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The growth of Amazon and Netflix has made this 100-year-old Hollywood job busier than ever

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The growth of Amazon and Netflix has made this 100-year-old Hollywood job busier than ever

WATCH: They make the sound effects you hear in movies with their bodies. It may sound antiquated, but Foley artists have more work than ever before.

"The weirdest stuff I do is like sex stuff."

That's what Foley artist Michael Miller tells me when I ask him what the strangest part about his job is. "I’ll have to be like slapping on my belly," says Miller. Foley is the creation of everyday sounds for movies and TV shows using one's body and props. It could be your favorite character touching paper, walking or pouring a glass of water.

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For this scene, Miller has to recreate the sound of the main character of a web series fiddling with a newspaper, so he does just that. It takes him two tries before he's happy with the end result.

Foley has been around for almost 100 years now. The craft is named after Jack Foley, the first sound designer to add sound effects to a silent film using his body.

Miller sits in a soundproof room full of random trinkets, shoes, newspapers, pens, and concrete slabs he can use to recreate sounds.

"These have more of a feminine sound," he says as he holds up a pair of shoes his boss donated to the studio. He'll use those to Foley a woman walking with her boyfriend.

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Miller says that with more projects out there, deadlines have gotten tighter. Whereas before he might get two weeks to work on a feature film, now he gets two days.

Before you likely needed a master's degree to do Foley. Now, not so much. This is something both Miller, his boss Nathan Ruyle and veteran Foley artist Gary Hecker (Justice League) agree on.

Miller started doing sound design in film school. Eventually, his willingness to do Foley lead him to, well, do it.

"A lot of people don’t like to do Foley. It can be tedious and repetitive."

He says his knack for producing music definitely helped.

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Miller says gory scenes are usually the hardest because of the visuals attached to them.

Miller works on a freelance basis at This Is Sound Design, a sound design studio in Universal City, California, and does other projects on the side.

The bulk of his work are smaller budget films and TV shows you see on Netflix and Amazon. And he says the advent of those content producers are the reason he's the busiest he's ever been.

“It feels like there’s more content that people are thinking about Foley for," Miller said.


And that's a big deal for people like Miller. Foley is expensive, so a lot of smaller productions do without it, he tells me. 

It's usually cheaper to dig through a sound library and replicate sounds that were lost in production that way.

But it's definitely not as authentic.

"You could have a movie that’s shot beautifully, but if the sound’s not good. It just doesn’t resonate, you know."

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Miller has been doing Foley at This Is Sound Design for about two years now. He has about 10 pairs of go-to shoes, all serving a different kind of step.

Big-time Foley artists, a cohort to which Miller will be the first to tell you he doesn't belong, usually have a technician in the control room loading up the clips to be Foley'd and sometimes a co-Foley artist to produce sounds.

In Miller's case, he's running the computer, setting up the mic, hitting record, making the sound and then editing it in post-production.

"I'm kind of a one-man band." 

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In Miller's case, like a lot of freelance Foley artists, he's in charge of the entire process: the computer, the microphone, the sounds and the editing.

Foley may seem like an antiquated way to make sound, but there's a reason big studios wouldn't be caught dead without it.

Real water being poured into a glass sounds better than computer-generated water being poured.

“Good sound never just happens," Miller said. "It’s always fabricated by an army of people."


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