There are many unsung heroes in film. There are plenty of men and women both in front and behind the camera, across a number of technical departments that cover every facet that are responsible for every detail that you see and hear on screen who never get their moment in the spotlight. The hearing part is what concerns Midge Costin’s documentary, a deep dive in the numerous areas of cinematic sound.

In such a visually driven artform, sound is the easiest aspect of film to take for granted but is responsible for a large part of why we emotionally respond to something on screen. The sense that this is an aspect of film often overlooked is what drives Costin in her account of all things sound. The film takes us on three different journeys throughout its runtime. We initially begin with a comprehensive history of sound, with the silent era giving away to the talkies. It then progresses into a case study of some of the key individuals who pushed the pioneering of sound in film to new heights, before delving into the various different components that comprise a cinematic soundscape, and the artists responsible for them. 

Having this kind of three-pronged approach gives the documentary a weird sense of structure and the niggling feeling that items on the agenda could probably have been shuffled around to allow for a better sense of flow across its admittedly tight runtime. However, that being said, there is plenty here for everyone to chew on, be them familiar with the way sound design works or completely new to the field. 

The history itself is fairly glossed over as it becomes more apparent that Costin is much more interested in the people behind what we hear on screen. The three case studies, looking at Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom allow the film to take in key moments of sound design history that have helped shape it into its modern form. From Murch’s innovations in surround sound on Apocalypse Now, to Burtt’s creations of some of the most famous sounds in film history with the likes of Star Wars, and to Rydstrom’s breakthroughs alongside the development of computer technology with Pixar, these three case studies give a unique look into the Mount Rushmore figures of their trade, as well as offer deeper insights into how the changing landscape of filmmaking also took place in the field of sound. 

But where the film finds its heart is in the final third. As the film shifts its focus to the multi-components that make up sound design, it also turns to look at the wide diversity of artists working in each aspect. From the foley artists to ADR operators, sound mixers, composers and more, no stone is left unturned, and here we get a great sense of the sheer joy of the job. It also makes a case in point in displaying the diversity found amongst these artists, and seeing every man and woman’s clear love for what they do is nothing short of infectious and inspiring. 

Lovingly researched and detailed, as well as featuring a wealth of famous faces discussing the importance of sound in film (Spielberg! Lynch! Lucas! Nolan! Streisand! Coogler! Coppola(s)!), Making Waves manages to construct a detailed look at the wide and expansive field of sound design with a compelling sense of adoration for its subject. That passion for the project may slightly cloud its rhythm, but the beat that it does lay down turns out to be so exceedingly lovely that you’ll find yourself easily moved by the sounds it’s laying down. 

Dir: Midge Costin

Scr: Bobette Buster

Prd: Bobetter Buster, Midge Costin, Karen Johnson

DOP: Sandra Chandler

Music: Allyson Newman

Country: USA

Year: 2019

Run time: 94 mins

Making Waves will be on general release in the UK from November 1st 2019.