The Blog Roll
Friday / July 13 / 2012
What is it? Simply put it’s a high-pitched scream/yelp, slightly humorous in tone due to its exaggerated manner. You will have heard it in films as diverse as “Them!” “Toy Story” “The Lord Of The Rings” “Lethal Weapon 4” and “Transformers”. It has become a cinematic sound cliché, being used in over 255 movies, TV shows, computer games and even commercials,
First recorded for the movie “Distant Drums” in 1951, the brief given to the sound designers was “the sound of a man being bitten by an alligator.” According to research, the person who originally performed the scream was actor and singer Sheba Wooley. He only had an un-credited role in the film but due to his proficient singing skill was one of the few actors selected to record additional vocal elements including the sound effect for the brief that would go on to become known as the Wilhelm Scream.
“The Charge at Feather River” (1953) was the first film to utilise the scream after its original appearance. In this film, Private Wilhelm, played by Ralph Brooke, is shot in the leg by an arrow and with the resulting scream a film trope began to form. Warner Brothers subsequently placed it in their sound archive for use on other productions.
Up until the 70s it was used exclusively on Warner Brothers productions including films such as
“A Star Is Born”(1954), “The Sea Chase”(1955) and “PT-109”(1963).
Little known sound effects editor, Ben Burtt noticed its increasing use so he decided to quietly “borrow” it from an existing films soundtrack and used it in Hammer Films swashbuckler parody “The Scarlett Blade”. Wanting more creativity over its use he delved further into the history of the recording and eventually found the original reel mentioned previously "Man being eaten by alligator"
At this time he was working on a small budget film and thought the sound would be ideal for a particular scene: “Storm trooper falling into a pit on the Death Star”. The film was, of course, “Star Wars.”
It is Burtt (whose career took off after his ground breaking work on “Star Wars”) who is credited with giving the SFX its now legendary name and he went on to use the Wilhelm Scream as an aural calling card on many of his projects. It can be heard in every “Star Wars" film, “More American Graffiti” ” Willow” “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” even cult favourite "Howard The Duck"
So what started with Burtt became an iconic cult. It is an inside joke amongst sound designers, directors and others working in the film industry.
When Quentin Tarantino learned of its significance while overseeing the audio post on "Reservoir Dogs" he called a break in the schedule so he and the crew could watch "Distant Drums". He subsequently used it in Kill Bill:Vol 1 and other productions.
Peter Jackson became such big fan he actually requested the level of the scream be raised in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and insisted it be used in "Return of the King" & "King Kong"
So if you fancy adding a bit of sound design history to your next project with Grand Central, just let us know, we are sure we can sort you out!