By Gary White
Last Modified: Monday, November 16, 2009 at 10:49 p.m.
More than 80 years after motion pictures learned to talk, most viewers probably still regard sound as secondary to images in the movies.
Not Rick Morris. A veteran sound editor whose credits include the major-studio films "Face/Off" and "Blow," Morris knows that sonic elements are crucial to a movie's impact. Inaudible dialog can ruin a scene, whereas well chosen sounds can make an audience squirm, laugh or weep.
Morris, a 1977 graduate of Lakeland's Kathleen High School, is the sound design editor for "Endure," a Lakeland-based thriller whose progress The Ledger has been chronicling since its early stages. Morris, owner of the one-man company Maverick Sound in Winter Garden, has two general objectives for the small-budget film shot this spring: removing sounds that might detract from the story and adding sounds that will enhance it.
On a recent morning, Morris sat before three flat-panel computer monitors in his office, a crepuscular room with walls covered by blood red sound-dampening panels. Two mixing boards occupied his desk, their knobs and switches giving him command over every detail of the soundtrack.
Morris said he decided to be a sound man at age 12 as he watched a man at his church operate a four-channel sound board at services. Morris lat er learned more about sound mixing while playing bass guitar in a rock band.
Morris ventured to Hollywood in his early 20s and found work with one of the movie industry's premier sound companies. In addition to his film assignments, he worked on the TV shows "NYPD Blue" and "Law & Order." He received an Academy Award nomination for best sound editing on the 1997 film "Face/Off."
Since returning to Florida, Morris has also done sound design for the likes of Universal Studios Florida, the Daytona Speedway and Kennedy Space Center.
Morris, a youthful 50, received the digital video files of "Endure" in mid-October. He said the sound editor's first task is to conduct an aural cleansing. He uses a computer program to remove unwanted noises, such as humming from air conditioners or electrical generators and camera crew clangor.
He also tweaks some vocal elements. He said "Endure" lead actor Judd Nelson has a much deeper voice than co-star Devon Sawa, prompting Morris to do some equalizing of pitch.
Morris adds sound in various ways. He layers on ambient noises, such as cricket drones, wind and thunder in outdoor scenes and background murmuring - known as "walla" - and ringing phones in interior scenes.
Morris' software program offers 96 separate audio tracks, 12 of which he has allotted for music. But Morris resists the temptation to fill every possible sonic nook.
"One thing I've learned from doing backgrounds is less is better," he said.
His role also involves "foley" work, the creation of sound effects to match visual actions.
"Basically, if you see it you have to hear it," Morris said. "If you see a car go by, you have to hear it. That's kind of the general rule."
A car crash occurs in the early moments of "Endure." Morris embellished the scene's recorded track, inserting sounds of a fracturing windshield, a ferocious thump as the car slams into a guardrail and the hiss of steam escaping a punctured radiator.
Other foley additions are less obvious. Morris inserts "body grab" audio and even the rustling of clothes, sounds often too subtle to register during filming.
Morris has a catalog of thousands of audio clips, but he often goes into the field to record fresh sounds. His office includes a soundproof booth, in which he regularly creates sound effects.
As the film's sound designer, Morris supplements the musical score of brothers Adam and Dennis Davidson with extra-musical noises.
"Sometimes in feature films I never get to hear the music," Morris said. "Independent films I love. I can usually interact directly with the composer and hear the music. I love to do sound design to actually make it part of the score. I hear the music, hear the pitch it's in, and I'll pitch things to make it part of the music."
He played the movie's opening scene, in which a young woman lies on a floor, a gag in her mouth. As she is dragged by the unseen kidnapper, an eerily warbling metallic sound blends with the music, compounding the sense of dread.
Lakeland resident Jim Carlton, the film's editor, said Morris' efforts are particularly important for the scenes in which the young woman, Daphne, is shown bound to a tree in the woods as the local police search for her.
"In this film, especially with Daphne on the tree and her inability to verbally communicate with the audience, the sound design is a critical element," Carlton said. "It's almost a character in and of itself. It's setting the mood and tone for each of the scenes."
Morris said his task is more than half finished. The producers are beginning to submit rough versions of "Endure" to film festivals and hope to have it completed in December.
Carlton spent months editing the film.,"It's amazing the difference from the sound we've given him and what he's added," Carlton said.
[ Gary White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7518. ]