Could you discuss your journey that led you to Skywalker Sound? What was your motivation to go into the film industry or sound in particular?
As a kid I wanted to do lots of things, most notably to be an astronaut. They had the space shuttle then. The other thing I wanted to do was join the Air Force, but at the time they wouldn’t let me fly the fighter jets because I was female. But when I was a kid, I saw Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was pretty young to go to a movie like that, but my dad took me, and when I heard the sound of the Mothership flying over, and the Close Encounters communication tune was playing, and all the little spaceships were there, I can remember holding onto the edge of my seat. From that moment on, I was fascinated with movies and special effects. I don’t think I separated picture and audio in my mind, but I remember being impressed that the audio made you believe that that was a huge spaceship.
I went to film school, and decided to go into audio production, and ended up doing sound design for theater, which I really liked. At the time, a lot of people were doing experimental theater, so I got to do wacky stuff. I also took an audio for video course. Then I met a friend of mine who’d worked as a sound apprentice at the Saul Zaentz Film Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. When they asked for another apprentice, he recommended me. I met Jennifer Ware, who was an editor and supervisor at the center. They’d already filled the job they needed, but she remembered me, and got me an internship and then a job. I really loved it.
And what kind of work were you doing at the Saul Zaentz Film Center?
At the time, you pretty much learned to do everything. I kept insisting on being put in the effects department, although they wanted me in the dialogue department. I had all this experience with sound effects, and I liked that. It was right when computers were coming in. When you became an apprentice, you learned the workflow of how to work with film, and how to be a sound assistant. I assisted for effects, dialogue, helped keep the mix running, and then I moved into recording sound effects. Finally, they needed help with editing, and so I started editing sound effects.
How did you make the transition to Skywalker Sound?
I worked at Saul Zaentz for a number of years, and then Skywalker Sound became very busy and they needed help, so I was called in to work on a job. At Skywalker you work on a freelance basis from project to project, and so for about three years I worked between Saul Zaentz, Skywalker, and American Zoetrope. I was very lucky to work at all three facilities and do different projects.
Is it still the norm for employees at Skywalker Sound to work on a project-to-project basis?
Yes, but nowadays if you’re working in sound in the San Francisco Bay Area, it will most likely be only at Skywalker because most of the other places have closed. You may also work in Los Angeles. At Skywalker, the amount of time you work depends on the project, and you could move between different roles depending on your skills.
Having worked elsewhere in the industry, what were your first impressions of Skywalker Sound?
First of all, Skywalker Ranch is very beautiful. The Technical Building is very nice. I am forever grateful for the chance to be there. Having worked at Saul Zaentz, the crews at Skywalker were often bigger because there were higher-budget, more action-oriented films. It’s also really fun to be part of that energy of Lucasfilm.
Was there anyone in particular from whom you were able to learn during your earliest time with the company?
I thought that everyone was very open. If I had questions, it didn’t feel weird asking someone. Right now, I’m working with Gary Rydstrom, and even though I didn’t work with him for a couple of years after I started, he was always so generous with his time. I’d ask him questions, and he’d say, ‘Hey, come listen to this!’ He’d get excited about something. I also worked with Pat Jackson a lot, and she is now an instructor San Francisco State University. She was definitely a mentor. She always tried to hire me as a sound designer in addition to being an effects editor. She truly loves sound for film, and was always very patient and excited.