In Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, Midge Costin reveals the hidden power of sound in cinematography

Picture of the movie Making Waves : The Art of Cinematic Sound © DR

In her first documentary, director Midge Costin explores the power of sound in cinematography from a historical, artistic and emotional perspective. This feature film, recounted by renowned sound designers and directors through interviews and excerpts from films, is presented in Cannes Classics.

How did you proceed to make this documentary?

When I was in film school, I was really nervous about sound, it always seemed so technical… I wasn’t being taught sound through story but through the technical aspects. When I came out of grad school and started to work on film, I realised how sound can really help tell the story and reflect character. I wanted to make that accessible through this documentary. We first looked at the decades and the important films of each period. We looked at the important people who make a difference in that particular film, which is the directors and the sound designers. We were also interested to look at the changes between each film, what kind of sound they were using. We wanted to bring that out.

Can you say a word about the editing process?

It took us 5 years to edit it. We put the interviews and the film extracts back to back to show the idea of sound. You need both. The interviews say what the filmmakers did but if you don’t see what they say, then you need the clip. It was important for us to have both, especially if one doesn’t know anything about the topic. 

According to you, how does the sound influence our experience of cinema?

Most of the filmmakers would tell you that sound represent 50% of their stories. It is as important as the visual, sometimes even more as David Lynch says. What happens is that sound plays an important role in many aspects of a film. For instance, the voice and the breath of the actors, you know how they feel and you know their emotions. It affects the audience a lot but we just don’t have much awareness of it. I feel like this film can bring attention to that. I hope this film will not only bring attention to sound but to everyone below the line, on the credits, who work on production design, costumes, make up and hair.  I hope it makes people think about their work.

Do you think sound is an underlook aspect of cinema ?

I think sound is very much underappreciated and I think there isn’t much awareness. When you look at visual, people know the ‘champ lexical’ around it : shades, light, colour, framing. For sound, unless you study music, people don’t know what the words are. People don’t really realise how much sound can affect them but when you work in the industry, you think about the audience’s feelings. 

What particular film has changed your experience of sound ?

I got introduced to sound through musicals like Singing in the rain. But one of the films that really got me into films is Alain Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog). I think I had a nervous breakdown after the film, the voices were so calming and the picture so horrific. I can still remember the sound of the voice over and I think it had a big impact on me.