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Foley with children


Foley is a funny term but all it is, is the reproduction of everyday sounds for use in filmmaking or for radio.

The term Foley was named after Jack Foley who  began what this art in the twenties. He had started working with Universal Studios in 1914 during the silent movie era, but talkies soon came.  Foley then became part of the sound crew that would turn Universal’s then upcoming “silent” musical Show Boat into the musical that it is known as today. Because the microphones used for filming could not pick up more than dialogue, other sounds had to be added in after the film was shot. Foley and his small crew would project the film on a screen while recording a single track of audio that would capture their live sound effects in real time.This was not so different from what was done to the silents except the sound artists had to be  at the film’s screening. An early print shows how it was done then.

Jack Foley created sounds for films until his death in 1967. His methods are still employed today.Foley artists look to recreate the  sounds that the film portrays.

Creating Foley is a lot of fun and can be added to any silent film you can find. My people created the sound for three short Buster Keaton films last year and discovered what a genius he was, and how funny. Below I have given a list of noise makers that give effective sounds and where you can get them.

  1. Fire    Crinkle cellophane
  2. Horses hooves    Coconut shells cut in half and stuffed with padding 
  3. Birds flapping    A pair of rubber gloves flapped
  4.  Sliding Door    A  skate board rolled down a length of aluminium then hitting a door stopper.
  5.  Ocean   Churning a bucket of water with the mike held close
  6. Thunder   Large balloons containing metal bearings shaken close to a mike.
  7. Sword fight   Two garden trowels hit together
  8. Crowd noises   Cue cards which tell the audience the sound that is needed
  9. Brake screech   Sheet of glass in a box on which you pull a large nail across
  10. Falling body   A telephone book wrapped in gaffer tape, then dropped.
  11. Footsteps   A pair of leather shoes on your hands and walk  across a wooden table
  12. Winches etc.   Toy ratchet
  13. Creaking door   Cotton rope rubbed with rosin and wrapped tightly around a dowel.
  14. Drowning   Bubbles blown through a straw in a glass of water
  15. Gunshot   Flicking a clip on a clip board

There are lots more things you can make to imitate real sounds, just keep your ears open but the most important and possibly the most fun sound effect device is the crash box. This is used for every type of accident from car and train crashes to medieval warfare. This you can easily make.

Take a large empty tin with a lid like a large billy.put in one broken ceramic coffee mug, one crushed aluminum can, a few pennies, a few screws, one piece of wood (about the size of a fist), and two handfuls of pea-sized gravel. Tape the lid shut with gaffer tape—around the seam. Keep the lid on tight or the junk or its soon-to-be fine dust will leak out. Don’t use glasses or wine bottles because they powderize too much. Ceramic coffee mugs are sturdier. Experiment with crash sounds, you can roll, shake or just drop the box. It all sounds different.

Look at an example of real life foley being produced in a studio


Now select your silent movie, and have fun!

The Moving Picture Show

State Theatre Proscenium Arch

State Theatre Main Staircase










Modern cinemas are noted for being small black boxes with the walls draped in cloth and low ceilings all for focussing on the front screen and a clearly hearing the dialogue broadcast from carefully positioned speakers. This was not so during the silent era. It was just stepping out from vaudeville and the theatre itself was as much part of the experience as what was on the screen – just look at the State Theatre in Sydney where our music came from. The films were accompanied by live music and live acts and sing a longs were interposed between films to rest patrons eyes. A whole show could go for hours and was run by the leader of the orchestra or MC in big theatres. I have been studying early cinema practice and working in the National Library on their collection of film music from the State Theatre Sydney to reproduce an authentic silent film experience for a modern audience. For this I have a film orchestra as would have been used in the time that has helped to develop the show. Many of these musicians are also expert in the jazz of that era as most comedies were accompanied by popular numbers I also have a Foley – sound effects person as was used in the big theatres. This experience is what we want to give modern people a touch of, Sydney cinema of the 1920s.