Preserving the Sunset Editorial Sound Effects Library from the USC Archive

[Guest blog post by Craig Smith]

The “SSE” sound effects come from the Sunset Editorial collection which was donated to USC Cinema in 1990. Sunset Editorial had a low-key history in Hollywood. Not a lot is known about them. This is because their credits in films were usually just “Sound Effects — Sunset Editorial”. The company was active from about 1964 to 1987. They mainly did episodic television shows like “Bewitched”, “I Dream of Jeanie”, “The Partridge Family”, and “The Waltons.”  They have 569 credits on IMDB! A lot of the 1960s editing was done by Fred Brown. They were owned in the ’70s/’80s by sound editor Gene Corso.    

Sunset Editorial was a very simple operation. They only edited sound — no mixing. And they worked on a tight budget. Sound editors came and went. There wasn’t much money available for creating new effects, so they depended on effects that sound editors had been using for decades. Freelance editors brought their own collections, and then copied effects to take as they went on to their next job.

Their sound effects collection consisted of dozens of cardboard boxes filled with small rolls of 35mm magnetic film. Each had a slip of paper around it describing the sound.

The rolls were clear 35mm acetate film with two magnetic stripes. One stripe contained the sound, and the other was just to keep the film’s thickness even from edge to edge. Otherwise it would wind unevenly onto a reel.

35mm stripe magnetic film

 At USC Cinema, the sounds were transferred from 35mm mag to 1/4” full track tape. The work was done mostly by Sound Department T.A.s Cormac Funge and Tim Maloney in 1990. I actually tracked them down and was pleased to learn that they’re both still film sound designers!  

35mm dubber playing a Sound effect loop 
The finished 1990 transfers

Cormac & Tim’s memories of this project were not exactly happy ones. There were about 1,200 rolls of film. With all the handling, it took them about six months to transfer a total of 21 hours of sounds. But they did a great job. 

I got the SSE tapes from the USC Archive in 2016. It was immediately clear that these tapes had a big problem. They were recorded onto used Ampex tape from the 1980s. Tape manufacturers changed their formulations in the early ’80s, and it turned out these new tapes were very unstable. They started to display what became known as Sticky Shed Syndrome.” (Google it.) When this happens, the glue that binds the magnetic oxide to the plastic base becomes sticky, and separates. This makes the tapes virtually unplayable.  

Fortunately, there’s a temporary fix. Tapes can be baked for several hours at a low temperature in an oven. So that’s what I did. Each tape was baked at 150ºF for four  hours, then cooled for four hours.

This made the tapes stable enough to transfer using my Nagra 4.2 full track recorder. 

The good news is that this is an incredibly diverse and rich collection. The bad news is that a lot of these analog 35mm mag elements were copies of copies of copies. So they had a fair amount of noise and distortion. Because of this, I did much more restoration on these sounds than usual. I used iZotope’s RX 10 software. Most sounds cleaned up nicely, but I did eliminate about 20% of them. 

Here’s a very annoying but typical example of the restoration:  



The resulting 1,022 sound effects are quite good. There are a lot of amazing sounds here ranging from the 1930s into the early ’80s. Check out the ambiances. Even if a sound seems a little odd to you, try layering it with other sounds to create something unique. They can make great sweeteners! To get you started, here’s an incredibly rare recording of the entire Wilhelm Scream recording session:

I couldn’t have done this my self. I want to thank Dino Everett, Ben Burtt, Andrew Kim, everyone at Soundly, Frederic Font, and Lynn Becker.

– Craig Smith


Craig Smith has been recording and manipulating sound since 1964. After graduating from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, he worked as a sound editor and production mixer in Hollywood, specializing in noisy action-adventure films that are blamed for the downfall of society. He left that world in 1986 to teach sound in the School of Film/Video at California Institute of the Arts, where he is now Academic Sound Coordinator.

Craig’s own work experiments with implied narrative and accidental sound design, putting together sounds & images that have nothing to do with each other to create unexpected stories.

Craig is a member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and the Audio Engineering Society.

You can check other posts in the Freesound blog by Craig Smith here:

This was a Freesound guest blog post. Do you have any project or something you’d like to share in the Freesound Blog? Let us know using our contact form

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49 Responses to Preserving the Sunset Editorial Sound Effects Library from the USC Archive

  1. MATRIXXX says:

    Appreciate all your hard work Craig! Unbelievable!

  2. cloud says:

    wow that is super cool!!! it’s really eye opening to hear the whole session for the wilhelm scream!!!

  3. Gene says:

    Just wanted to say I’ve appreciated the sound effects you posted here on freesound. And that’s exciting to hear the Wilhelm session! Thanks!

  4. SiêuÂmThanh says:

    ¡Super thanks for this sound collection and save history! Very big project and much work/time for complete it. Many great sound effects. I wish people still share sound effect like that time.

