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October 18, 2019

Artist Q&A: Chris Szott on Being a Foley Artist

Foley is the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film and video.

From a young age, Chris Szott was interested in music and sound. He got into music production in college, but it wasn’t until an internship in Belgium that he discovered Foley, the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film and video. Avenue spoke with him about being a freelance Foley artist for almost three years, and now running Little Hook Sound, the only Foley stage in Alberta, with mixer Isael Huard.

 

How did Foley start?

It originated with a guy named Jack Foley, who was working for Universal [Pictures] around 1927. The first film that included sound effects was The Jazz Singer. But it wasn’t until they were filming the Show Boat in 1929, that they realized they needed specially crafted sound effects, so they asked for a volunteer and Jack offered to do footsteps and sounds with the practical props that he had at his disposal. And then it just turned from like, this is Jack’s room to this is Foley’s room, to this is the Foley stage.

 

How did you get into it?

I had a childhood interest in how sound effects were made — seeing the DVD behind the scenes of movies, people punching cabbage for fight scenes or whatever. But I never really put it together that that’s something I could do as a career. But, after Belgium, I was kind of enamoured and obsessed with Foley and just consumed as much as I could online. I started emailing and cold calling Foley artists, and one of them was Andy Malcolm out of Uxbridge, Ontario. He’s kind of the king of Foley in North America, and he offered me an apprenticeship for six months.

 

It seems like an odd profession.

Yeah, it’s weird and wacky. And it’s really physical too. It’s the only job in the post-production process where you’re not necessarily sitting at a computer all the time. But it’s a totally different level of creativity, which I found really appealing, and it’s a total art form. The best I can equate it to is learning a new instrument, and that new instrument is your body, because you’re learning how to move in ways so that you’re not breathing, or your knees are not cracking.

 

What makes a good Foley artist?

It takes the right kind of person who’s got the right kind of training, like musically or with a dance background who wants to do it. Then it takes at least six months for them to wrap their head around what good Foley is and what they shouldn’t be doing. And just the ear — it’s like training for a musician. Something as simple as pouring a cup of water — you need to know what container the water’s in, and the temperature of the water. What is the glass shape? How fast are they pouring? It’s all these layers that you have to break apart and then put back together.

 

What are your favourite sounds to make?

If we’re working on a project, and there’s a lot of gore, we will usually wait till the end of the project and have a big gore session. So I’ll go buy carrots and watermelons and we just make a big mess smashing stuff.

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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