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Where’s your Wilhelm Scream?

You bet you have.

From 1954’s A Star is Born to the Star Wars movies to the recent King Kong and X-Men movies, you’ll find that distinctive cry in all of them. And in 130 more movies.

So distinctive is that sound – and so well known among Hollywood sound pros and directors – that it long ago earned its own name, “The Wilhelm Scream,” named for the last utterance of a Pvt. Wilhelm in a long-ago movie called The Charge at Feather River.

Here’s what sound editor Steve Lee, who has thoroughly tracked the history of this evergreen movie sound, told me:

I remember the scream from old westerns, and films like THEM! that I used to watch as a kid. Hearing these sounds getting used over and over again is one of the things the made interested me in this career, and now I have a chance to learn this history behind these sounds, and even use them myself. And also, now that it’s not as big a secret anymore, it’s a way that we sort of wave “hello” to each other. It says that one of “us” worked on the film. One fan told me something really sweet – he said that when he hears it in a film, he knows that people who care about movies worked on the soundtrack. And he’s right, most of us in this “club” are movie geeks and film history buffs who appreciate good movie sound.

It is, in other words, one of those little touches that speaks volumes, one of those handmade flourishes that illustrates the passion of the editor and director who uses it as they wave “hi” to each other.

It’s the sign of a creator who cares and a designer who loves to design.

In your day-to-day radio-making, how many times do you use a Wilhelm Scream?

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