Foley Artist

Last updated: Oct 14, 2021
Reads: 22,698

Career Overview

A Foley Artist performs custom-made sound effects, props and footsteps for film and television. They differ from Sound Editors who take pre-recorded sounds and make them fit the picture.

Alternate Titles

None

Avg. Salary

$450 per 8-hour day

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Career Description

A Foley Artist recreates sounds on a specially-designed Foley stage to align with what’s on screen. They usually work in a tight-knit team with two Foley Artists and one Mixer in the studio. The Mixer needs to clearly understand the goals and manipulate microphone placements to ensure they’re solving all the sound issues and perspectives. The Foley Artists are the ones physically out on the stage creating what is needed and performing the sounds.

Foley is performed live to picture so Foley Artists can’t start duplicating sounds from a bank. Taking pre-recorded sounds and editing them to make them fit is the job of a Sound Editor. A Sound Supervisor or Sound Designer ensures the sessions are capturing the sound and working with the picture. In these sessions, Foley Artists create sounds as mundane as a pencil falling to the floor and as imaginative as a monster taking a bite out of a skyscraper.

Foley sound takes on a new dimension with content created for distribution in a foreign market, where Actors may dub the dialogue in another language. In these situations, even if something is extremely well recorded on the production track, if it’s on top of English dialogue, it has to be replaced because once you take out that dialogue track from the final mix, all the other sounds will be gone.

To learn more about how to become a Foley Artist, we talked to:

  • Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)
  • Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)
  • Jay Peck (Midsommar, Roma, Succession)

What is a Foley Artist and what do they do?

Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)

A Foley Artist is someone who recreates sound effects in sync with the picture. A Foley Artist works on a Foley stage, which is a stage that’s comprised of different surfaces like dirt, wood, cement, sand, and gravel. It’s a sound stage, so it’s very quiet. While the picture is rolling, I mimic what they’re doing on camera. So if someone is running in the dirt in tennis shoes, I’ll have tennis shoes on and I’ll be running in place in front of a microphone and watching the picture.

It’s all synced sound. We don’t pull any sounds from a library. Everything we do is custom for that show. If I do a body fall on one day and the next day they ask for another body fall, I do another body fall. It’s from the old radio days of people doing sound effects. But it’s more visual than it is audio, which would be listening to a script versus seeing what’s happening.

Jay Peck (Midsommar, Roma, Succession)

A Foley Artist physically creates sounds in post-production film and television using their body and objects to enhance and or match what is heard on the production sound track. These sounds are the footsteps of the characters, including cats and dogs, etc., and the props they are interacting with.

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

[The Foley stage is] a recording studio but it’s different from your typical music or V/O studio because built into the floor are all types of different surfaces: cement, gravel, dirt, different types of wood such as boardwalk, solid wood, high-end wood floors, old farmhouse floors, you name it. We have linoleum, smooth concrete, blacktop, street asphalt, and rougher stuff.

There are two basic reasons for Foley. One, even if it’s recorded well on the day, we’re going to do it again because, that way, they’re going to have every single sound isolated and they can control it in the final mix.

The sounds recorded on set are all on one track and it’s focused on the dialogue. In that process, you might hear the feet and the props, etc., but it’s not in the proper perspective and it’s married to the dialogue so there’s no control over levels. Once you perform Foley, if leaves are rustling too loudly, we can lower it because Foley now has the leaves on their own track.

[For the second reason, an M&E (Music and Effects track) in foreign-language versions of a film:] The final mix contains three tracks: a dialogue track, a music track, and a sound effects track. Part of how a show or film makes its money is by marketing the piece all around the world–they have to make foreign language versions.

For those markets, they deliver the mix, drop the dialogue track and send the M&E track only to the various countries. Then, say in Germany, they will record the German dialogue and add it to the M&E.

For the domestic version, Foley allows complete control over every sound. For the foreign version, Foley offers a full M&E track over which they can add their new dialogue.

