Music – Dialogue – Foley by Matthew Slater

I've been paying more attention to soundtracks in TV and especially film lately. Something I've noticed that TV nails on the head and that film lags behind a little is the combination of music, dialogue and foley. In this case MDF is music – the actual soundtrack alongside the film, orchestral themes and motifs; dialogue – the characters talking onscreen, narration if there is any; and foley – the sound effects such as doors slamming and traffic. My beef with films are that there is too much of a focus on putting in music where it’s just not necessary. Let me explain. The focus of a film should be dialogue then foley then music in a 40 / 30 / 30 ratio for most films. TV can get away with more emphasis on dialogue and foley, where any music featured can be incidental at best. Films on the other hand, try to be too epic. Films fall down because there is too much unnecessary music that seems to be put there for the cinematic experience – for home cinema systems with huge speakers to blow you away. This isn't radio where "dead space" is a crime – there is only one medium with radio, sound. Films aren't that reliant on one, singular delivery method, it can let someone else do the talking for a while. For that reason music can take the place of sound effects in a lot of ways, and that’s alright. The problem is that it’s still a story, primarily told through dialogue most of the time and those films always seem to gravitate towards being grand, large scale productions and epic, otherworldly tales. It’s missing that simple, soap-drama moment of silence – of two people, a secret ousted in the kitchen. Complete stillness, tension in the void. There’s no subtlety with films. No chance to digest what just happened, everything is space and gap is treated like it needs to be filled. First and foremost, the dialogue, the actual speech – must be present. It must break through cleanly and clearly without sounding forced. It should still be part of the overall ball of sound. Music is not a necessity for the sound track; it’s an extra – another way of telling the story. If each of the three elements of MDF are narrators, it is important that they can all be heard, and all finish each other’s sentences. It’s about finding the right balance, but more importantly – it’s about telling the story.