What does your work as a Production Sound Mixer involve?
My job is to get all the raw sound material, principally clean and clear recordings of dialogue without background noise. This means I record all the lines written in the scripts, but also any additional or alternative lines that the Director might want. If I go to a specific or unusual location, I might get ‘atmos’, which is the sound of that space.
How will you resume production on projects, such as the third series of Britannia, as lockdown eases?
To be honest, I’ve already been implementing a lot of the suggested guidelines in my work already. For example, I’ve always made sure that equipment, such as headphones or radio mics, aren’t shared. I’ve also never put my kit up close to the Director, Script Supervisor, Costume or Make Up departments, so guidelines about keeping departments separate doesn’t really affect my work. I think any productions resuming work need to take onboard the gravity of COVID-19 – even away from production, it’s important to remember that you’re not protecting you, you’re protecting other people – but I really am looking forward to going back to work!
Over the course of your career, have you noticed any differences between working with UK and US production companies?
In my experience, the difference working with American companies is that, as long as you can do the job, they don’t really care about race: there’s no sort of sentimentality about giving people opportunities. This actually means that they’re far more inclusive: on American shows I’ve worked on, I can look around the set and see every kind of person there, while on British shows there’s just me. It really stems from the difference in mindset between America and Britain when dealing with issues of race: in Britain it manifests far more subtly. For example, if there are no black people on a British set, no one will admit racism, but rather that “there’s no one qualified enough for the job”.
A lot of Black British actors have found more work in the US – do you think we’ll see a migration in Black British creatives working behind the camera to the US?
Sometimes you strive to get into these arenas and when you get there, they make it so uncomfortable: you can’t progress because you’re spending your time firefighting or dealing with microaggressions. You’re not able to do your job properly because the atmosphere and environment is so hostile to you – like when I’ve been sitting in front of my sound cart with my headphones on, and people are like, “Oh, are you the sound recordist?”
But, a lot of us are just dogmatic: I was offered work in Canada, but I thought, “I’m British, why do I have to uproot myself and my family to go there? My peers are here and working; I’m contemporary with their kit and experience – why do I need to go there to do what they’re doing?”
Over the years, has the representation of Black women behind the camera changed at all?
Yes, slowly but surely more Black women are coming. The sad thing is that these women tell us they’re still passing through the rubbish we passed through when we started. There’s a lot of pressure on Black women. While we need allies in this industry that don’t just pay lip-service to diversity initiatives, but actually employ us, the pressure on the Black women employed is enormous: if for any reason their enterprise is not a success, its then taken to reflect badly on all Black women.
Your work has enabled you to visit locations like Timbuktu and Machu Picchu – was travelling central to your decision to become a Sound Mixer?
The school I went to in the ‘70s made it a point to tell Black women to manage our expectations: if we were very, very lucky we could work at Marks and Spencer’s in the catering department, otherwise, we would be working in factories or as a nursing auxiliary. For example, I had an amazing ear for languages, but my teacher told me not to waste my time on them, because I was never going to travel. So, when my work took me to obscure locations that I wasn’t even taught about at school, I just thought, “Ha!” See, I’m from a working-class family – there’s no way my parents could have sent me to these locations – and so to find a career that not only sent me there but paid for me to be there, it just blows my mind.
What is the importance of festivals like S.O.U.L.?
There needs to be as many access points into the TV and film industry as possible, because the dynamic is that there is no way in. My colleagues and I are actually trying to reach out to the younger generation at the moment and to bring them in behind us, so that when the door does eventually open, it won’t necessarily be open for us, but we can push them through. Especially now that COVID means it’ll be more difficult to get people interested in TV or film on set, initiatives like S.O.U.L. are a great way of reminding people that this industry is for you as well.
Judi is now back to Sky’s Britannia series 3 and roaming all over the UK’s eerie locations for more witchy/folklore comedy adventures!
Catch her also on this podcast:
— Richard Edwards (@rjerecords) August 25, 2020
And this one!!