[The three basic things that Foley Artists record are] “Number one: feet. We see what a character is wearing, what surface they’re walking on and we have to get a shoe that is going to sound right and perform the steps in such a way that it works for their weight and their speed. We also have to inject the character. Are they scared, are they tentative, are they old, are they confident, angry? All these matter when we perform the feet.

It’s a combination of shoe, surface, performance and mic placement so it all blends with the production track. Our job is to deliver a seamless recording that sounds like it was supposed to be there. People shouldn’t “hear” Foley.

We have slight Foley Artists and heavy-set Foley Artists so really it’s an art that revolves around pressure. We have to get the right “character” into the feet; you want to either hit hard or hit medium or hit soft. A good Foley Artist will be able to perform anyone very successfully.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what they look like, it’s all about what they sound like. I may have a woman’s heel that isn’t a woman’s heel at all, it’s a man’s shoe that happens to sound like a stiletto. And I do also have women’s shoes. Does it work, does it fit, do we buy the sound? Those are the tests.

[On to props:] “On the Foley stage is a collection of thousands of items that we surround ourselves with. Piles of metal and plastic and wood and every imaginable prop that might come up. Within reach, we have full kitchen sets, cooking utensils, books, paper, glassware, binders, anything that might appear in a film.

Some sounds are simple enough: putting down a pencil, writing on a piece of paper, setting a coffee cup on a table. These are items where you can actually use the prop you are mimicking.

There are many ways to put a coffee cup down—it might be rim, then base, or it might slide a little or the character might be angry or it might be set down very quietly. That’s why we never use pre-recorded sounds. Our job is to perform it precisely for that scene, with that emotion, with that amount of pressure.

We actually do a cloth pass first, live to picture. Essentially, we sit down with cloth in our lap and we do a complete pass through the whole show of nothing but movement, mimicking the friction of the characters’ clothing.

So, if someone reaches their arm out, you’d hear a little cloth movement there. Or, if they’re walking, you’ll hear a rhythmic pants noise.

But there are far more complex things, sounds that are not everyday.

That’s where we need to get creative and solve a problem. The process is really simple: one, what should that sound like? Two, how do I make the sound I want? Then we actually have to try it out, poke around and experiment a little bit.

For complex sounds like someone driving a car into a building, something we do a lot is “layering”—we’ll make a sound or an element, say a metallic element, then add more of an organic part. Then we’ll add specific taps and we play them all together and it makes that one sound you were looking for.

We can spend hours layering different elements for a car smashing into a building: the wood, the glass, things falling on top of the car, things hitting cement. Then there are science fiction and horror sounds where you’re creating things that don’t really exist. That’s where things get complicated and interesting and fun because you’re coming up with things that will compound the emotion, making sounds that you never hear.

Salary

The most up-to-date wage and salary scales are freely available at the Editors’ Guild website. The union sets minimums and guarantees a good wage for Foley Artists.

How much does a Foley Artist make a year?

Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)

I think the minimum in the union is $440 a day. It can go up from there. Not a lot of people make that much more over that. There are a handful of people who make over $1,000 a day, but that’s very unusual. I guess you could potentially make that, but I think the days are over where they’re going to be paying that kind of money. I would say $450 is about your average eight-hour day. In the union, it’s any five days in a row. We could be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and you don’t have any overtime on the weekend because that’s your schedule. It can get a little tricky.

We finally have a classification in the union. I don’t know if those numbers are there for the public, but that’s what the minimum is: about $440. It’s like an hourly rate, but it’s an eight-hour minimum. Again, it can vary. If you’re not in the union, they can pay you whatever they want. They can pay you $400. That’s why it’s better if you can get paid through the union. You want the union hours. I think there’s less being taken advantage of. A lot of people will just work until they get the show done. Maybe it takes them twelve hours but they’ll only get paid for eight. They’re working for free. I’m so against working for free.

Jay Peck (Midsommar, Roma, Succession)

It is hard to predict how much money a Foley Artist can make in a year as the business is very unpredictable. Once you become proficient and find work with an established post sound facility you can make a very good wage.

