Industry Pro: Foley Artist Alyson Dee Moore
There are only three people in entertainment who can say they truly walk in the footsteps of Oscar-winning actors. Two of them are Stand-Ins and Stunt Doubles, who fill in for actors on the set for lighting prep and for dangerous moves, respectively. The third is called a Foley Artist. Today’s profile subject is an award-winner (most recently the recipient of a Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild “Golden Reel” for INCEPTION) who has walked in the steps of some of the biggest-name movie stars working today. But that’s not all she does. Read on to find out more…
What are you working on now? We just finished up THOR, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, which will be a big summer blockbuster and, on the complete opposite side of that, WINNIE THE POOH. And we also just finished a video game called “Batman: Arkham City.” We’re about to start TRANSFORMERS 3.
I have a couple of questions about what a Foley artist does. My understanding is that you recreate realistically the sounds that the film portrays. Do you work on one project at a time? It’s ideal to work on a project from start to finish. INCEPTION was, I think, almost 30 days. We’ll have that (type of situation) on TRANSFORMERS. But, you know, sometimes you have to pick up a day here or there. So I might be working on a television show one day and then THOR the next day and then something else the next day. Sometimes, it gets confusing. “Is that Thor’s cape or is that Loki, his brother?” You know, because you do something different for each one. “Which shoes did I wear for which character?” There’s a lot of keeping track involved in the job. Thank God for iPhones. We can take a picture or a little video of how we’re doing a prop.
When are you laying in that sound? Almost at the very, very end, after the film has been edited. But we sometimes get a new cut of something. And we have worked on animated films where we haven’t even seen the finished animation. But we are one of the last steps.
So backing up to the beginning of your path to becoming a Foley artist… Did you go to college? No. I’m actually a high school drop out. I dropped out when I was 16. I do have to say, I grew up in the business. My dad was an actor and also an independent producer. I got my GED and took one film class at a community college, but the instructor was awful and that turned me off to schooling. Then I was lucky in that I got a job with a sound editor, as his assistant. I did that for a couple of years, then I met some Foley people.
There were only around 20 or 25 people doing Foley at the time, which was the early ’80S. I apprenticed with some really good people for about a year before I even got paid, working in a candy store on the side to pay the bills while I learned the ropes.
Think of it like being a tap dancer or a ballerina. In order to become good at it, you have to do it, you have to have the experience. With Foley, it’s the same. You’re not really very good at it until you’ve been doing it for a while.
So were you mainly watching and doing the grunt work? Well, when I first went to the Foley stage, I was actually working for an editor, making cue sheets for him. And then they said, “Gosh, we need someone in case one of us gets sick.” There were so few people doing it. It wasn’t so much doing the grunt work as it was having to learn a lot in a small amount of time. But there are a lot of basic things that Foley artists use for certain props. So it’s learning all those techniques.
What was the first job you actually got paid for as a Foley artist? I think the first thing was a television show called “Falcon’s Crest.” And then the first movie was IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES. We got three or four days to do that movie, which was a lot of time then.
So are you working with a team? Are you working with the same people all the time? Yes, I have a regular Foley partner. His name is John Roesch. He’s worked on a lot of big movies. John is really the ‑‑ he’s the guy ‑‑ you know, people come to Warner Brothers (ed. note: the studio where Alyson is based) just to work with John. And then our mixer is Mary Jo Lang. The three of us are a team.
And what do you consider your big break? My big break was actually working with John. We have been partners for over ten years. The first movie we did together was THREE KINGS. When I started working with John, I really didn’t think I was good enough to work with him because he was such an icon. From then, I’ve learned so much and it’s really bumped my career up.
What would you consider your eureka moment? When I was little and I would visit my dad on the set. He was on ”Green Acres.” There was some sort of magic I felt being in a studio lot. There’s a certain smell to a sound stage. It’s kind of a musty, humid ‑‑ you know, there’s just an energy to it. And I remember being little and thinking that when I grow up, I want to work at the studio because for me, it just felt like home. And now I work at Warner Brothers in Burbank. Every time I drive through that gate, I’m just excited that I work there.
Can you name some projects that you especially liked or moments that you are especially proud of? A big, big thing was when I won an Emmy in 1997 for a mini‑series, “The Shining.” My dad had just died about three months earlier. And I went to the ceremony with my mother, and my sister was there. It was very exciting to win an Emmy because I grew up in a household where my dad was on TV. And then I got into the Academy about three years ago as a voting member for the Oscars. That, to me, is also a really big deal because I think it’s just such an honor to be accepted by your peers.
