It's a Wonderful Life - the art of Foley

Jo Molyneux tells us what it's like to have the unusual but crucial role of Foley Artist

Like any good technical aspect of filmmaking, Foley art should blend into the imagery seamlessly. It should help to convince the audience that, for instance, the crunching of snow under the main character’s feet is being captured in that moment. The reality is likely to be corn starch in a leather bag being scrunched by a Foley artist.

The use of sound effects to enhance a performance began with radio dramas in the 1920s. Sound effects men and women would be recorded live with the voice cast adding in telephone rings and the opening and closing of doors.


Recording a radio play in New York in 1923 (Popular Radio Magazine, 1923)

The term Foley artist, which we are more familiar with today, is named after Jack Foley. After joining the Sound Crew at Universal Studios in the 1920s, he helped to develop the art of adding in everyday sounds to films during post-production. Foley artists continue to work in film production to this day, secretly and masterfully adding in those every-day, ambient sounds which bring such depth and realism to a moving picture

For It’s A Wonderful Life - a Live Radio Play, we are of course returning to the era of the radio drama and the Foley artist and effects are far from invisible.

In my role, I join the cast on stage to watch carefully for their cues and become as immersed in the play as they are. The items used to create the variety of sounds for are fully on display for the audience to see and they get to witness how the noise of ice breaking, clocks ticking and windows smashing are created (clue: one of them involves cornflakes).

The Foley techniques used in It’s A Wonderful Life are faithful to what would have been used in radio dramas during the 1940s and it’s fascinating to think that some of these methods of sound effect creation are still being used to this day. To be able to play at being one of these artists alongside the talented cast is on par with being Mary Hatch when George Bailey offers to lasso the moon.