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A Catalog of Live Sound Effects

by Tony Palermo

It's a Wonderful Life script & SFX for radio - Details about how you can produce my radio adaptation of Frank Capra's classic film.

    BIRDS CHIRPING:
    Twist a little bird call. (Not too often, though). Available at camping outfitters.

    BLACKJACK:
     Plastic club hits once on wooden walk board.  (Large “Flintstone” toy clubs)

    BLOWGUN:
     Blowing through a cardboard tube, then slapping the tube.

    BODY DROPS TO GROUND:
     Plastic clubs beating on cardboard box.

    BODY DROPS:
     Two plastic clubs fall on cardboard box.

    BREAKING THINGS. (FURNITURE, BOXES):
     Manipulate a crash box. (A giant potato chip/pretzel can filled with glass, wood, metal and stones)

    BUBBLING VAT:
     Blow bubbles into large drinking cup. Close to mic.

    CABIN DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING:
    WINDOW SHUTTERS CRASHING:
    CAR CRASH:
     Crash box.

    LAMP CRASHES:
    FURNITURE BREAKING:
     Shake the crash box.

    CAR DRIVES OFF:
    CAR DRIVING:
     Electric car driving toy.

    CHAINS RATTLING:
     Drop chains in wooden wagon. (a wooden box using old roller skate wheels)

    COOKIE TIMER RINGS:
     Triangle and striker. (one time) “Ding!”

    COOKIE TRAY DROPPED:
     Drop metal tray with coasters on walk-board.

    COWBOY BOOTS WALKING ON DIRT:
    FOOTSTEPS RUNNING ON A DIRT FLOOR:
    FOOTSTEPS ON UNDERBRUSH:
    MEN DISMOUNTING FROM HORSES. (JANGLING SPURS, FOOTFALLS):
     Use wooden “feet” in the hoof box. (A wooden box 14 x 18 x 4 filled with gravel.)

    CRAWLING IN UNDERBRUSH:
     Crinkle large plastic bag.

    CUTTING NOISE. (“A KNIFE CUTTING A SILVER BULLET”):
     Scrape butter knife against some metal.

    DOG BARKS:
     Vocalize it. “Rarf Rarf Rarf!”

    DOOR KNOB JIGGLED AND DOOR OPENS:
    DOOR SLAMS:
    DOOR OPENS:
     Small 18" x 15" wooden door on hinges in a 2x4 frame with a door knob.

    DOORBELL CHIME:
     Doorbell SFX device. (a wooden box with a doorbell and buzzer installed)

    FACE BEING SLAPPED:
     Slapping hands together

    FACE SLAP:
     Slap stick. (two 15" x 3" boards connected by a spring loaded hinge)

    FIGHT BELL RINGS:
     Large bell SFX device. (An old school bell--about 15 inch diameter)

    FIGHT:
    BODY FALLS TO THE GROUND:
    MEN STRUGGLING DURING A FIGHT:
    PUNCH:
     Whack two plastic clubs together or on a leg. Grunt.

    FIRE BELLS:
     Triangle and striker.

    FIRE:
     Repeatedly crinkle a stiff plastic bag.

    FOOTSTEPS on UNDERBRUSH:
     Twist straw (hay) or a broom's brush..

    FOOTSTEPS:
     Shoes on wooden walk-board. (walk-board is 2'x3' doubled 3/4 plywood)

    GIFT WRAPPING PAPER CRINKLING:
     Crinkle a stiff plastic bag.

    GLASS DROPS:
     Knock drinking glass on table. (So it does NOT break!)

    GLASSES CLINKING:
     Drinking glasses clinking.

    GUNSHOTS:
     Clip board snaps. The pros used guns firing blanks and later electronic sound devices. We've found the clip boards to be safe and reliable. Cap guns don't sound good over a microphone.

    HAND CLAPS:
     Clap hands three times.

    HAND PICKS UP PHONE:
    HANG UP PHONE:
     Rattle phone receiver (handset) on phone.

    HANDCUFFS LOCKING:
     Handcuffs locking, first one then the other.

    HORSES GALLOPING, TROTTING, WALKING:
     Use coconut shells in gravel hoof box.

