Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Wilhelm Scream

I'm about to let you in on a fun- yet sacred - sound editor tool. It's called the Wilhelm Scream. Basically, it's a distinct sounding scream, and if you've seen ANY adventure-type movies in the last 30 years, you've heard it multiple times.

(08-01-06, corrected per Steve Lee - Wilhelm scream authority)
The Wilhelm scream was recorded wild, on a sound stage (perhaps even a production stage). The only recorded slate was very laid back as well... "Man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams." It first was heard in the 1951 Warner Bros film called Distant Drums. It was directed by Raoul Walsh and starred Gary Cooper. (The above picture is actually from a 1953 movie entitled "The Charge at Feather River", in which the character's name is Wilhelm, thus the name of the scream. I guess the character's name in the 1951 film wasn't interesting enough?)

SInce then the scream has made it's way to several features, largely thanks to Ben Burtt. He has faithfully used the scream in all of the Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones movies, and many more. Many other sound editors have used the scream as well. Ben Burtt has declared that he has finished his Wilhelm use and will let it rest.

I've have worked with many great re-recording mixers, including Gary Summers. He has mixed several Oscar winning films, and he has four Oscars of his own. His philosophy towards the Wilhelm scream is "that the character it's synced in for, MUST be airborne." (see the Lord of the Rings trilogy for examples)

To hear this most excellent scream, click HERE.

For a comprehensive history on the Wilhelm, click HERE. And here is a pretty thorough list of the movies the scream has been used in.

A lot of this info was stolen from Steve Lee and his Wilhelm page.


Mark Keefer said...

Not being a Volvo owner, I've never noticed that, and I've never heard of any underground unwritten film-making rule including Volvos.

I do think it's a great idea though. Maybe we can turn it into a standard like the Wilhelm. Every time you see a scene at a red light, a pedestrian has to walk by and yell "Hey! I'm walking here buddy!!" and pound the hood of a Volvo.

The pedestrian has to be from Brooklyn, no matter where the movie is set, and the driver has honk his horn twice - one short, one long. No Brooklyn accent or double horn, then NO VOLVO. It would have to be a Chevy or something.

Duck Dodgers said...

I know you visit often my blog and I'm pretty proud for this.
I really appreciated your work, expecially for "Draftee Daffy".
do forgive the off-topic post.
Could you please let me know something about the upcoming LT set?

My word, I cross the heart. I'll not say a word to no one.
I'm a true animation fan and I know what damages would cause to reveal too soon the contents of such a dvd.
Anyway, I'm really curious, expecially to know if there will be many b/w cartoons ( even if I already own very good copies of ALL the b/w LTS from Porky's debut to the end)and if some favorites of mine ( Ali Baba Bunny, The Old Grey Hare, A Wild Hare, The Wise Quacking Duck) will be included.

Here's my address if you wish to contact me and answer :


Andrea/ Duck Dodgers

Mark Keefer said...


Tom Myers supervised the sound on Cars. I worked closely with him and shared the sound designer credit on Hoodwinked. He's a great guy and a great sound designer, and I consider him a good friend. He also has mixed many films too (including Star Wars Ep III and the DVD remasters of Star Wars). He's a sound monster. So I'm not surprised that Cars sounds as good as you say.

Mark Keefer said...


Thanks for your nice words, and thanks for visiting my blog.

In the upcoming volume, there's obviously more Bugs, some great B&W's and lots of other shorts and characters people have been waiting for. It's a really good collection, one of the best yet I think.

Sorry I can't be more clear than that. Thanks for understanding.

Best to you,

Duck Dodgers said...


Cory Edwards said...


My brother and I have known about that scream for years and love to listen for it. Ben Burtt always has it... and for all nerds, I can list them in each Star Wars and Indy Jones film.

Dylan: As for a lot of Volvos being in film, I think because you own a Volvo, you see more of them. It's like that phenomenon where, upon being pregnant, a woman sees MANY more pregnant women than she ever saw before. I think there are lots of cars of all kinds in movies, and could probably say the same about VW bugs or other models.

But I own a Mercury Mountaineer and never see any of them...... hmmm...

Aaron & Nnifer said...

Speaking of Volvos... my wife and I have had 3... our proudest moment when the exact model and color of our Volvo Cross Country showed up on the Simpsons:

Woo! We've arrived!


Mark Keefer said...

I forgot to tie in Plastic Man, which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. I used the Wilhelm in it when Plastic Man, disquised as a piece of lumber does an off-screen pummel of a bad guy to narrowly save someone.

No one on the Plastic Man production knew anything about the scream at the time, but Tom Kenny (aka Sponge Bob) loved the history. That was my first time to use the scream, as I'm trying to be cautious to not abuse/overuse it. Respect the scream.

(BTW - in my head, the bad guy WAS flying through the air, so Gary's guidelines were met.)

Mark Keefer said...

Aaron, is your site still up? I can't get to it anymore.


Steve Lee said...

Thanks for helping to share the history of our favorite scream.

Mark Keefer said...


So happy you dropped by. And my Wilhelm blog wouldn't have been worth a shout if you hadn't have done all the research.

Thanks, and I'm glad to see your blog. I'll be reading.


Steve Lee said...

Thanks, Mark.

By the way, one correction, but just a technicality: the scream was not recorded in "ADR" or with any kind of "looping" technology. It was recorded wild, on a sound stage (perhaps even a production stage). The only recorded slate was very laid back as well... "Man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams."

Have fun -


Mark Keefer said...

Thanks for pointing that out, I'll correct it.


Steve Lee said...

...Oh, and I almost forgot... if you're in the Los Angeles area in September and want to see a very rare screening in 3D of the film that gave the Wilhelm its name, "Charge at Feather River," go to the message boards, click on the "Events" page, and look for Rick Mitchell's post about the 3-D Expo II at the Egyptian in Hollywood.

Mark Keefer said...

Cool. Actually, I'd already read about that on your site. Very excited about seeing Wilhelm getting shot on a giant screen.