In these days of climate change, peak oil, fracking and Jeremy Clarkson, it behoves us all to do our bit for the environment. And what better way to help make a greener tomorrow than with a little recycling? So, as you listen to Episode 7 of Action Science Theatre, don’t sit there thinking, “I’m sure that sound has been in the past three episodes.” Instead, rejoice in the knowledge that, by recycling sound effects, we at Action Science Theatre are contributing to greener podcasting.
Yes, all right, that’s a pathetic excuse for what might seem to be a little laziness on my part when it comes to editing Action Science Theatre. There are indeed certain sound effects that have made more than one appearance over the past seven months. So much so that some effects have become a bit of a running joke here at Action Science Towers. For example, why not go back and count how many episodes have rustling papers in them? Or filing cabinets opening and closing?* Then there are the staples of audio drama, such as footsteps and doors. Over the seven episodes so far I’ve built up quite a collection of both, but there are one or two stock effects that I tend to go back to time and again. Mind you, I’m not the only one. One sound effect in particular has been used repeatedly for the past 60 years. The story begins with a man being eaten by an alligator…
In 1951, actor Sheb Wooley was asked to produce a series of screams for the Gary Cooper western, Distant Drums. As Cooper and his company of soldiers trudge through the Florida Everglades, one of them is dragged underwater and eaten, with Wooley’s blood-curdling scream added in post-production. The screams were then placed in the sound library at Warner Brothers and continued to pop up in various places. In particular, the scream accompanied a man called Wilhelm falling off a horse** in the 1953 western, The Charge at Feather River. More of him in a moment.
The scream was used in films on and off for 25 years, but its big break came in 1977 when sound designer Ben Burtt was hired to work on an obscure science-fiction film called Star Wars. From there, the scream became an industry in-joke, featuring in what appears to be every major action film since. Many examples and compilations can, of course, be found on YouTube. And what of Wilhelm? Well, in honour of the cowboy and his horse, Burtt gave the effect the name by which it came to be known by sound editors and film buffs: the ‘Wilhelm Scream’.
And now it’s time for another of my patented ‘Questions with Really Disappointing Answers’™:
- What is the most commonly re-used sound effect in Action Science Theatre?
Tune in next month for the Really, Really Disappointing Answer.
* Please do. It will increase our download numbers, and that will make Action Dan happy. If we can make him happy enough, he might even let me out of the Producing cage and give me some food and water.
** To be fair to him, he had just been shot by a dastardly Red Injun.