Foley Moley

Jul 10, 2020

Comedians Laurie Kilmartin (writer for CONAN) and Erin Jackson (Last Comic Standing) face off in a game about the strange noises that go into creating movie sound effects.

Heard on: Bob the Drag Queen And Camila Mendes: We're Here... To Play Games!

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Jonathan, you sound sad.

COULTON: Hi, Ophira. I'm not sad. I'm annoyed. I've got some problems.


COULTON: Before I get into it, let me just do the theme song. Let's get that out of the way, and then I can really dig into the complaints I have.

EISENBERG: OK. I'm here for you. Let's hear it.

COULTON: Here we go.


COULTON: From NPR and WNYC, coming to you from our respective homes in beautiful Brooklyn, N.Y., it's NPR's hour puzzles, word games and lists of petty grievances, ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


EISENBERG: You sound upset.

COULTON: Here's my current situation. It is raining heavily here where I am. Unanticipated side effect - it's very loud on the roof. So I could not record in the room where everything is setup. So I had to cobble together some kind of mobile version of my recording rig and move it to another...


COULTON: ...Part of the house where it's quieter. Here are my complaints. I am now sitting sideways on a couch in a weird way that already hurts my back because I couldn't get the phone set up in place to see the Zoom video well without doing that. And I also, because I am old and I have progressive bifocals and because the angle of the phone, everything just looks totally blurry, and there's nothing I can do about it. That's a short list of my complaints about the situation.

EISENBERG: Do you have - just give me one more, though.

COULTON: (Laughter) Let's see...

EISENBERG: Dig deeper.

COULTON: Dig deeper - oh, wow. Oh, you went like a real - you want something existential? Well, I guess the main thing is I don't know who I am or what I'm doing anymore.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) There we go.


EISENBERG: So here's my short list of complaints.


EISENBERG: There is nowhere for me to be in my apartment. There's actually no physical space in my apartment that is mine.

COULTON: (Laughter) Right. Shared - 100% shared space with family - familiar with this issue.

EISENBERG: Yeah, I was just looking at it, you know, because I have no space in my house for me, and then Crate and Barrel sent a whole catalog about, like, your new in-home office furniture, like it's time. And I felt like sending back just a picture of my laptop on my bathroom floor.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah, here's my...

COULTON: Here's my office. How do you recommend I dress this up? Do they sell an additional 300 square feet? Can you - is that something you can buy?

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly. You do - by the way, the way the light is coming behind you, you look like you are in a train car.

COULTON: (Laughter) Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants if I were - if I had to do this from a train car.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) I don't know. I'd be like, where are you going? I'm so excited. Where are you going?

COULTON: As you know, since the pandemic started, I started riding the rails. So now when I record, I do it from a boxcar.

EISENBERG: I also, you know, in the building, I was like, oh, we have a roof.

COULTON: Do you have like - your building has like a roof deck up there and...

EISENBERG: So it's sort of a roof deck. It's a roof deck that, I think, was questionable if could be used. There were people sort of like, I think we can use it. We got to check it out.

COULTON: Oh, I see, a semi-legal situation.

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's become legal. I don't know if that is just because people are like, no, it's legal.

COULTON: What are they going to do? What are they (laughter) going to come shut us down? That's already happened.

EISENBERG: Please do. I would love to interact with someone new.

COULTON: Please come and shut us down just so I can talk to a person.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. If any person comes within 40 feet of us, my son, my 4-year-old, will just tell them his entire day.

COULTON: (Laughter) That's very cute.

EISENBERG: And then if they are, like, nice enough to respond, at the end of it he'll go, look; we just had a surprise playdate.

COULTON: Your kid sounds like the sweetest, most bubbly personality.

EISENBERG: When he's in it, he's in it.


COULTON: Oh, now the dog is barking.

EISENBERG: Just wants to come see you?

COULTON: He's fine. He's barking because my back hurts and my glasses are fogged up...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: ...And he feels bad for me, I'm sure. I can only imagine.

EISENBERG: You have an empathetic greyhound.

COULTON: Yeah, I do (laughter).


EISENBERG: Well, you know what? Let me take your mind off things...


EISENBERG: ...Because returning to the show today is "RuPaul's Drag Race" winner Bob the Drag Queen. And he chats with us about his new HBO docuseries "We're Here," and we challenge him to a game about all of his favorite things. And let me tell you, he likes a lot of things.

Also joining us as friendtestants are actors from the new film "Palm Springs," Cristin Milioti and Camila Mendes. But first, a couple of my longtime friends, stand-up comedians Laurie Kilmartin and Erin Jackson, are coming up right about now. So let's play some games.


EISENBERG: I am so excited to be joined by two of my favorite comics. I haven't been able to see them in person for a long time, but here we are joined together through Wi-Fi. Laurie Kilmartin and Erin Jackson, hello.



EISENBERG: We have all not done a live show. I assume you have not done a live show through this whole thing because there has been none, but you never know. Do you miss standup, or are you happy for the break?

JACKSON: I definitely miss it. I have done one show. It was one of those back of the pickup truck...

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

JACKSON: ...Drive-in shows.

EISENBERG: How was it?

JACKSON: It was - I mean, any other time in my career, we would have called that a hell gig.


JACKSON: But I was so excited to be there. It was like me, Judy Gold - of course we were like (vocalizing). But the whole time we were like, that was amazing. Oh, my goodness. That was flashing lights instead of laughter. You couldn't see people. It was still amazing.


COULTON: Were you literally on the back of a pickup truck?

JACKSON: Oh, yeah, on the bed of a pickup truck in front of a diner in Queens.

