I'm currently in the running to get on a found footage horror film- basically the same thing as Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity. The goal for the film is for it to appear to have been authentic, found footage. I've never done a film like this before so I'm wondering if any of you have worked on something similar. Here are my questions and thoughts:

Backgrounds: To what extent should backgrounds be used? The audio is supposed to be coming from a hidden camera that the main character wears. I feel like stereo backgrounds may pop out and be "unrealistic" in the context of the film. What do you think about mono bgs? Should I approach the design the same way as if I were to be designing backgrounds for a narrative piece?

Mixing: Here is where I'm struggling as well. In theory the film should be mixed in mono- right? I'm no expert on hidden cameras but I'm pretty sure most of them don't record in stereo. However, this is a horror film and there is going to be a lot of off screen sound happening, including dialog. I think I may be able to get away with some panning, but used minimally and very carefully according to the importance of the sounds/ voices. Thoughts?

I have yet to go back and reference similar films (Paranormal, Blair Witch) so if anyone has recently seen them, or have ever thought about these issues it would be great to know what to listen for. Also if you have any other films to suggest that are on Netflix I'd like to take a look at those as well. The producer mentioned Cloverfield but I can't bring myself to watch that! (I've seen clips of the film and had a discussion about it and it doesn't seem anything like Cloverfield.)

Thanks for your help!

  • You can also take a look at [Rec], or it's American remake Quarantine. Feb 26, 2011 at 21:37

4 Answers 4


This would be an excellent opportunity to utilize distortion - i.e. people screaming their heads off getting appropriately clipped on the camera mic could add a lot to the emotion and feeling of the film. In addition to that, you might make good use of camera handling noise when they are running away from something or dropping the camera, etc. - much like a stinger or musical "boo" moment in conventional horror films.

And for starters, if the whole movie is from the viewpoint of the camera, CAPTURE EVERY SINGLE BIT OF SOUND FROM WHEN THEY FILM ON THE SAME CAMERA BEING USED!!! That might just be what ends up being the final soundtrack - at least it will be extremely authentic.

This seems like a fantastic utilization of sound for film.

Good luck and please post up examples of what you come up with.

Of course, check out this article from the great Miguel at Designing Sound: http://designingsound.org/2010/04/exclusive-interview-with-oriol-tarrago-sound-designer-of-rec-and-rec-2/

  • @ Utopia - Thanks! The article from designing sound was very helpful. If I end up getting the project and I'm allowed to post examples at the end, I will.
    – Dan2997
    Feb 27, 2011 at 22:14

I haven't worked on a production like this but maybe a good start would be to get some appropriate pieces of camera footage and do a frequency analysis of the corresponding audio. If your sound design reflects this it won't seem too out of place. Needless to say avoid any eccentric 'hollywood' type sound effects.

Also would be probably worth looking at getting an impulse response of the various film locations if possible so that you can create your own reverb preset and easily match SFX to wildtrack recordings. I know Logic has a supporting application that does this and I'm sure there are alternatives.

With regards to backgrounds I would suggest keeping them as realistic as possible and change the mood subtly. For example I think in Blair Witch they did stuff like cutting the sounds of background birds and insects to instil tension and being suddenly remote and lonely.

Your approach to mono vs stereo seems logical to me, I guess go with whatever works. Another 'found footage' film to check out is a French one called Man Bites Dog which is a bit dark in places just to warn you but actually a pretty good if I remember rightly.

  • @squidlick - cool I'll check out that film. I use Pro Tools... any suggestions for getting IRs?
    – Dan2997
    Feb 27, 2011 at 22:02
  • Most of the more upmarket convolution reverb plug-ins can import IR files; Waves, Altiverb and Pro Tools very own TL Space. To get the IR in the first place, you will need to record (preferably) a sine wave frequency sweep at a suitable central point at your film location and run the resulting recording through some de-convolution software like Logic's IR utility or Voxengo's Deconvolver.
    – Squidlick
    Feb 28, 2011 at 23:25

Clearly most cameras today record via their built-in stereo microphone, unless you are working with a mobile phone concept, where i haven't yet seen built-in stereo mics. But if it is a DV or HDV or SD-card camera, the microphone is probably stereo.

Which leads to the next part of what I think is interesting in sound design for "found footage" horror movies. In real found footage the sound is almost never mono, or "nice symmetrical stereo" as the sound we would normally make when doing sound design for a film.

The dialogue will always be shifted somewhat to the left or right, depending on where the character speaking (or screaming!) is in the frame. Only when they are dead center, the dialogue will be in mono.

Because editing makes the characters jump around the screen stereo-wise, it may be nice to narrow down the stereo image of the dialogue, so you don't confuse the audience too much. But I would say try it out and don't be scared of trying something new!

Also if the camera is dropped and is lying on its side, one of the sides can be blocked, shifting all of the sound to the other side, again making the sound track very assymetrical. This is pretty extreme and may not suit your film, but I think it is worth trying out, at least just for inspiration.

If you try to work with some amount of difference between left and right in all aspects of the sound design, you will have palette for sound design which is much wider than mono, while still being credible and true to the "found footage" concept.

I would absolutely recommend checking out Cloverfield for inspiration. It may be a far out monster movie, but the sense of pov and found footage is very well done.

  • @ Morten - that's a very interesting idea about using panning during a camera drop. I think I'll definitely experiment with that. Thanks for the info. It seems like dialog will be a bit tricky, but I'll do some tests with panning.
    – Dan2997
    Feb 27, 2011 at 22:17
  • I'll agree with Morten 100% on Cloverfield. Check out the scene were they go into the Subway and the character holding the camera trips down the stairs- really good use of perspective. Actually the whole subway scene is good for that. Also check out District 9 and Paranormal Activity for more of the same.
    – Sonsey
    Feb 28, 2011 at 19:38

Take it to the field... design your sounds without any accounting for atmosphere or the camera mic, then lug your monitors to a suitable location and actually record the sound using a camera mic. (Of course, record the sound with regular microphones as well, and build an impulse response using the built in camera mic.)

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