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The laugh track is an institution that was first introduced as the common background sound for multi-camera comedies that were shot in front of a live studio audience. This is not always the case today with situation comedies, but the laugh track is a rhythm technique that instructs an audience when to laugh and keeps a certain pacing and character. In your own video projects you can often include this laugh track when editing your film, depending on the type of work it is an how you employ it. Here are some tips for using a laugh track when you are editing your film or video project.
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The standard use of a laugh track is to indicate a point when the audience should respond to something humorous, so when you are editing comedy. This is actually where a traditional situation comedy will "declare itself" because these are the points when it believes that something is funny. What this means is that each point that laughter is inserted is a point that the creative talent, mainly the director, believes that this is a funny moment. This does not need to be in the form of a traditional joke, but instead can just be a character moment, an awkward moment, some type of post-modern self-referential instance, cliche, or really anything that is funny within the context presented by the show. This is how laugh tracks are traditionally used, and if you want to utilize them in this way you need to pattern not only the placement of the laugh points within this, but also the way that the characters speak and the story structure goes. This means that there has to be a lead up in laughter, items spoken of earlier must be referenced later for a larger laugh, and there has to be a series of peaks and troughs. When you do apply the laugh track you have to be consistent, both with where you place the laughter audio sample after the joke and with the types of moments that you indicate as being funny with the laugh clips. These also need to play into the other rules that are in place for editing comedy.
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You may think that you have to have filmed your project with a more standard comedic form to use the laugh track when editing, but this is not true. Today, if a non-television film program uses a laugh track it is done so to take the rules of the film outside of the realm of reality. In this way it become surreal and often times ironic and focused on satire, depending on content. For example, if you have a strange scene that is darkly funny and engaging characters that are behaving in an over-the-top fashion you could place in a partial laugh track to highlight this. You may also want to draw out other audience sounds, like applause and scared sounds, to focus in on some to the character institutions of the television situation comedy like the "hero" or "bad kid."
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The important thing is to get a variety of audio clips for the laugh track and you want them to be as clear and of the highest quality as you possibly can. You will not want to overuse it, and if you are actually using this in a more hyperreal fashion you are either going to want to lower the laugh track quite a bit or bring it up louder than the dialogue. You actually have quite a bit of freedom when you are editing with laugh track samples, but not matter what you want to place them just after the laugh point. This means that you need to allow the complete joke or laugh moment to be hear, but a beat afterward you want the laugh clip to come in. When you are using a non-linear video editing system you will have the ability to place these audio clips just after the base video clips for the joke, and can apply a universal distance for the laugh track from the regular video tracks.