Video Essay on How Spielberg Makes us See With Our Ears

You might think that it sounds weird to be able to ‘see’ with your ears, but Steven Spielberg knows how to get you to do just this. The things he has you focus on are what makes you see with your ears. The more prominent the sound, the more your focus will shift to what the director wants you to. The audio elements of any film tend to build tension through ambiance that is naturally present but is isolated by the sound technicians at the behest of the director. By cutting out certain sounds and focusing on others the story tends to go in the direction that the director wants, and thereby creates or releases tension as things move along.

Music does this as well though the narrator in the clip tends to think that movies can get by without music by simple sound design and the expert shifting of focus from one scene to another. He’s right after all, it doesn’t take music to make a scene, but the music can help. While raw emotion can still be generated within a film by leaving the musical elements out, some people still do not gain a clear enough picture of what’s really happening until the more musical notes chime in and paint a backdrop of the movie in a way that simple ambiance can’t always do for some. In a way the music tends to flesh things out just a bit and even heighten the expectations of the scenes that are to come.

Plus, music can increase the level of emotion that a person feels while watching a movie since it conveys a great deal more in just a few notes than most camera shots could possibly match. A masterfully-struck note is at times far more effective than the imagery that comes with the image one sees when they close their eyes. Both are effective, but the music tends to bolster the imagery and give form to the emotions that are being felt while conveying the sense of whatever is happening in the scene to a greater degree.

The limit to which I would draw the use of music in a movie when it comes to directing focus would be the use of songs that are well known in pop culture. While they still lend emotion and a great sense of feeling to the movie they are simply too well known and tend to distract more than add to the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear my favorite songs when they’re warranted and when they make sense, but otherwise they take away more than they give. These songs are typically well-established on their own and don’t belong to any one movie unless they were created for that film, which still doesn’t mean that they won’t take away from the necessary focus.

There’s really one song that pops into mind when it comes to conveying the emotion of the movie and keeping it in focus, and that happens to be the Disney movie Zootopia. It’s so well-integrated into the film that it works perfectly when it pops up. There are many others to be sure, but that one just stood out.

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