Sound Design: Expect the Unexpected: Swapping Sounds Using Everyday Items by Bryant Falk

Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, April 2007. Sound Design: Expect the Unexpected: Swapping Sounds Using Everyday Items by Bryant Falk. Pages 46- 47.

A lot of times when we watch movies we accept that what we hear is coming from what we see on the screen. More times than not, this isn’t the case. A lot of items we see on the screen don’t make either enough sound or the right sound to work on the big screen. It’s amusing to find out what items are used in the recording studio to create a larger than life sound.

One example was when I had to sound design a scene in a busy barber shop. There was lots of background noise and music. A regular comb on someone’s head just didn’t cut through. But a medium paintbrush on a piece of acoustic foam did the trick.

When shooting a scene your principle actor’s dialogue should really be the most important item to capture. They will be the hardest to get back into the studio and the most difficult to re-sync. Most times, items on location are padded so as not to make any noise. It is expected they will be built in the Foley Studio.

Another unique trick is the Zippo lighter. I found when slammed closed and pitched down slightly it can make an excellent shutting sound for a six shooter after it’s been loaded.

Keep in mind you don’t have to use the complete sound of an object. One part of a mouse click, (when you lift your finger off) works great as a switch to turn off an old TV or fan.

Some of the greatest sounds can be found in the most unexpected places. I once dropped a handful of plumbing pipes down a stairwell to re-create a sci-fi robot’s internal systems coming to pieces.

Here is a short list of items I keep in the studio to create a number of foley effects. I’ve also mentioned one or two uses for each, but there are many more sounds you can re-create using the items listed below.

Everyday Items


1. Zippo lighter ‘Open’ and ‘Close’

2. Paintbrush Brushing hair; wiping shirts or pants

3. Different sizes of wood Door knocks; foot falls

4. Pen Caps, placed in a glass with water ‘Ice’

5. Leather strap Swooshing sounds; jackets

6. Post-It note pad Deck of cards; birds

7. Gaffers tape Ripping clothing

8. Walkie-talkies Intercom systems

9. Transistor radio Interference; ‘On’ and ‘Off’

10. Keys

Jewelry; scratch sounds

I’ve only touched the tip of the Foley iceberg here, but hope this helps expand your possibilities for when it comes time to sound design your next project. Also remember that close miking an object can create many more nuances to the sound. Ever listen to the sound of a wet soapy sponge close up? You might be surprised!

Bryant Falk has been a producer and engineer for over 12 years working with such clients as The Ricki Lake Show, Coca-Cola, Sports Illustrated, Valley National Bank, and MTV’s The Shop. His company Abacus Audio handles many aspects of the audio production field from creative and production to mixing and final output.