Hey guys,

I am prepping for the sound design in a low budget independent horror gore movie I am involved with and one of the sound elements I'd like to emphasize in scenes is futility and hopelessness.

Any ideas ho to make a sound futile or hopeless, effects to use, EQ?


There really aren't any tried and true tricks for creating this affect, since its entirely dependent on the context. You going to have analyze the scenes carefully and discuss the psychological states of the characters with the director. It's going to come down to choosing which elements to emphasize in a scene, and they're going to have to tie into the story closely to achieve the feel you're talking about.

Hope that helps.

  • @shaun The director and I have been in discussion for the last three weeks and we have a list a mile long of things he wants to try and things I want to try...so theres going to be loads of experimentation, thanks. Jun 30 '11 at 7:08

I think you'll find that there aren't really any plugs or settings that sound hopeless or bleak. You need the raw material first and modify it to suit the tone of your programme.

Old rusty gates squeaking.

Heavy footsteps on a wooden floor.

Pitch shifted windchimes.

Take a recording of a child crying, slow it and pitch it down, then put it into a granular synth of some kind.

  • I am going to record the sounds on set, I am just wondering how I can treat the sound in post to instill a hopeless and/or futile quality. I'm guessing some pitch shifting and layering would help...thanks for the comment! Jun 29 '11 at 19:54
  • @Andre, You might want to try doing a really, really subtle reverse delay/reverb. Or maybe just a normal reverb side-chain compressed to the dialogue so it only swells up after they've finished speaking. Then squash it with a compressor and sit it really low in the mix, there, but not noticeable. If you do it right it should add a feeling of emptiness without adding size. The words will just kind of trail off into the distance...
    – g.a.harry
    Jun 29 '11 at 20:47
  • @g.a.harry Cool bananas, thats more for what I as looking...I'll give it a bash and if it works out I'll post a link. Thanks for the info! Jun 30 '11 at 7:05
  • @Andre, instead of layering things, you could purposely choose to leave them sparse. The weak nature of a single sound effect could add to the hopelessness.
    – Joel
    Jul 3 '11 at 17:00

I would say it is hard to rely on sound alone to bring across feelings like futility and hopelessness. Sometimes it can work if you try to imagine what the character you're depicting is hearing. You can emphasize the sounds which will make the main character feel vulnerable, the sounds which make him/her afraid or makes him/her think of unobtainable things.

You can also depict reality and make it really dull and grey.

Last year I made a prison film which had a strong sense of futility and hopelessness. It started bad and just got worse....

We created a strong sense of reality by recording a lot of extra voices for off screen sounds when the main character was in his cell. We tried hard to make everything sound as real as possible - but at certain moments we played pretty violent drones or sucked out all of the energy of the sound track by burying everything in a low pass filter and low levels.

As you are going to record the sounds on set, you may be getting a good feel of what the director is trying to get in terms of feelings. You can try to remember that feeling for when you are doing the sound design.

You can also try to record the sounds on set or just around you, which give you a bit of the feeling you are looking for. And when the time comes, you can try to use them as a basis for some of your sound design.

  • @morten The director and I are working closely together and have been for the last three weeks. Thanks for the suggestions! Jun 30 '11 at 7:06

Check the rainmaker video on designing sound


I thought you were talking about the futility and hopelessness of trying to produce sound (and having 'writer's block') — much like I'm experiencing now. Ha!


I'd go for dull sound. Use maybe familiar sounds (from scene, from the life of the characters) and turn it dull and empty, with filters (mid low frequencies) or reverb (boxy?). Use few elements, nothing too complex or active. Maybe time stretch things, make them "moan" slowly. I wouldn't use too much impact or too nervous or bright sounds here. At least it's my idea, hard to say without seeing the stuff. Good luck.


Try suggesting deep breaths through other sound sources. Slow pulsing traffic noise, wind, rain, air conditioning etc.

Also generally making everything sound is as if it about to break or is past its best, subconsciously suggesting decay.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.