The Foley Engineer works in the Sound Department, setting up microphones and recording the sound effects Foley Artists create for a motion picture
$200 to $400 a day1
How To Become a Foley Engineer
What Exactly Does a Foley Engineer Do?
The Foley Engineer works in the sound department, setting up microphones and recording the Foley Artists. They provide a pre-mix for the Re-recording Mixer and create the deliverables for an M+E track.
Foley is “anytime something physical happens. Whenever an Actor picks up or puts down a glass, if they fall over, walk in space or put on a jacket, then it’s a Foley sound. Often Foley and sound effects editing will overlap a lot and both departments cover the same sound.
“In that case, the Re-recording Mixer will choose which one to use. Sometimes a Sound Supervisor will determine what department covers what for the sake of time,” says Eric Crepeau, a Foley Engineer who has worked on multiple features.
Every day the Foley Engineer creates a list of elements they need to make for a given scene and the Foley team goes through sound-by-sound until everything has been covered.
The artistry of Foley is in the details. Usually, the scene or genre of a film dictates the quality of sounds needed. If a knife is picked up and a scrape is heard instead of a minor sheng, the audience is going to have a different reaction. They’ll feel a different level of threat.
Foley can be a great way to subtly communicate character intention. Another example is through a character’s footsteps. The Foley Team can add an extra weight to a character’s footsteps, which will make the audience feel a character’s depression. Often the Re-recording Mixer will audition different Foley Teams and Engineers to get the right nuances for a film they’re mixing.
Most people starting in post-production sound begin as a Post PA. It’s a good way to shadow each of the various departments, usually while getting coffee for them. From there, they can become an Assistant and wait for an opening in the Foley Department.
“Foley is a unique position because apart from re-recording mixing, any other job can be done from home. The Foley Department needs a physical space. Therefore, people must wait for an opening, where someone will take a chance on working with them. It’s almost impossible to create a space yourself and then prove your talent,” says Crepeau.
For someone interested in this role, the best thing to do is work in a post sound house and express interest in that field. After a few years of talking to professionals, a person will have the chance to break-in.
Education & Training
Crepeau says, “It’s definitely a good idea to get a Pro Tools Certificate. It’s the audio software the entire industry runs on. It’s the gold standard. Also, music recording education teaches a lot about equalizers, microphones and other plug-ins to shape the sound.”
The Foley Engineer is responsible for placing all the microphones and shaping the Foley Artist’s sound as it’s recorded. It helps the Re-recording Mixer save time on stage.
An aspiring Foley Engineer doesn’t need to buy Pro Tools, though. They can begin self-teaching through a limited version of Pro Tools. Even though Foley may be someone’s focus, it can be good to dabble in other sound departments, as well. Essentially, the more someone can become familiar with Pro Tools and the sounds in a film, the more of a solid foundation they will have for becoming a Foley Engineer.
What skills do you need to be a Foley Engineer?
A Foley Engineer is only as good as their ear. They not only need to develop an ability to listen critically but also a sense of rhythm. Crepeau says, “Sound is largely about rhythm, especially in Foley. Learn about music as much as you can.”
While the sound in film doesn’t follow a regulated tempo, there is a pace that draws in audiences. If a Foley Engineer can make their work layered and stand on its own it will give more options to the Re-recording Mixer.
Developing an ear takes time and can’t be rushed. It’s best to work on it incrementally every day so the ear doesn’t get tired. If an aspiring Foley Engineer spends a couple hours a day listening to music or the soundtrack of a film it will give them the heightened awareness necessary to become a professional.
Crepeau says, “The most important personality trait for a Foley Engineer is patience. They spend a lot of time in a small dark room with the same people recording the same sounds repeatedly. A lot of films have the same sounds but they’re all just slightly different. For example, walking on concrete, picking up a glass or putting on a jacket is a part of almost every movie.”
Patience will also help a Foley Engineer get along with the Foley Artists. They spend a lot of time together so if friction arises it can make for a tough working relationship. This doesn’t mean that people should forget about being professional, polite and hardworking, but they should realize patience is a virtue that is given extra points in the Foley field.
“Schedules within a Foley studio depend on whether it is a union job or not. Just because something is union doesn’t mean it won’t get crazy, but since overtime will be more expensive, it’s less likely. In a non-union house, there are generally several movies going at once to accommodate the tight deadlines. It can be up to twelve to fourteen-hour days to get a reel done, with people sleeping in the studio.
Foley Engineers are required to work longer hours at smaller places,” says Crepeau. While this position is still freelance, it doesn’t have the same flexibility as other jobs. Usually, the projects that can afford Foley are feature films which have longer schedules. It requires a longer commitment of five full days a week, with no chance for a day off or ability to turn down a job. There is the constant fear of getting replaced.
The Foley Department is part of the Post Sound Team. The Foley Engineer typically works with the Foley Artists for eight to twelve hours per day and is managed by the Sound Supervisor. They act as the Foley Department’s link to the rest of the Post Sound Team. Sometimes, the Foley Department will work with the Sound Effects Editor to determine how sounds will be covered.