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

Foley Artists are independent so you have to negotiate your fee on each job. The union does guarantee minimums, but unless you’re working regularly, it’s a hard road–you have to be ready to go down that path.

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Career Outlook

Openings in the Foley world are rare. Foley Artists love their work, and as such, many stay in the business for decades! However, it is possible to gain experience and find work. The Artists we talked to had some great suggestions on how to get a foot in the door and learn the ropes of the Foley stage.

Is it hard to become a Foley Artist?

Jay Peck (Midsommar, Roma, Succession)

It can be difficult to find the right situation that can offer the opportunity for someone to intern or apprentice. Once you have the opportunity to start performing Foley it takes a lot of hard work, practice, and concentration to develop a good touch in the recording process.

Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)

It’s very hard to get into Foley. There’s no training. Some schools have Foley stages and maybe you can have a class on Foley. But Foley Artists never retire. There’s a Foley Artist now who’s eighty and she still works. Her daughter is now a Foley Artist. Lots of daughters and sons became Foley Artists from their parents.

The best way, I’d say, if you want to be a Foley Artist is to study sound and sound effects. Get a job at a low-budget sound house; wherever you can get a job that’s a post-production facility. Go in that way and find out who does their Foley. Ask if it’s okay for you to get a hold of a Foley Artist, or ask the Foley Artist, “Is it possible that I can come by and meet you and maybe watch for half an hour?” That’s the best way to go about it.

Foley Artists can be really temperamental. But if you can get a hold of a Foley Artist through a post-production house–that’s probably the best way of finding a Foley Artist–and then call and just ask if you could come by and meet them and maybe take them to lunch or watch them for half an hour. I think that’s the best way to go about it.

You might find some people are very open to it, others might not be, just because with Foley, we’re in a union. But there are a lot of non-union houses out there and a lot of under-bidding. The average for a Foley Artist is about $450 a day. It’s all a daily rate. If you’re doing that and not getting paid through the union, it’s a 1099 situation where you have to pay taxes. There’s no unemployment.

Lots of people will come and say, “I’ll do it for $250,” because that’s a lot of money, but you have to respect the history of who’s been doing it. A lot of people say, “You have experience.” That’s true, but sometimes they just don’t care and they’ll hire someone who’s not so good just because they need something, some kind of sound.


What is the work lifestyle of a Foley Artist?

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

You’re standing all day, pushing car doors around, lifting heavy metal, getting up and down off the floor. And when you’re rolling, every muscle is fired and ready to react. Eight hours of that is enough! On top of that, there are no Assistants to clear up our mess–I wish we had them! It’s just two Foley Artists smashing glasses, concrete, everything, so there’s a ton of mess.

We’re now asked to do an awful lot in very little time–the number one challenge is the clock. We have to make a lot of decisions–do we have time to do this prop or these background feet?

If we can get overtime approval, then we will, but if we can’t, we have to do the best we can with the time we have. Time management is such an important part of what we do. Being creative takes time–you have to try this, try that–and it’s time-consuming.

Some shows give you lots of time. I did all of Breaking Bad and they gave us a tremendous amount of time, two and half days on average per episode, and you can tell. Everything is precision done and they used all of our Foley. But that’s a luxury.

[Now, at Universal,] we basically have eight hours to do everything. So you just can’t compare the shows because we had three times more time on Breaking Bad.

We used to have twenty days to do a film. These days you’re lucky if you get ten. Obviously, bigger A pictures give you more time, but the majority have a rapid turnaround.

I don’t buy the traditional feature/television hierarchy that some Foley Artists subscribe to. It’s a fallacy that you have to be doing feature films to be considered a quality Foley Artist.

I sleep to maintain work/life balance!

Career Path

There is no one clear path to becoming a Foley Artist. With regards to finding employment, several of the Foley Artists we spoke with recommended contacting Foley Artists to say that you just want to observe them at work. One way of finding their details is by taking out a subscription to IMDB Pro or calling around to post houses in your area.

