Foley, Jack


Foley, Jack
(1891–1967)
   While his first name may not elicit recognition in movie fans, undoubtedly most have heard of the technique which bears his surname: Foley, or the act of performing sound effects during postproduction to match the action of the picture—a technique that he brought to bear in creating special sound effects for SPARTACUS (1960). Despite never receiving a sound credit for any of the films he worked on, Jack Foley was responsible for developing an entire approach to recording sound for motion pictures. Because of his cinematic anonymity, there is very little documentation about his life and his work in Hollywood. Most of what has been written was culled from a long-circulating anonymous article with no verifiable source. What follows attempts to fill in the gaps of that article and to offer a fuller perspective on the life and work of Jack Foley.
   Born in Yorkville,New York, in 1891, Jack Donovan Foley grew up in the Seagate area of Coney Island, where he attended P. S. 158 with classmates James Cagney and Bert Lahr (future actors), and Arthur Murray (future dancer). Like many young New Yorkers of the time, Foley took on jobs at an early age, working as an order clerk on the docks and playing semipro baseball before he moved to California in the early 1910s. Finding work at the fledgling movie studios that had also moved from New York to Los Angeles, he worked briefly as a stunt double where he developed both a sense of timing and an appreciation for the movie-making process.
   After the outbreak of World War I, Jack moved to the town of Bishop in east-central California, where he worked at a hardware store, occasionally contributed to the local paper, and served in the American Defense Society, guarding the Sierra Nevada watershed against enemy poisoning. When, in an ironic turn, the property around Bishop and the Owens Valley was sold to the City of Los Angeles to provide a steady water supply, Bishop and its surrounding farms needed a new source of income. Making the most of his brief experience in the industry, Jack Foley convinced the studios to utilize the Owens Valley as an ideal location for filming Westerns.
   Foley was signed on to several films as a location scout until he returned to Los Angeles to work at Universal Studios. At Universal he not only wrote several Westerns for director William James Craft, but he also did second-unit directing, shooting inserts and background fill shots. But it was not until a call went out for anyone with radio training to volunteer for the Universal sound department that Jack found his métier. Universal was one of the last studios to convert to sound, because of studio president Carl Laemmle’s steadfast belief that sound in film was just a passing fad. The studio held out until June 1928 (WARNER BROS. had released Don Juan and a collection of Vitaphone shorts on August 6, 1926), when they refitted their Fort Lee, New Jersey, studios to produce sound shorts. Within a matter of weeks they had produced their first “talkie,” the lopsided Melody of Love, which received poor reviews primarily due to the inaudibility of the accompaniment. Reeling from the musical silence of Melody, Laemmle and Universal needed to demonstrate that they could provide a film that combined all the elements of both a theatrical presentation and a silent film’s orchestral score. The problem they faced was how to convert from silent to sound the many films that were then in production. Jack Foley stumbled onto a solution when he set up a team to provide synchronous sound effects.
   In 1929 Foley was asked to coordinate the sound effects for the musical film Show Boat. Originally shot as a silent in 1928, Show Boat had been shelved when Universal realized that it would somehow have to add sound and music after the fact. Jack Foley came up with a unique solution to the problem, as David Lewis Yewdall explains: Engineers set up a rented Fox-Case sound unit interlocking the picture to project onto a screen on Stage 10, where a forty-piece orchestra, under the direction of Joe Cherniavsky, would perform the music visually to the picture. In an isolated area to the side, Jack Foley and his team also watched the projected picture as they performed various sound effects, even performing crowd vocals such as laughing and cheering, as well as clapping while the orchestra performed, a technique that became known as “direct-to-picture. ”
   With the success of the added sound on Show Boat, other pictures started to arrive at Stage 10 for soundtracks and Jack Foley’s “direct-to-picture” group found a permanent home for the next 30 years. In the early years of sound cinema, the microphones were not very sensitive, and though they could pick up the sound of voices, other sounds such as footsteps and body movements were not heard. Recognizing that this gave films a certain unrealistic quality, sound editors began to cut together prerecorded sound effects from growing effects libraries to fill in the soundtrack. While this worked well for “hard” effects such as gunfire or automobile engines, it proved extremely difficult to time and match the rhythms of footsteps or the rustle of fabric. Jack Foley’s “direct-to-picture” method provided the solution, as Foley or one of his counterparts would “walk” an actor’s performance to provide the sound of missing footsteps. Stage 10 accumulated a number of different floor types to match the desired scene and hundreds of different shoes were on hand to approximate the correct footwear. The idea of adding live footsteps to a performance was not new—it had been done in radio for more than a decade—but what was new was achieving exact synchronization with the film.
