Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Wilhelm Scream

By Martha Reed

Occasionally, when I’m doing research – which is another way of saying surfing the Net instead of doing any real work – I turn up some little factoid that just fascinates me. So, in honor of Halloween, just past, I’d like to introduce The Wilhelm Scream.

The Scream is a 50-year-old inside joke among sound effect editors in the film industry - the sound byte has been used in over 130 movies and can be heard in most Disney films and repeatedly throughout the Star Wars franchise. I’m sure you’ll recognize The Scream from one of your favorite movies. (Click on the icon shown in the video screen below):

If you're interested, here's the complete history of the Wilhelm Scream:

What has this got to do with writing? Well, researching The Scream made me stop and think about a few things. First, I wondered if sound editors and writers were distantly related. We both work in relative isolation, we both try to craft the optimal effect out of limited material, and we evidently have a similar dress code. We both face the challenges of taking overworked material and trying to fashion it into something exciting and fresh. Of course, sound editors get paid to listen, and writers get paid to watch and report back. I wonder if this is one of those right brain/left brain things?

Someone once wrote that every story ever told was based on one of these seven plots:

1. [Wo]man vs. Nature
2. [Wo]man vs. Man
3. [Wo]man vs. The Environment
4. [Wo]man vs. Machines/Technology
5. [Wo]man vs. The Supernatural
6. [Wo]man vs. Self
7. [Wo]man vs. God/Religion

Let’s take a quick test. Pick one of the seven plots and then name a movie and a book that used it. For example: Man versus Nature = Jaws, Beowulf. Post your idea, and let’s see what crawls out of the woodwork!


Anonymous said...

I'm assuming "Star Wars" is about man vs. man? But I'm not quite sure what is meant by "man vs. the environment" which doesn't include "man vs. nature" and "man vs. machines/technology."

Thanks for a very interesting blog, Martha!

Anonymous said...

Who knew? And here I thought all that screaming was real...yeah, sure. Very interesting post, Martha. I'm going to have to alert our video editor to it. We don't get many opportunities here to include screams in our training films but you never know.

Joyce Tremel said...

Ok, I'll play.

1. [Wo]man vs. Nature--Twister
2. [Wo]man vs. Man--Any war movie
3. [Wo]man vs. The Environment--The Day After Tomorrow
4. [Wo]man vs. Machines/Technology--2001: A Space Odyssey
5. [Wo]man vs. The Supernatural--Poltergeist
6. [Wo]man vs. Self--???
7. [Wo]man vs. God/Religion--The DaVinci Code

Anonymous said...

This is a challenge, since most books/movies seem to straddle multiple categories. Let's see, here's my attempt -- sorry they've all come out to be movies rather than books:

1. [Wo]man vs. Nature - Twister
2. [Wo]man vs. Man - The War of the Roses
3. [Wo]man vs. The Environment - Erin Brockovich? No, wait -- Godzilla?
4. [Wo]man vs. Machines/Technology - The Terminator
5. [Wo]man vs. The Supernatural - The Exorcist
6. [Wo]man vs. Self - The Wolfman?
7. [Wo]man vs. God/Religion - The Witches of Eastwick?

Of course all of these themes seem to show up in my favorite series, Harry Potter (although I think the "vs. God/Religion" theme is a figment of some folks' imaginations).