    You can also use plastic cups—the kind 7-11 sells Slurpees in. You can use them on a table or a book—or best of all—on top of some pea-sized gravel.  You “gallop” with a cup in either hand using a triplet rhythm—think: gid-dy-UP, gid-dy-UP, gid-dy UP, gid-dy UP—which most people associate with a horse. However, that would be a THREE-legged horse. It’s wrong, of course, but people—and radio directors—prefer this triplet rhythm over the actual four-legged rhythm: gid-UP-gid-UP, gid-UP-gid-UP.

    ICE CUBES IN A GLASS:
     Drop Christmas tree light bulbs into a glass. (Carefully!)

    INDIAN TOM TOM. (ONE-2-3-4, ONE-2-3-4 ETC.):
     Use bongo drum with hand (or toy drum with beater).

    INTERMISSION CHIME:
     Doorbell SFX device. (one tone not the ding-dong of front doors)

    JACKHAMMER:
     Apply vibrating toy pen to 3 tiny plates on table.

    MEN YELLING:
     “Hey!” “Look out!” “Here they come!” “Get ‘em!”

    NAIL PULLER:
     Pull lid on nail puller SFX device. (a 2"x12" wooden box with a flat wooden lid that is nailed on one end.

    NIGHTCLUB WALLA WALLA:
     Chatty mumbling, some laughter.

    OFFICE BUZZER:
     Electric buzzer SFX device. (like a door bell device but it produces a "buzzzzzz" sound)
     Open and close the small door.

    OPEN/CLOSE DOOR:
    CAR DOOR SLAMS:
     Wooden door. [and old metal ice chest would be better]

    OPEN/CLOSE WINDOW:
     Roll wooden cart or old fashioned roller skate back and forth on table.

    OVEN DOOR OPENS:
     Roll wooden wagon across table.

    PHONE RINGS: (old fashioned Bell telephone style)
     Phone bell SFX device. (a typical modern bell--similar to a door bell device. Ring it 4 seconds on 2 seconds off)

    POURING WATER:
     Pour water from pitcher into a glass. Close to mic.

    PRIZEFIGHT WALLA WALLA:
     Boisterous voices. “Huh”, “Brother”, excited mumbling.

    RAIN:
     Shake a rain stick or bucket with BBs.

    RAY GUN BLAST :
     Toy light saber.

    SAWING EARTH:
     Vibro-pen toy on cardboard box.

    SCREECHING AUTO BRAKES:
     "Glass scratch" SFX device. A 7"x7" wooden box containing a thick piece of glass that is scratched by several large nails operated by a crank. The sound is similar to fingernails on a chalkboard, but less unpleasant.

    SIREN:
     Blow on siren whistle.

    SLIDE WHISTLE DOWN:
     Pull plunger on slide whistle. “Eee-yoooooop!”

    SMALL CRASH:
     Shake the crash box SFX device a little bit.

    SWORD UNSHEATHED:
     Scrap a metal cooking spoon against a large pancake flipper.

    TAPPING ON WINDOW:
     Tapping on glass sheet.

    TELEPHONE RECEIVER PICKED UP:
    TELEPHONE HANGS UP:
     Rattle phone handset on cradle. (We bought an old Bell telephone at  flea market)

    TELEPHONE RINGS:
     Phone bell ringer SFX device. (Ring it 4 seconds on and 2 second off)

    THUNDER:
     Shake a 3'x4' 1/8 inch thick Plexiglas sheet. Use the crash box first for the thunder crack.

    TRAIN BRAKES:
     Glass scratch SFX device. A 7"x7" wooden box containing a thick piece of glass that is scratched by several large nails operated by a crank. The sound is similar to fingernails on a chalkboard, but less unpleasant.

    TRAIN CHUGGING:
    TRAIN SLOWING:
     Drummer’s brush on an old fashioned wash-board. A metal pie tin with holes punched it could substitute for the wash  board.

    TRAIN CRASH:
     Crash box SFX device. Shaken a lot.

    TRAIN STATION WALLA WALLA:
     Quiet voices. “Where”, “OK”, mumbling.

    TRAIN WHISTLE:
     Wooden train whistle. "Whoo-whoo!"


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TONY PALERMO is an audio theatre producer, performer, and educator living in Los Angeles, California.
He performs professionally, conducts workshops, and produces programs for hire.
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All contents © 1996-2006 by Anthony E. Palermo. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 03/02/11