I'm currently working on a short film with a lot of gun fighting. I went through and cut all of the gun shots and now I'm working on bullet bys. It would be great if you guys could share any tricks or tips you have learned when cutting bullet bys. There are handguns, assault rifles and a few shotguns.

The obvious first thought is to cut a sound for every gunshot, which seems like a good idea for the most part. However, there are some scenes that have four machine guns firing simultaneously, and a few scenes where there are muzzle flashes every frame. Delivering 80 bys, plus 80 gun shots, bullet casings, body & surface hits plus other fx just feels cluttered, and I don't want to over-deliver to my mixer, especially since this is a VERY low budget short. However, I DO want to deliver a detailed quality edit (duh.)

My thought at a solution is to cut in a lot of bys, and then shift them around so that it sounds full but not too full, almost like creating a musical score. How do you approach scenes like this? Are there any kind of rules for cutting off camera shots, or gunshots at different angles?

Tell me what has worked for you! Now, back to experimenting....

3 Answers 3


Designing an effective gun battle takes precision, patience, and lots of practice. I tend to approach them along these lines:

  • cut all the on camera guns first. Cut them tight to the muzzle flashes and don't let them hang over the next cut (only the natural tail of the shot should hang over).

  • next, cut the on camera impacts. The same rules apply, cutting tight to the visual impact.

  • now start working in the bullet passbys, ins and riccos. These sounds are meant to tie the shot together to the impact, to make them one moment rather then seperate events. The riccos are used as dramatic (or comedic) accents. Here's an important note: Not every gunshot or impact needs a by, in or ricco! You risk losing the impact of these moments if you overcut.

  • finally, start filling in the gaps with off screen gunshots and properly timed impacts. You will probably find that these sequences won't need bys, ins or riccos.

That should get you about 50% of the way to a nice tight sounding gun battle with plenty of detail and clarity.

  • Thanks Jay! That's exactly the kind of insight I was looking for. Unfortunately all of the impact VFX aren't all in my sequence yet, but you've given me a lot to focus on in the meantime.
    – Dan2997
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 22:27
  • Sure thing, Dan. You may want to take time now, before you get the vfx in, to scour your library for (or better yet custom record) a grab bag of impacts that will suit your needs. Line them up in a track, or dump them into a sampler, then when the vfx show up you'll be ready to start dropping them in. Also, in the midst of all the chaos of gunfire, dialog and music, your choices of impacts may not matter all that much. And build them in layers: Realistic, over-the-top, high, mid, low, etc. Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 1:40

One little tip; for fast bullet bys sometimes a pan isnt effective and you are better off cutting the bullet by in half and cut approach in eg SL and away in R, or whatever is appropriate - some fast bys 'read' better this way


You're approach sounds right for dealing with multiple guns - where it's more about the overall gestalt then hitting a rico for each and every shot (unless the shots are fired enough apart to really discern each individual shot). That's not to say you don't want to make it one event like Jay mentioned for eahc shot, because you should of course tie it all together appropriately, but there reaches a point in my opinion where even that type of sync goes on the wayside a bit when, like you said, there's a flash every single frame from multiple guns. Same goes with casings - not with each shot when there's multiple, but sprinkle where it feels right in the lulls and usually at the tail end of a gun's firing sequence it's nice to trickle out with them.

The sound for a complete bullet by/rico event will usually have a 'zip in', impact, 'zip out' - the zip in and out being different pitches. But even then, as Jay mentioned, sometimes you only do part of the event or just the impact only.

Sometimes you may break it down by onscreen and OS (or even by gun type specifically when there's a drastically different gun like a bunch of Glocks and someone else using an M60 or something), but it probably depends on the needs of the show too. A case by case scenario. It's definitely a precision thing but also a feeling-driven thing too in my opinion.

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