Describe a typical workday in your current position. Well, you won’t hear this from many other people in this field. We have a very set workday. We start at 8:00 in the morning. We take a 10:00 break. We take lunch at noon. We take a 3:00 break and we leave at 5. There’s not a lot of overtime.
Like a banker! It’s unbelievable, I know. As far as a typical work day on a project… On a first day, we watch the first reel of the show, usually with the supervisor, and we get an idea of what the show is about. John and I pick our characters. We will stay with those characters for the entire movie.
What does that mean? For instance, on THE SOCIAL NETWORK, I was Edwardo and John was Mark Zuckerberg. That’s a big deal to figure out our characters. We replace every footstep in whatever show we’re doing. We will do the path of our main characters then the secondary characters, then background characters. So in everything — television, commercials, video games, whatever it is — you replace all of those footsteps, regardless. We know how they walk. We know what shoes they are wearing. Especially with that movie, it was big because Zuckerberg wore these Nike flip‑flops. John had to really get these weird shoes and he had to do a whole separate take of just flipping the flap on the underside of his foot for the shoe.
Aside from that, each of us is good at different things. John is really good at explosion. We don’t do the actual sound of the explosion but debris, things crashing into each other. I’m really good at a lot of the more subtle things, hand pads and paper movements and glass ‑‑ I like to do glass breaking. John does a lot of the water. So we just kind of get in a rhythm that way and off we go.
Okay, what was your worst job or worst day in the industry? As worst days go, it’s hard to say. Sometimes you just work on a project that’s really difficult. Maybe you’ve been doing 25 or 30 body falls and you just hurt. That’s probably the worst, unless I have just completely blocked out some people I have worked with. (Laughs.)
Conversely, what was your best job or best day in the industry? You know what one of my best days was? My dad did an “Evening Shade” episode and I got to walk in my dad’s footsteps literally. So that was pretty cool.
That’s very cool. What’s the best thing about your current job? Well, there are so many best things. One is working at Warner Brothers on the lot. I love the people I work with. I love that I work eight to five. I’m fortunate to work all the time. And I think the very best thing about my job is I am creative every day. It’s different every day. Even if you are working on the same thing, you are not always making the same sound effects.
And what’s the worst thing about your current job? My knees are good now, but how will they be in 10 or 15 or 20 years? It’s the same sort of wear and tear marathon runners get, because you are really on your feet all day. That’s probably the worst part. It’s tough on your body.
Okay. So I’m looking for a brush with greatness. It can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to somebody being great at what they do. I have a good one. Every once in a while, we will get a visit from the Secret Service because someone important is coming in. We had had the Chancellor of Germany come, which was very exciting. So the Secret Service came recently, but they wouldn’t tell us who was visiting. They had to do a background check. These people were coming for a tour. They were just coming to the museum, which is across from our stage, and the Foley stage. That was it. Then we heard one of the Secret Service people on the phone say, yes, and two girls ages 9 and 12.
Oh, boy… Sure enough, when it came time, that Tuesday at 3:00, we heard the sirens and the helicopters. We were standing there and in walked the First Lady. She said, “Hi, I’m Michelle” and we all shook hands and her daughters came in and her mother. It was so surreal. They were on vacation. It was not an official visit so no photos, unfortunately, but they hung out for half an hour.
They wanted to see a Foley stage? They were supposed to be on a big family vacation and the Gulf oil spill happened so (the President) had to stay back. So she took them on a mini‑vacation. I think it was Warner Brothers because they have a friend at Warner Brothers, but I guess they just tried to figure what would be the most fun thing for the girls to see. We were working on CATS AND DOGS 2 at the time. So we made up little gloves for them and they came in and they all did a cue. Michelle was dressed in this pretty sundress. And she got right down on the floor to do the cue. She had done her homework. She took off her bracelets because she knew they would make noise. So that was big. Unfortunately, it’s not recorded anywhere with a photo but, you know…
What is the best career advice you’ve ever gotten? Take every opportunity you have because not only can you learn what other people do, but you never know where that path is going to lead. I mean, no one starts out to be a Foley artist. You can meet 10 or 20 different Foley artists. They each had a different way into the business. So keep an open mind.
Also, be nice to everybody because that person who is delivering your bagels in the morning or watering your plants in the afternoon… Well, for instance, that guy who was watering the plants in the afternoon is now my supervisor. So you truly never know where someone is going to go.
So what’s your next move? Where could you go from here? If, God forbid I couldn’t walk Foley anymore, I might supervise. I like supervising. Before I worked with John, I supervised a group of about five Foley women. We all worked together and I didn’t manage them, but I would get the schedule and I would figure out who was working where and who was working on what shows. I liked that.
For a very long and impressive list of Alyson’s credits, visit her IMDB page here.
Bottom photo, credit: Bob Beresh.
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