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Man Gets Bitten By Alligator, And He Screams

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

In the early 1970s, a group of sound designers at USC’s film school noticed the same scream in every film.

They called it the Wilhelm Scream, after Private Wilhelm in The Charge of Feather River.

As a joke they began inserting it into their student films. After they graduated, they continued to insert the scream into as many films as they could. As of today, it’s appeared in over 250 films and TV shows, including Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Reservoir Dogs, and Lethal Weapon. Here’s a compilation.

This isn’t as easy as you might think. The scream doesn’t blend in with the background. It’s a ridiculous, loud, atrocious scream. Directors demand it’s removed…if they spot it. To get the scream inserted into a film today is as much a challenge (and a badge of honour) as it is an inside joke. It’s become the biggest inside joke of sound engineers working in film.

Like most inside jokes, this seems like a spontaneous accident. But it follows the rules of all inside jokes. First an event happens {noticing the scream}. Second then there’s a follow up that promotes this to a broader group {inserting the scream into a film}. Finally there’s a tradition for people to do it every time.

Now it’s part of the group’s identity. It’s a symbol for that group. It has a unique meaning to insiders that it doesn’t have for outsiders.

In our own groups and communities, we have plenty of events that could become inside jokes. But we’re not executing well on the second step. Which is to bring the event to a broader group and repeating the event in some form. If we can get better at that, we should have a lot more inside jokes.

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