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The Indie Filmmaker’s Guide to Foley and Audio Mixing

Michael Maher

Check out this comprehensive guide for working with audio in post-production. Learn about foley art, syncing audio, mixing, and more.

All images and video via The Film Look.

In the original Indie Filmmaker’s Guide to Recording Audio, the guys at The Film Look covered topics like audio levels, microphone position, room tone, and capturing wild takes. You can read more and watch the first five episodes here.

In the remaining episodes of this series, The Film Look will talk about working with audio in post — specifically, capturing foley and mixing sound. Let’s dive in.

Capture the Perfect SFX in Post with Foley

Foley is the reproduction of sound effects in post-production. It mixes in time-specific sounds, like making sure a tap sounds just as a finger hits a table. Mixing in foley is part of a true cinematic experience.

The Indie Filmmaker's Guide to Foley and Mixing Audio — Foley

If you don’t have a quiet room to record foley, find a space where you can hang some sound blankets and cloth to dampen sound. Then, grab an assortment of props to use to create sounds. Remember, you don’t have to use the exact same dishes or props as you saw on set. You are looking to create the perfect sound; it doesn’t have to be an accurate one.

You will need a way to play back a scene so you can time the sound effects, so be sure to have a monitor, laptop, or phone nearby. Then it’s just a matter of recording foley with the right timing.

Remember, if you didn’t capture a wild take or can’t recreate a specific sound in foley, you can always browse SFX libraries for additional noises.

For more on foley work, check out these videos and articles.

Organize Audio Clips and Sync Sound with Footage

After shooting and recording foley, you’ll have plenty of audio to work with from dialogue, sound effects, and music. With all these different files, it’s important to make sure you organize all your clips and tracks so you can sync them.

To keep things in order, you’ll need a solid folder structure. You can create your own or just download some free programs that will create folders structures for you. The Film Look has also provided their own Premiere Pro folder structure that you can download here.

You will then see them import and rename all of their footage based on the name of the take. Then you can start syncing footage either by using a program like PluralEyes or syncing it yourself in Premiere Pro.

For more on syncing audio and footage, check out these articles:

Editing and Mixing Audio

Once you’ve organized, synced, and edited your project, you are ready to start mixing. First, adjust the volume on your machine. This will give you a reference point for how your final video should sound, so you will have a rough idea of how low to mix SFX compared to dialogue.

The Indie Filmmaker's Guide to Foley and Audio Mixing — Mixing Audio

Here are a few level ranges to keep in mind while mixing:

  • Dialogue between -6dB and -24 dB
  • Hard foley -5dB to -25dB
  • Soft foley below room tone up to -7dB 
  • Ambience will depend on room tone — shouldn’t be overpowering

Room tone is also important to avoid dead silence. Be sure to match to the levels of room tone silence recorded on set. If some parts of the dialogue are hard to hear, or too loud, you can use keyframes to raise or lower the volume of specific dialogue. While cutting dialogue and SFX, fade in and out of clips to avoid harsh peaks. Finally, layer a variety of SFX not only for practical onscreen noises but also to emphasize emotions.

The Final Scene

If you are curious how all of this played out from recording audio to the final mix, you can see the final scene here.

Now that you’ve seen everything from recording audio to mixing, you can enjoy this final behind-the-scenes look at the whole process.

Did you enjoy this series? Want more like this? Let us know in the comments below.

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