I am working on a short film and the director and I love using sound to create surrealistic elements to a scene when it is effective and benefits the story. In this scene, the character is coming to an understanding that all of his friends are dead after the ship wreck and realizes he is alone on a desolate island. He gets a very bad, painful headache. I can be extremely creative with this so I want to try to stay away from the famous high pitch whine (tinnitus) and using a low pass filter. so all advice and answers are welcomed.

P.S. I do understand how high pitch tone creates discomfort... But if needed, I would only like to use it subtly.

3 Answers 3


There are a few things to keep in mind here, and ill also offer some advice on things you can do.

First off people will be watching this on all sorts of mediums, TV's, laptops, iPad's and what ever people use to watch movies these days. Most of these devices have poor audio output built in and generally lack in the high frequency and low frequency departments. Again they are better at high frequency replication but it often comes out different in consumption mediums than in the studio. As such I would stray away from high frequencies. I do not know the facts on why it causes discomfort so I wont comment on that.

As for what you can do I would go for a pounding heart beat kind of sound. When I get headaches it always feels like my head is pounding. A nice low-mid pound or any other heart beat set to a very timely beat may help illustrate your point with out getting into painful frequencies.

  • Yes, I do agree with you but where most people that will see this film will be in a theater setting. So, I do have that freedom or range to experiment and play with. Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 18:13
  • You may have more room to play knowing that there is a good sound system on the other end. But I would still avoid frequencies that bother people.
    – Dave
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 19:52
  • So, do you think the high pitch whines like in films like Saving Private Ryan could take people out of the film? When I see that effect being used I think it is almost used somewhat to bother audience. Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 20:25

Check out the the first episode of season 3 of House of Cards for some inspiration. Ren Klyce is the sound designer and the sequence I'm thinking of in the hospital is a really fantastic scene depicting this exact effect.

I also think of a pulsing cycle of pain/sound when I think of bad headaches. A pushing and pulling of pressure and very enveloping feeling. External sounds like other people talking take on an extra stressful meaning in this situation too.


Since you seem to have a lot of free reign for the sound to take the forefront here, I would go big before settling on something simple like a high pitched tone, pulse, or low heartbeat pulse.

What kind of soundtrack is replaying in his head? The lingering aftershocks in his mind of the storm, a particular cry from one of his mates, a crashing spray, things cutting in and out unnaturally or laden with chilling reverbs - But on top of this, and intermixed, there is this alien place that he is beholding. A very aggressive recording of insects, a bird, a harsh wind, can be pumped and intercut with these more abstract sounds to imply the oppressive conditions that he has found himself in. When one is hungover you are sensitive not just to light but also to loud sounds, including your own breathing and heartbeat which is why those are common tropes for this kind of scene. I just wouldn't rely solely on breathing and pulse scenes when you have so much potential material to explore sonically.

  • Every cut of the camera is a chance to make an aggressive shift or introduce a new element in the sound design. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 22:24
  • Wow, I really like that idea. I had basically the same idea yesterday where I would make the forest ambience "screaming" but not loud but just more focus on different elements making it seem like he is more sensitive to what is around him. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 0:53
  • sounds awesome! close perspectives! curious to hear what you come up with! Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 20:44

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