How do you become a Foley Artist?

Jay Peck (Midsommar, Roma, Succession)

There is no specific way or class that I know of teaching Foley. I think the best way is to find a facility that has a Foley studio and apprentice under someone that has thorough experience working in the field and the need for assistance.

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

I was a Sound Editor with my own editorial company in the ‘80s, and we did the complete sound editing package. I ended up getting on the Foley stage and it turned out I had a gift for it and performed all our Foley. When I sold the company, I was trying to figure out my next step and my phone started ringing from my competitors and they asked me to do their Foley. And I did. And I’m still here, still trying to figure out what to do next! I have a job and I wake up very happy to be doing it.

[Contact current Foley Artists and ask] “Would you let me stop by and spend an afternoon just watching you at work?” Tell them you won’t get in the way, and then it’s up to you to ingratiate yourself to the people and, hopefully, come back and do it again. If they like you, they might invite you to come back in and try cueing a session. [Cueing is when you make a list of the Foley sounds that are needed in a ProTools session.]

There are hundreds of Foley Artists in town these days and there’s only so much work so it gets competitive. Really, it’s a highly specialist art form, especially as shows and features are beginning to digitize Foley. It sounds like crap, it’s very robotic, but it does happen. The human element that Foley brings is beautiful and necessary.

I’m lucky having worked pretty much non-stop for forty years. I have around 565 credits on IMDB–it’s insane. I look at that and think, “How the hell did I do all of this?” Well, I never say no, and that’s my reputation. I do independent projects all the time; I squeeze them in. I’m happy working on projects of all sizes and I get called all the time to do smaller things.

Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)

If you talk to any Foley Artist, everyone has a different path. Foley really is a new career. It’s only been a career since about the mid to late ‘70s. Before that, Sound Effects Editors would do their own Foley, but they would call it “syncing.”

Let’s back up. It’s called Foley because the man who created it is called Jack Foley. He was a jack of all trades. He did a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and one of the things that he did was–I think it was for Spartacus–a scene with a chariot race. The Director was saying, “I didn’t get the sound I wanted out of the armor. I’m going to have to re-shoot that whole scene.” He said, “Give me a minute.” He went home and got some pots and pans and keys and clanked them around, went on the stage and said, “Let me try something.” He made all the sound effects while they rolled the picture and that’s really how it became [a trade].

He was the first to do sync to sound. He built a little stage and they’d say: “I’m going to go do my syncing on Foley’s stage.” That’s how it became a Foley stage. He never lived to see us become Foley Artists. His granddaughter isn’t in the business, but we talk to her quite often about him. She’s thrilled. She said he would have been thrilled to find out that something was named after him.

These Sound Editors, these guys–because they were all guys, of course–would go to the stage and they’d bring a bucket of beer and they’d sit down and do the sound effect thing for the reels. There was a guy named Ross Taylor, and he was really good at it. They’d say to Ross, “Hey, I’ll buy you a six-pack if you do my reel,” and that’s where he really honed it and started doing it as a living.

He met this Dancer named Kitty Malone. They would hire Dancers at the time to come in and redo Dancer footsteps because their sync was so good. They knew a routine and they could just do it. Kitty was really, really good at it and they teamed up. They were the very first Foley team and were also a couple.

There’s a book called The Foley Grail by a woman named Vanessa Ament. She was a Professor and she wrote a book about Foley. If you’ve seen the documentary Making Waves, which is a documentary about sound, I believe Kitty is in that one as well.

Experience & Skills

Foley Artists must have a curiosity and passion for recreating sounds. This knowledge of how to create sounds comes down to experience. As has been mentioned before, some experience can be gained through observation, through experimenting at home, and (given the opportunity) through working on a film or TV show on a Foley stage with more experienced professionals.

What skills does a Foley Artist need?

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

If you think you might be good at it, switch on your TV at home and turn the sound off. Put on a pair of firm shoes and stand on a wood or tile floor (not carpet). Then, you literally stand there and as people are walking around, see if you can match their steps.

