audio for that take. After making sure that it matches or syncs with the picture, the sound editor carefully removes any extraneous background noises from the dialogue, like a jet flying overhead or a dog barking.

Sometimes the background noise is so bad that a piece of recorded dialogue is unusable. Or sometimes the director decides to replace a line of dialogue because he thought of a better one later. Now the sound editor needs to do something called automated dialogue replacement, where the actor or actors are brought into a special studio where they sync the new dialogue with the original picture [source:].

Once the dialogue is finalized, it’s time for sound effects. On bigger productions, a sound-effects designer handles this. There are three different types of sound effects in film: background effects, hard effects and Foley effects [source:]. We’ll talk more about each of these effects in the next section.

The last part of the sound editor’s job is to work with the music editor or soundtrack composer to choose the right moments for original music or preexisting songs. The sound editor prepares clean versions of all of these audio tracks so they can be added into the final mix.

So what are some of the tricks and techniques that sound editors use to create unique sound effects? Read on to find out.