   At first this was done one reel at a time, with Foley and his team adding all the effects on the fly. Not only did this require an exquisite sense of timing performed by a large team, but also any mistake would destroy the entire take. A better method was achieved by synchronizing short loops of the film to a specially built optical recorder. This meant that timing could be rehearsed by watching the film loop multiple times, and when a take was indicated, the recording mixer would activate the sound recorder. After the takes were developed, they would then be edited together to provide the effects track for the film, which would be mixed with the music and dialogue to create the final soundtrack. This provided a method for achieving exact synchronization with fewer mistakes and it meant that one or two people could provide all the effects for a single film. Jack Foley rapidly acquired a reputation as one of the finest “direct-to-picture” artists in the industry. His method was to add the sound effects in layers on separate tracks: first walking the footsteps of the actors, then adding the rustle of cloth and body movement, and finally the sound of any synchronous effects, such as jewelry or props. This also provided a consistency of sounds, with the same sound-effects person providing the sounds for the entire film, rather than having several editors working on different reels at the same time. It also allowed the effects “walker” to develop a repertory of styles to match the actors on screen. This required more than just a practical skill of creating sounds in sync with the film. Joe Sikorski, a colleague of Foley, explained, “When Jack performed a scene he got into the actor’s head, becoming the character. You have to act the part and get into the spirit of the story. It makes a big difference. ”
   While developing an acute sense for character, Foley also developed an ear for choosing just the right sound effect for a scene. In 1959, STANLEY KUBRICK had finished the principal shooting on Spartacus, but he still needed specific sound effects for several key scenes. Because the film was going to be released in Super Technorama 70 mm six-track stereo, Kubrick felt that the sound effects needed to be as grand in scale as the picture. To simulate the sound of thousands of cheering Romans, Universal shipped one of its three-channel recorders to a Michigan State University football game against Notre Dame. At halftime, some 76,000 fans participated in the recording, shouting lines like “Hail, Crassus!” and “I am Spartacus. ” It was a huge success, and the sound effects were incorporated into the movie to simulate the majesty of Rome. However, not all of the sound effects were created on such a monumental level. For one of the largest battle sequences, where Spartacus and the other slaves are attacked by a legion of Roman troops wearing heavy armor, Kubrick believed that he needed to organize hundreds of costumed extras to recreate the sounds of the advancing army. Before this was done, Jack Foley asked if he could try something first. After consulting with the film’s composer, ALEX NORTH, Foley discovered that the score used heavy strings and brass instruments that would dominate the low end of the sound spectrum. In response Foley improvised a length of rope onto which he attached numerous keychains and metal objects that were shaken in rhythm with the advancing troops. On its own, the effect sounded hollow and incomplete, lacking footfalls or motion sounds, but in combination with North’s martial music the effect was astounding.
   Spartacus was the last film that Jack Foley worked on, as he retired from Universal Pictures after it was bought by Revue Pictures. Although Jack Foley never received screen credit for his work in sound effects, his legacy lives on behind the screen. When Desilu Studios built their “direct-to-sound” stage in late 1950s, they named it the Foley stage in tribute to Jack Foley. The name stuck, and many sound effects walkers and “direct-to-sound” artists started calling themselves Foley artists, honoring one of the most innovative pioneers of film sound.
   References
   ■ Crowdus, Gary, and Duncan Cooper, “Resurrecting Spartacus—An Interview with Robert Harris,” Cineaste 18, no. 3 (1991): 28–29;
   ■ Felchner,William J. , “Spartacus: Epic Tale of Revolt in Ancient Rome,” Big Reel, November 1997, pp. 132–134;
   ■ Gelmis, Joseph,“Stanley Kubrick,” The Film Director as Superstar (Garden City, N. Y. : Doubleday and Co. , 1970);
   ■ LoBrutto,Vincent, Sound-On-Film: Interviews with Creators of Film Sound (Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 1994);
   ■ Mott, Robert L. , Radio Sound Effects—Who Did It, and How, in the Era of Live Broadcasting (Jefferson, N. C. : McFarland & Company, 1993);
   ■ Pasquariello, Nick, Sound of Movies: Interviews with the Creators of Feature Sound Tracks (San Francisco: Port Bridge Press, 1997);
   ■ Reiner,Yair, “Jack Foley: Feet to the Stars,” NPR’s Lost and Found Sound, broadcast March 24, 2000. Available online. www.npr.org/programs/Infsound/;
   ■ “The Story of Jack Foley. ” Available online. www.marblehead.net/foley/jack.html;
   ■ Yewdall, David Lewis, Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound (Boston: Focal Press, 1999).
   J. S. B.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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