    Your collections show me I need record common sound I hear every day but will change in future because technology and life style change.

    If you have any information how build electronic oscillator (circuit diagram) for 1950s sci fi sound please tell.

  5. This is terrific. The reel-baking stuff is wild.

    I’ve always found the Wilhelm Scream to be very gimmicky and overused, but it’s fascinating to actually hear the raw recording session!

  6. Craig Smith says:

    Replying to SiêuÂmThanh: Thanks for your kind words. I’d say it’s not the oscillator that’s the most important part, it’s finding cool ways to process it. Check out this cool demo that Ben Burtt did for the Academy:

    I mostly uses gear you can find in thrift stores. I teach a class called Bad Sound that largely uses junky thrift store gear to make unpredictable wonderful sounds.

  7. doug kaufman says:

    This is incredible- thank you for sharing the process!!

  8. David Fairhead says:

    Well done Craig and everyone involved in this amazing project. These authentic sounds bring a great extra dimension in helping to bring archive film to life.

  9. As a pure amateur, and a low-profile user of the vast FreeSound library for the occasional sound effects for my interactive devices done in the virtual world platform Second Life®, I’m often amazed at the dozens, often hundreds, of attempts to recreate a specific sound for a particular purpose. I mean: I’d be more than happy with just one; I usually get many.

    Now, thanks to your insane efforts, I’ll even be able to get an assortment with a vintage selection of sound effects! What could be cooler? I mean, not only getting the sound by itself, as produced by some modern digital equipment/software; but rather something sounding similar, but recorded in 1950! Or 1935!

    We live, indeed, in amazing times.

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  11. Julian Higgins says:

    I can’t believe you actually uncovered the original Wilhelm scream session. It’s like uncovering lost Beatles demos or something. AMAZING.

  12. Johan Englund says:

    Amazing work! Thank you for making sure that these sounds are preserved and can be admired and studied by future sound makers!

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  14. Rice Cooka says:

    This is truly fantastic work. Preservation and sharing material like this is what the Internet is really about. Thank you.

  15. Kevin Carter says:

    So cool! Thank you for preserving this valuable data!

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  17. justPassingBy says:

    I’m not even someone who works with sound, but I recognize and am in awe of the work you put in to this preservation project: it’s valuable for all of us. Thank you!

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  19. Rowell Gormon says:

    Thank you so much (you and those who helped you and who went before you) in saving these vintage sounds. Working in audio for about 50 years, I have a small idea of the massive amount of work all of you did.

  20. Todd Ellis says:

    Amazing story and amazing work. Thank you for saving all these resources! I have some experience baking RTR tape … super scary the first time, and my wife LOVED me using the oven!

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  24. Thanks! Fun and fascinating! Is it certain which studio originally recorded this scream session?

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  26. Craig Smith says:

    It was done at Warner Brothers in Burbank.

  27. Cormac Funge says:

    Craig! So great to talk to you about the original transfer process. And amazing that the Wilhelm scream session buried amongst it.

    Most of the tape labels in the photo are in my handwriting…

    Cormac Funge

  28. Diana says:

    Absolutely brilliant, thank you Craig so much for digitizing these wonderful effects. These sounds are timeless.

  29. TB says:

    Wikipedia lead me here

  30. Johan Perjus says:

    The Wilhelm Scream lead me to wikipedia 😀

    Question: I quite like the unrestored version as well. Would it be worth publishing the unrestored library in paralell? Also since restoration techniques are guaranteed to improve over time, especially with the advent of machine lerning and AI.

    In any case very greatful for the incredible contribution from everyone involved.

  31. Rolf Steinort says:

    Thank you very much!

  32. Lyn says:

    Actors rolling in deep site 1970 hack use cookies force blaikmail, i dont live in UK india asia but my data is up for free like rest usa

  33. J Helffrich says:

    I’m curious as to how the sounds were recovered from the films shown. Surely that won’t fit into any existing tape deck, so did you modify a deck or peel the tape off the film to play it?

  34. Carolyn Blake says:

    Thank you so very much Craig for the hard work you do to preserve this precious history.

  35. Chris Michaelides says:

    Hi, sorry for my ignorance, are these sounds for use royalty free in film projects? If so, what attribution would be desired?

  36. Art Bell says:

    Thank you, this feels like a precious gift i will use and treasure for a long time.

  37. Greg Gondron says:

    I’m looking for the original stems or sound effects used for magic from the 1964-1972 sitcom/series, BEWITCHED. Could you please help me out?

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  40. Jana Lage says:

    Craig, I am in awe of your talent! The work that has been done to preserve this audio is incredible. Thank you to everyone who had a part in saving these sounds. I appreciate all the work you have done!

  41. Bridget M Clary says:

    Great job! Thank you for your hard work !

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  48. Jerimee says:

    thank you for this awesome resource

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