In larger theaters that could afford more than a piano player to accompany the pictures, the drummer would supply sound effects; or, in large metropolitan houses, there might be a separate effects man. Here Clyde Martin gives some miscellaneous advice about sound effects. His list of the effects every drummer should have on hand will be invaluable to anyone supplying sound effects for silent films today.
Working the Sound Effects
By Clyde Martin
One of the most important and useful effects that will be found in the average drummer’s collection of traps is the “baby cry” imitation, and still there are many drummers in the business that do not seem to appreciate the usefulness of this little effect when handled in the proper manner.
Some drummers are inclined to believe that every time a baby appears in one of the pictures they are supposed to get busy with the baby cry imitation. This is a sad mis- take that is made by many.
To my notion, the “baby cry” imitation should be used in very few dramatic pictures unless there is a vein of comedy mingled with the dramatic scenes. During the showing of a purely dramatic production, the use of the “baby cry” is entirely out of place, as it only has the tendency to burlesque the scene portrayed and sets the audience laughing, which spoils the theme of the story and makes the audience lose interest.
As an illustration to my argument, I will use the Kalem release of August 23rd as an example. In this picture, “Don Ramon’s Daughter,” there is an important scene that shows the mothcr and her small baby arriving at the monastery where the child is to be cared for. It is a pathetic scene, a parting of mother and child The use of a “baby cry” imitation would be entirely out of keeping with the seriousness of the scene and would be out of place, notwithstanding the fact that the child is crying all through the action of this scene On the other hand, where you have a chance to work the crying effect in a comedy picture, never let the scene get by you, as it only helps the intentions of the producer along. It is a good idea to never work the baby cry even in a comedy picture unless the audience can plainly see that the child is crying
Not long ago I had the pleasure of playing for the Essanay picture called “Summer Babies.” It was a short educational subject on the same reel with “Gossiping Yapville,” the Essanay release of August 22nd. In the closing scene of this baby picture it shows a group of babies in a very discontented mood: in fact, the majority of them were crying. On this occasion I cut out the effect for the simple reason that the drummer had but one “baby cry” imitation in his collection, and the use of one imitation would have been far from realistic, considering the fact that several babies were shown crying. In such a scene as this, five or six “baby cry” imitations should have been used in order to get the desired effect. Don’t do things half way. If you cannot put on an effect in a realistic manner, it is better to cut it out entirely.
Another picture of recent date in which the “baby cry” came in to good advantage, was the Edison release of August 9th, a seven hundred foot comedy with a crying baby as the center of attraction. If you have not as yet run this comedy, be on the lookout for it, as it is out of the ordinary and gives the effect man several opportunities to get in some good work.
The “horse hoof” imitation is another effect that is used with little discretion by many of the drummers over the country. The “horse hoof” imitation is one of the first effects that the average drummer will secure in making up his collection of traps. Most all effect men and drummers use “horse hoofs” on a marble slab, which is very good indeed when the scene shows the horses running or walking on a brick or stone pavement, but great care should be used when the horses are shown running on the grass or even a country road, which is usually the case in most Western and riding pictures. One of the best ideas I have found in use where the horses are shown running on the grass is to use the imitation on a leather cushion or a padded board, thus giving it a muffled effect.
From this, some people may be inclined to think I am trying to get the working of such effects down to a fine point, which I am undoubtedly trying to do. and you will find that I am right. The picture fans of to-day are critical and they will comment on your effects the same as they do the music. There are many people in your audience that delight in looking for the mistakes; they watch for flaws in the pictures; they watch the piano player to see if he will play ragtime through a death scene, and you should bear in mind that they are watching the work of the drummers and effect men. If they were not, the manager would have little use for you. The piano player can easily smooth over a little mistake, but the effect man never can.
In a great many of the picture theaters that I have visited I have found that they have been working the electric door-bell overtime. It seems to be the general opinion that the common electric bell will take the place of everything, from a telephone bell to the bell on an electric runabout. You wouldn’t think of using a cowbell for a cathedral chime. Why then should you use a little doorbell for a telephone bell? There is certainly as much difference.
There is hardly a program in your theater that does not call for a telephone bell and it is just as cheap in the long run to give them the real article. It is a very easy matter to pick up a junk phone from your local telephone company and the difference in the effect will soon show a marked improvement. At Louisville. Kentucky, I found a drummer that had mounted all of his different bells and gongs on a large board. Most of them were operated by batteries and he had a keyboard of push-buttons arranged in such a manner that he had no difficulty in working them. The board arrangement is very simple and inexpensive and would prove a valuable addition to any effect outfit.
I have, in the past few days, received a number of inquiries as to what effects are the most essential in making up a list for a picture theater. I will print this list and trust it will prove what the correspondents desire:
Railroad imitation, railroad bell, air brake, street car gong, fire gong, auto horn, electric doorbell, telephone bell, small table bell, small hand bell, cathedral chimes, wind whistle, canary whistle, cow bawl, steamboat whistle, locomotive whistle, rifleshot cushion, surf and steam or sand blocks, horse hoofs, slap stick, police rattle, sleigh bells, tambourine, castanets, thunder sheet, hen cackle, duck quack, rooster crow, baby cry, tom-tom, large Chinese cymbal, Chinese musette, wood block, cowbell, anvil, auto chug-chug, wind machine, crash box.
There are some of the above listed effects that you will find little use for; still, it is best to have them on hand, for you will find that, when the opportunity does come to use them, they will be greatly appreciated by the audience Then, again, you will find many traps listed above that can be made by the effect men, but it always pays to have the best so you will find that it is better to buy them from some good firm where you are getting the advantage of its years of experience.
The railroad imitation made by every manufacturer is the steam engine effect, and this same imitation can be used m pictures where dredges, steam shovels, etc., are at work, with the correct effect. When the train is shown pulling into the station the audience hears the engine, the whistle, the locomotive bell, etc., but when you go into the detail of letting them hear the whistle of the air brake, you have won a point, and a good one.
I recently found a very good detail in working a telephone bell. If the scene shows an office or a dwelling and the telephone is calling someone, it is a very good idea to keep the bell ringing until the party takes down the receiver from the hook. This is just another one of my “crank” details, but it is good. Try it the next time.
The Chinese musette that is mentioned in the list is one of the traps that you will find very little occasion to use; still it should be included in the collection. The Vitagraph Company recently released a comedy picture called “Queer Folks,” and in this picture it shows the bally-hoo of a side-show with the oriental snake charmer doing a few stunts on the platform in front of the tent. The effect of the Chinese musette in this scene alone would justify anyone in buying one of these horns. Then they come in to good advantage in Chinese or in any oriental scenic pictures. In some of the scenic pictures it is hard to supply the music let alone the sound effects. But in any of the celestial scenics a musette would make the hit of the evening.
—The Moving Picture World.