An Example of Creative Sound Design to Inspire Your Film

How to tell your story with sound and maximize screentime.

“Is it worth giving up who you’ve been for the ‘maybe’ you could become?”

I love films that introduce me to new perspectives – especially those that suggest that, despite our differences, we’re united by basic human needs and desires.

This Is Normal, a short that’s met with success on the festival circuit, fits the bill. It challenges our idea of “normal” by presenting us with Gwen, a young Deaf woman, who undergoes an experimental medical procedure intended to “cure” her of her deafness and give her the ability to hear. As directors Justin Giddings and Ryan Welsh put it, “Gwen risks her friends, culture, and identity to discover the answer to the question, ‘Is it worth giving up who you’ve been for the ‘maybe’ you could become?’”

In addition to a nuanced narrative that passes the Bechdel Test, This Is Normal features creative sound design. It often assumes a subjective perspective to convey the experience of deafness, drawing us into Gwen’s world – both when it’s silent and when sound starts to seep through. In other words, sometimes we hear what the deaf hear, and sometimes we hear what “normal” people hear. The sound is a storytelling tool as essential as the visuals, baked into the film’s conflict and resolution.

In an interview conducted before production, the directors discussed their vision for the film’s sound design. It was central to the storytelling from the beginning, a lesson for fellow filmmakers:

Besides the story, [my favorite aspect of the movie] is HOW we intend to tell the story. Most of the film will be from the perspective of Gwen, so as her hearing gradually returns, the “soundscape” will change. If a sound is distorted or fuzzy, it will be distorted or fuzzy for the audience. If Gwen is trying to read lips, we are going to accurately show the challenge of lip-reading in the Closed Captions by showing how words and sentences change as the lip-reader gets more context or misses a word. Our Sound Designer is gearing up for quite the challenge!

…A challenge that pays off.

Take 19 minutes to watch and listen to This Is Normal:

For filmmakers eager to pack the punch of a feature in limited screentime, This Is Normal is especially relevant, a case study in pacing drama to play out in the short form. It’s also worth noting that the film found sponsorship with Fractured Atlas and funding through Indiegogo – proof of the power of a well-coordinated crowdfunding campaign.

We hope you’re as inspired by the film’s story, craft, and background as we are!

 Michael Koehler, with


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