The Re-recording Mixer will also review all the sounds they receive and communicate what they need from Foley. Foley Engineers don’t have a lot of contact with other people on production outside of the Post Sound Department.
Getting a job in the Foley Department can be tough. Crepeau recommends, “Do as much sound work as you can. Look for jobs anywhere in the post audio world and see if you can gain a foothold then side step to Foley. Work on as many indie projects as possible to improve your skills. It takes a lot of hard work to impress people in this industry.
Another avenue would be to get a job at a music recording studio. Those skills can be a good asset for recording Foley sounds because there is crossover in microphone use.” His advice highlights the competitive nature of the film industry and especially in the post sound world. It isn’t enough to just have the curiosity or passion; sometimes working alongside other professionals in a different job helps to cross over.
How Much Does a Foley Engineer make?
The average day rate for Foley Engineers runs from $200 (non-union) to $400 (union) a day.
Foley Engineers are usually members of the union, which sets pay rates that depend on the type of project.
Unions, Groups & Associations
There are a couple great websites available for sound. However, Crepeau says, “I’ve had lots of success just Googling, ‘What is a good setup for capturing blank sound?’ That can work pretty well. It’ll give YouTube and Vimeo tutorials as well as blogs.”
He mentions other good websites such as PremiumBeat.com, a royalty-free music service that has a great post blog. There is also a site called ASoundEffect.com, which also has a blog, as well as stock sound effects to download. The final recommendation is SoundworksCollection.com, which has videos and different ways that post audio microphones are set up. Scan the websites and discover which one has the best information for each audio problem that may arise.
Foley professionals are members of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.
- Get your hands on multi-track software like Pro Tools, Logic, or Ableton Live to practice.
- Download the free version of Pro Tools.
- Get a cheap shotgun mic and zoom to start recording sounds. Explore how mic position affects the sounds. Listen to the recording versus how the sound is heard in real life.
- Make a small short film with a friend.
- Take a Foley Engineer to lunch to learn more about the profession.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“The best thing an aspiring Foley Engineer can do is to begin working on creative projects. They don’t need anyone’s permission to start. Even if it’s in a different position in the sound field it’s good to get as much experience as possible.
“Building up a resume with other credentials from the post sound world will make it more likely to land a job in the Foley Department when it opens up.
“It isn’t easy to get a job working as a Foley artist so when the opportunity arises, interested people need to be prepared for it. Once someone gets the job it’ll be a fast learning curve so the more experience with microphones a person has the better.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Is it a glamorous job?
“A lot of aspiring Foley Engineers have a slanted view of what the job is going to be. Many of the videos online are of professionals like Ed Burke creating a unique machine to create the Wall-E sounds for Disney. They don’t show the grunt work of recording footsteps for the thousandth time or sitting alone in a dark room at a computer for hours on end. That doesn’t make a good promotional video!
“A lot of times it really is just going through an entire scene then re-watching it to make sure that everything is covered, like an Actor’s elbow bumping a door as they walk by.
“If that life sounds awesome to a person then they are on the right track but if it sounds even the least bit boring it may be good to check out a different department in the post sound world. It’s good to know going in that this job is a lot of sitting alone in a dark room.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“The Foley Engineer is always mixing their work so that it sounds correct. Even while they are running the session they are using plug-ins on the Foley Artist’s work so it sits right. They’re constantly altering the levels where needed, running the board to make sure that nothing is coming in too quiet.
“Then they work with the levels to make sure that a hand touching a rail has the proper volume dynamic as the sound of footsteps. One shouldn’t be crazy louder than the other.
“It’s also important to adjust the sounds so they are the correct distance from the camera in a shot. For example, it would be weird to hear loud footsteps in a wide shot but would sound normal in a closeup of shoes walking. Shaping the sounds requires a lot of creative technical knowledge.
“Beyond even just the correct technological aspects, a Foley Artist needs to know their room. They should be aware of how the signal comes in, if there are different resonant qualities in different parts of the room, or if there are dead spots. All those factors play into mixing because if there is a problem, it’s the Engineer’s job to fix it.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Uncompromising. Anytime I’m working on a project I’m going to do my best work even if it’s a terrible movie.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Expectations are the biggest problem in the post sound world. It’s on both sides. There is a culture of people who don’t want to pay for sounds or post sound work. They don’t understand the time it takes to do the job well or how much work goes into becoming an expert at the software.
“Often it isn’t coming from a bad place either; Directors and Producers are donating hours of their life to a passion project so they expect everyone else should do the same. However, while post sound is creative it doesn’t have the same glamour that shooting, editing or directing have.
“This belief bleeds over into the post sound world a bit. Rates aren’t very high in a lot of the post sound houses. A lot of people move out to Los Angeles, get a job at a post sound house and are clobbered with work but don’t make a ton of money.
“It’s difficult to live and aspiring Foley Engineers need to be prepared for that reality. It takes a long time to get into the union and make decent money with somewhat regulated hours.”
Eric Crepeau has worked on multiple projects as a Foley Engineer and Foley Artist. Some of his work includes The Institute, American Justice, Flock of Dudes, My Step Daughter, and The Last Knights. He’s currently based in Los Angeles.