COULTON: And did they put, like, a stool up there with a bottle of water? (Laughter).

JACKSON: There was there was a mic stand. I don't know if there was a stool.


EISENBERG: Did you - how was your memory of your set?

JACKSON: I mean, I was rusty. But I was like, it's your fault for coming to the first comedy show, so this is what you get.


EISENBERG: That's right. Laurie, do you miss doing standup, or are you happy for the break?

KILMARTIN: I do miss it. I've been doing all my standup shows in my bedroom on Zoom.


KILMARTIN: And I constantly have to worry that I didn't lock the door and a family member's going to barge in, asking me to open a jar or whatever.

COULTON: (Laughter).

JACKSON: I had a drive-out, which is when you walk somebody.

COULTON: A drive-out.

JACKSON: I was like, where are you going? I think it's way more devastating when somebody puts their car in reverse during your show.



EISENBERG: So, Laurie, Erin, we have a game for you. Sound good?


EISENBERG: All right.


EISENBERG: Excellent. So as you know, foley artists are the people who create the sounds we hear in film and television. So this audio quiz is called Foley Moly.

KILMARTIN: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: We are going to play a movie sound effect, and you are going to guess how the sound was actually made. But don't worry. This is multiple choice, so you'll have something to choose from. And you're going to be competing against each other. So we're going to go back and forth starting with Erin, OK?


EISENBERG: All right. This is "Godzilla" from 1954.



COULTON: That was weird.

EISENBERG: That was a weird one. OK, how was that sound created? Was it created, A, breathing through a scuba diver's mask; B, rubbing a leather glove coated in pine tar resin against the strings of a double bass; or C, withholding coffee from a mother of four?

JACKSON: Well, I mean, I'm sure it's probably two of those because, I mean...


JACKSON: It definitely sounds like coffee withdrawal. But I don't remember A, so I am going to say the pine tar and the bass.

EISENBERG: Absolutely. That is correct.

KILMARTIN: Any answer that contains the word resin is the right answer.

EISENBERG: That's true.

KILMARTIN: There's no other...

EISENBERG: That's true.

KILMARTIN: ...Reason to use it in this quiz.

EISENBERG: Yes. And the sound designers for the 2014 version say that they made the roar differently. They captured sounds at frequencies that humans can't hear and then pitched them down in the studio. So they sound like they're fine.


COULTON: This is for you, Laurie. This army chant is from the second "Lord Of The Rings" movie, "The Two Towers."


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, chanting in non-English language).

COULTON: What are we really hearing there? Is it A, 25,000 spectators at a cricket match; B, the crowd at a special promotional "Lord Of The Rings"-inspired pro wrestling match; or C, 6,500 angry fans at Comic-Con who just learned that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman?

KILMARTIN: Or D, audio from a Zoom comedy show.


EISENBERG: I mean, the most successful one - can we agree that would be the most successful one?

COULTON: (Laughter).

KILMARTIN: I'm going to pick A because...

COULTON: The cricket match.


COULTON: Yeah, that is correct.


COULTON: It was A. Peter Jackson ran onto the field while a cricket match was happening - he probably waited for a break in the action - and taught the crowd the chants.


EISENBERG: Erin, this one is the most frightening to me, but maybe you like this movie. Here's the lovable robot Wall-E.



BEN BURTT: (As Wall-E, vocalizing).


EISENBERG: How was his running sound created? Was it A, a white noise machine on the post-apocalyptic future setting? Was it B, the director's daughter on a Big Wheel bike; or C, a vintage biplane?

JACKSON: Vintage biplane.

EISENBERG: That is correct. Yes. It's something called an inertia starter. It was also used in "Looney Tunes" to make the sound of the Tasmanian Devil spinning.

KILMARTIN: Can I say this game is highlighting how awful most movie sounds are?



KILMARTIN: I'm very stressed out by every opportunity to listen to one.

COULTON: Yeah. They're very aggressive...


COULTON: ...Foley sounds.


EISENBERG: Super-aggressive. And do either of you use a white noise machine to fall asleep?

JACKSON: I don't. I'm a TV sleeper. I mean, sometimes I fall asleep when the news is on, so it's usually white.


JACKSON: I'm not going to - I don't know.

KILMARTIN: Show's over, guys. We're not going to top that one.

EISENBERG: I don't...

COULTON: That's a good one.


COULTON: All right, Laurie. Let's hear the sound of the Titanic hitting the iceberg in James Cameron's movie.


COULTON: So how did sound designer Christopher Boyes create the effect? Was it by A, breaking ice in Yellowstone National Park; B, defrosting a bag of peas that had been in his freezer for six years; or C, crashing an actual decommissioned icebreaker ship into an actual iceberg?

KILMARTIN: Wow. Since James Cameron directed it, I'm going say C because it sounds like the most expensive and unnecessary way to make that noise.

COULTON: That is not correct, but your reasoning is absolutely correct.


COULTON: So I feel like...

KILMARTIN: All right.

COULTON: ...I should give you the point anyway.

KILMARTIN: Thank you.

COULTON: It was actually breaking ice in Yellowstone National Park.


EISENBERG: And how did they make Celine Dion's voice? We don't know.


KILMARTIN: Only Leonardo DiCaprio knows how to make that voice.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) You guys did great. That was your first game - nailed it.


EISENBERG: It was wonderful. Did we learn anything? Maybe. I don't know. I don't know.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: More with Laurie and Erin after the break, and we'll play a game about funky smells with the stars of "Palm Springs," Cristin Milioti and Camila Mendes. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF X DEF AND JAMES WATKINS' "CHEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.