Props are a little easier, but what really separates the cream from the milk is footsteps. If you find that you can synch footsteps perfectly, stop when they stop, catch that weird hitch in their walk, most people can’t do that and that’s a brilliant start.

Then you have to layer in the subtleties, the softness, the emotion, the ability to stop and shuffle and get that twist of the foot and knowing that when you start to walk your pressure starts slowly and then as you gain speed, you start to hit a little bit harder…these are all things that you learn over time. If you want to see if you’ve got what it takes, experiment with the television.

[Like musicians] anyone can learn to play, but that doesn’t mean you’re great. It’s something inherent, built-in, and it’ll take years to find out.

It’s a team effort. You want to be open to suggestions and collaborations so when someone asks you to try something a different way, you have to be ready for that. You need to be collaborative in that way.

Education & Training

Foley isn’t taught specifically at film schools. However, some schools do offer coursework in film sound and some have Foley stages. In terms of building an education specific for Foley, it’s all about finding a way to get hands-on experience. Given the relatively few well-put-together facilities, the best way is to shadow a working Foley Artist and find your way in through that entry-level.

Do you need a degree to be a Foley Artist?

Jay Peck (Midsommar, Roma, Succession)

You do not need a degree to become a Foley Artist. I don’t think there are any schools that offer that. You can get a degree in filmmaking and may have the opportunity there to work on student films, however.

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

There are some schools that have dedicated Foley stages. I teach masterclasses at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University; their Foley stage is professional quality, it’s remarkable. They offer a Foley class and you can learn to do your own Foley on the stage. There are other schools with facilities but, in the majority of cases, the stages are horribly low-tech.

Foley is the last of the low-tech arts in filmmaking. We’re still doing things the same way the radio sound effect artists were doing it in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)

Getting trained in sound editing or post-production is good. I know Warner Brothers, when they had their Y16 program–which is the entry-level union position–the guy that would hire would only hire people who were in the sound program. He didn’t want people in there being like, “I don’t know what I want to do.” He wanted serious people who were going to come in and weren’t going to be in Y16 for a long time. They were going to find their path.

There are so many jobs in post-production sound. There are Sound Effects Editors, Dialogue Editors, Music Editors, ADR Editors, Sound Supervisors, Post-Production Supervisors, there are Mixers, there are ADR Mixers, Foley Mixers, and Dubbing Mixers. There’s a huge array of Assistants. People who are Sound Assistants, that’s a career for them because they’re so good at it.

You want to get in the union as soon as you can so that you can get your hours and get your medical. They’ve got the best medical plan. There’s a great pension. But we weren’t even unionized until 2005, and I’ve been doing Foley for forty years. I wish I had been in forty years ago as a Sound Editor but I wasn’t. I just got in in 2005.

If someone says to you, “Hey, do you want to come work here as an Apprentice or as my Personal Assistant?” take it. That’s how I got in. I was the Sound Editor’s Personal Assistant. I think that if you have an opportunity over education, I would take the opportunity, because education’s not required. The experience is what’s required.

The best advice I give to everybody is, just be nice to everyone and be appropriate. Pay attention. Don’t be on your phone. Show that you have an interest in it because people will pick up on that right away. And as you know, people want to be around people who are pleasant.

Additional Resources

Foley Artists are part of the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild, the IATSE Local 700. Barbanell advises that “You have to have a union gig in order to join the union and then you have to report around 400 hours bi-annually to keep your health benefits. It’s a tough one if you’re not working regularly, but the healthcare is excellent if you’re managing to clock the hours.”

FAQ

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

“Turn on the television, mute the volume, put on some firm shoes and practice synching your footsteps to the picture. If you can do that after a few tries, you might have something.”

Anything else that you think people who are interested in Foley should know about?

