How do movies fake party conversation noise?
October 18, 2009 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I recall reading in a thread about a trick used in movies to simulate the background noise of a crowd engaged in a number of separate conversations - like a party - by having a small number of people repeat a few syllables out of sync with each other. What were the details of this?
posted by srboisvert to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Walla
posted by Bromius at 9:47 AM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by cali59 at 9:48 AM on October 18, 2009

When I did drama club in HS, the director would have the background cast go "potato potato potato" over and over again in the same tone of voice. It sounded like the background conversation noise in a crowded restaurant. We tried substituting potato for "hubbub" once, but it sounded weird.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:48 AM on October 18, 2009

Or rhubarb:
rhubarb [ˈruːbɑːb]
interj & n & vb
the noise made by actors to simulate conversation, esp by repeating the word rhubarb at random
posted by ewiar at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2009

Best answer: I have done this type of voice work, called, 'loop'. (As in they'll loop the recording as they need it.) It is long past the day that they'll let you get away with nonsense words. In fact, most times, if it is a long sequence, they will run the whole scene and record several takes of 'background'. Generally, a group of 5 - 7 actors of various ages are called to the studio. A director, (often 2nd unit or something) will brief you on the scene, say a party. If there are any highlights that need to be hit, (for example, blond woman laughing, child running by, man sitting down on couch) he'll assign them to certain actors. (I specialized in animals, children, and Cantonese.) Then they will run the scene and the actors will improvise the dialogue based on the action of the background actors, including things like sighs and 'eating' sounds'. Sometimes, you are to follow one 'character' or you are free to jump around. They might take solo takes of the woman laughing, for example to add in. It then is treated and all pushed to the back behind the regular lead dialogue.
posted by typewriter at 10:07 AM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

We used "Inner Urban Suburban" (staggered) over and over in drama club. Worked pretty well. I have no idea why I remember this, 35 years later!
posted by ourroute at 10:24 AM on October 18, 2009

In 1989, my sister and I were considered as extras in a pizza parlor scene in the Kevin Klein movie I Love You to Death. At the time of interview we were given phrases to say to create background conversation. Mine was "strawberry pie balls" I forget what my sis's was, though, but it was equally as silly.
posted by Acacia at 2:39 PM on October 18, 2009

Crowds can make conversation sounds with watermelon, as well. Varying the pronunciation, staggering the syllables, you'll end up with a conversation like sound. As a plus, the mouth movements required make it look like you're saying several different words.

Watermelon, water melon wa terme lon?

Watermelonwa ter mel on!
posted by Ghidorah at 3:34 PM on October 18, 2009

When I was doing research for a "fake English" FPP, most of the videos I found had non-English speakers putting a lot of "R" sounds into their English-esque gibberish. Apparently that's the sound that most characterizes the language to non-speakers, something which people fluent in it might not recognize.

So based on that I'd recommend something like "rhubarb," "rutabaga," or just "rarararara."
posted by Rhaomi at 7:41 PM on October 18, 2009

Previously and Related

Or rhubarb:
rhubarb [ˈruːbɑːb]
interj & n & vb
the noise made by actors to simulate conversation, esp by repeating the word rhubarb at random

Used to maximum effect by the Monkees during the Monkee Huddle.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:36 PM on October 18, 2009

I've heard of this as rhubarb, so nthing that.

Also, have you ever heard a movie or tv show that didn't have the background added in yet? (Like a screen or prerelease, say, but I've heard it in an episode from a DVD box set as well.) Super friggin' weird sounding, lots of foot scraping and hollowness. Whatever the word(s) used, they make a huge difference.
posted by The Monkey at 9:31 PM on October 18, 2009

Have all the actors repeat, "Rutabaga, rutabaga, Studebaker, Studebaker." (That's what I was told by my older brother -- and Why Would He Lie To Me?)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:32 AM on October 19, 2009

I read (30 years ago) something about a guy who was involved as a movie extra. If there were a crowd scene, he said half the people would say, "Natter, natter, natter". The other half would say, "Grommish, grommish, grommish".
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:50 AM on October 19, 2009

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