Alyson Dee Moore (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Star Trek: Picard, Inception)

There are a couple of small things you can watch. My partner and I did one of us doing Foley sound for the weather, which was fun. There’s another one that the BBC just did on me which is kind of interesting. They’re not very long. They’re like three minutes long. I don’t know if you saw the one … it’s the two British Foley Artists doing Foley for a show with a boat and a fishing dock. It’s so beautifully done. It’s probably, I think, one of the best things done about Foley. It’s really a fun thing to watch.

Don’t be afraid to get a job in something that you think you have no interest in, because you never know where that’s going to lead. Our now-retired Mixer, her Recordist was a Security Guard at Warner Brothers. He met her and asked if he could sit in and watch, and then he became a Recordist.

That’s not a normal path. Warner Brothers have a really great tour and they’re hiring Tour Guides all the time. It’s different from being a Tour Guide at Universal, just because that’s more of a theme park. Warner is a really good tour because it’s a working studio. I say be a Tour Guide. Just get in. You’re around people, and sometimes they go to the Foley stage. You just never know where the opportunity is going to be.

What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

“Younger people come in and dramatically undercut their rate to get the gig. That really upsets people and it undervalues you. Find out what people are getting and ask for the same thing. Sure, drop it by twenty bucks, but don’t do anything silly by cutting it in half. That gets everyone in hot water.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

“Is this for me? You have to ask yourself that question. But if it is, if you love it, jump right in!”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?

Gregg Barbanell (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Revenant)

“Tenacity. Just keep plugging away. I wouldn’t sit idly — poke around and find out what people have got coming up.”

Gregg Barbanell
Gregg Barbanell

Gregg Barbanell gained a BFA in Film from the California Institute of the Arts, then went on to own and run Mag City Inc. between 1979 and 1986, a major post-production sound company, before joining the team at American Zoetrope.

Barbanell has won an Emmy Award and has been Emmy-nominated 10 times. On top of that, he has 8 Golden Reel Award wins and 29 nominations to his name. His decades-long career has garnered him an unprecedented 564 credits on IMDb. For a quick walk-through of a Foley stage, check out this video where Barbanell takes us behind-the-scenes on the Warner Bros. lot.

His foley career has been featured in CineMontage, The Early Call Time podcast, the documentary Actors of Sound, Adam Savage’s Tested, Priceonomics, the Jon of All Trades podcast, Monster Children, the Turned Up: Reel Sound podcast, Adobe’s blog, and Virginia Loh-Hagan’s book Sound Effects Artist.

Barbanell’s recent nominations for the Emmy Awards and the MPSE Golden Reel Award were mentioned in Variety, Deadline, , Awards Daily, Mix Online, Yahoo.com, Pro Sound Network, and Animation Magazine.

Barbanell won the Golden Reel Award for his work on Breaking Bad.

Foley Artist Alyson Dee Moore
Alyson Dee Moore

Alyson is a native Southern Californian and started her film career at the age of eight as an Actor. When she was ten, Alyson had the opportunity to be a newscaster on a local television show called TLC Elementary School (1995) which had a three year run. Her father was a character Actor (he played Hank Kimball on Green Acres (1965)) who also produced a film called A Boy and His Dog (1975). Growing up around film and television, Alyson always knew that she wanted to work on a studio lot. After high school, she started working for a Sound Editor and “fell” into Foley. Thirty years, one Emmy Award and countless MPSE awards and nominations later Alyson is living her dream and has been working at Warner Bros. Studios for the past 15 years.

Foley Artist Jay Peck
Jay Peck

In 1997 Jay Peck segued from scoring and performing live sound effects and percussion for New York theater productions (Mabou Mines’ Peter & Wendy, Landscapes, Animal Magnetism) and recording and touring on drums with rock bands, (Figures, Lets Active) to foley walking at C5, Inc. From there he went on to freelance at many of the post-production studios in New York City before becoming the resident Foley Artist at Sound One, Inc. for nine years until the company closed its doors unexpectedly in 2012. After an exhaustive search and more than a little help from his friends, he founded Stepping Stone Foley studio at its current location in December 2012.

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