“They always say it’s so nice to work with a woman,” laments Hannah Webster, sound designer at newly launched studio, Sister Sound. “It’s a problematic comment, yes. But also a typical one - expressed often without malice or mal-intent, but it stings all the same. See, it is nice to work with women. It’s as nice as it is to work with men. It’s as equally nice as it is to work with anyone, identifying as any gender, who takes pride in their craft and grafts as hard as necessary to produce incredible work. So, why is this outdated faux-praise still rattling around the industry?”
Hannah is one of four young engineers at the helm of legacy sound house Jungle Studios’ latest venture for incoming industry talent. Sister Sound, Hannah explains, hopes to break down some of the barriers to the industry experienced by young people and she hopes to encourage more women into the field. “There’s a catch 22 when speaking about the female experience; you don’t want to come across as the sole female voice, but you also know this is a vital issue that must be spoken about. What I often find difficult about this is that the platform for women to have a voice is growing, but it’s really hard to prove that good work is good work without pushing ahead and being that one girl who speaks about what it’s like to be a woman.”
Unsurprisingly, these issues are not exclusive to the sound industry, often permeating many areas of production and post production; so we looked to the wider industry hoping to find out why young, talented women, including producers, DOPs, sound designers, artists, colourists and motion designers, are often caveated based on their sex rather than their successes? Looking to the industry women experiencing this right now, we asked them to share their thoughts on everything from how they got their foot in the door, to the industry resources available to them and whether Gen-Z really do have a different way of working...
Getting A Foot In The Door
Ash Yee, Théa Dagnaud, Karol Cybulski
So, is this the universal female experience when entering into the creative industries? We spoke to young women across the board to hear about their experiences and hopefully answer some of our questions.
For Ash Yee, CG artist at MPC New York, it was a Pixar animator visiting her high-school that sparked the first flickers of inspiration. “He showed us his process for animating a scene from the film Up,'' she recalls. “After that presentation I started looking at the behind-the-scenes of every VHS and DVD we had at home, and becoming so enchanted with the entire film-making process whilst doing so.”
Less linearly, Théa Dagnaud, junior producer at CHEAT London, originally trained as a lawyer, finishing her degree in France in 2015. Realising she needed a more creative outlet, Théa moved to London to practice her English and try to find herself in the process. “I was looking for an internship, or work experience,” Théa remembers. “Joseph and Toby at CHEAT were looking for an office manager and voilà! It only took a few weeks to realise that I had finally found exactly what I wanted to do - a real perfect match.”
Hannah Webster, Olivia Endersby
For Olivia Endersby, bookings producer at Jungle Studios, it was life in front of the camera as a stand-up comedian before exploring a career behind-the-scenes in production. “I actually did a Masters in Stand-Up Comedy which was a lot more male-skewed. In fact, there was only myself and one other female on the course! It felt slightly discouraging as there is still so much stigma around female comedians and women not being funny, that you did have to work a lot harder to prove to an audience and your counterparts. It didn’t stop me doing the course, but did slightly put me off continuing stand-up after uni.”
Whilst visiting creatives and fortunate encounters with studio owners are great avenues into the industry, resources such as the BFI Academy proved useful to CHEAT junior colourist Karol Cybulski who affirmed that it was incredibly helpful in “getting her started in film, building up a network and being able to attend wonderfully curated talks.”
“I studied Music Technology at York University,” Hannah Webster recalls. “My course was heavily weighted in favour of men and I saw this imbalance perpetuated as I entered the industry. People often say to me: “Does it not bother you, working with guys all day?”, and it frustrates me because as much as it stings when my gender is referenced, I think it would be fairer and better for everyone if we could all just move away from gender-based commentary.”
A Gen-Z Way Of Working?
Amie Kingsnorth, Napatsaporn Sindhurattavej, Marika Shatova
"Un-pin-downable" is a charge levied repeatedly against Gen-Z - yet their multidisciplinary nature is exactly what keeps them so relevant and allows them to create work that surmounts expectations.
“I feel like the younger generation are eager to create and stand out. There is more of a chance to be self-taught with easy access to software. There is a sense of eager competitiveness - we don’t feel like we should stop and perfect in one area and one area only,” says Big Chop London editor, Marika Shatova.
For Hannah the change is coming through cross-generational innovation. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with senior members of staff who recognise the gap between what the older and younger generation expect in terms of practices and opportunities and then make room for them. Rather than forcing new ways of working into old patterns, Jungle have been receptive and open to constantly innovating what it is we’re able to do and Sister will be an extension of that. It’s an incredibly special opportunity to learn and grow in such an environment.”
“Getting your foot in the door in this industry is difficult,” agrees Amie Kingsnorth, junior producer at MPC London. “I do feel the younger generation are very proactive, with many being self-starters.”
“I think the days of open-ended expense accounts and all-day lunches are well and truly gone,” adds Napatsaporn Sindhurattavej, VFX producer with Smoke and Mirrors Bangkok. “I think it’s true that the younger generation don’t expect luxuries - which is good, as they have no choice, they’re no longer there anyways!”
Daphne Westelnyck, Giulia Campanella, Peline Kilinc
Daphne Westelynck, motion designer at MPC London, noticed the balance shift too: “In my 3D school, there were about 30 girls and 10 boys. But in the industry, it’s different - there are definitely more men than women,” she describes. “Women are not visible enough at the moment but mentalities evolve slowly - at MPC, we have special women-focused events which is cool. It creates a little community and we can meet more people.”
“Having Sister Sound’s senior management aware and passionate about changing the industry for the better makes a world of difference,” Hannah Webster beams. “It’s as vital to have younger people coming through with their different perspectives, but there also has to be those people in positions of power who are truly dedicated to pushing our craft and industry forward. Jungle Studios’ commitment and excitement about developing Sister was the icing on the cake for us.”
“It’s the lack of role models,” agrees Giulia Campanella, studio runner at String and Tins. “Women are not represented enough and senior female sound engineers and designers are rare.”
Peline Kilinc, junior audio producer at Smoke & Mirrors London, counters, suggesting that the lack of senior women allows more recognition for those who have risen through the ranks. “If you’re a female artist of any type - grade, audio or flame, you do have to fight to show how brilliant and motivated you are. As soon as you do though, I think people have even more respect for you as there are fewer women working in those industry sectors.”
“I’m quite fortunate that my bookings team are all women,” Olivia notes. “So I’m surrounded by smart, motivated women every day. I’ve learnt so much already from the women in my team. We’re a mixture of ages with a mixture of work backgrounds meaning we’re all bringing something different to the table and at all levels.”
Eimear Ní Ghuaire, Alysha Takoushian
Fortunately there are also those women inside industry who are working to create more avenues for emerging female talent, namely Eimear Ní Ghuaire, an audio post-producer at sound house String and Tins, who worked to create ‘No Fixed Mix’, the workshop programme for aspiring female sound engineers wanting industry exposure. “My music degree had a fairly even male-female split, but many of my female counterparts decided to pursue teaching and performance instead of focusing on more technical routes. That is one of the reasons I became heavily involved in ‘No Fixed Mix’, helping aspiring female sound engineers to break into the industry.” Proving its success, the company has recently employed one of the workshop’s participants, Naomi Graham, as a sound designer.
One of No Fixed Mix’s participants, Alysha Takoushian, notes that now is as good a time as any for a Gen-Z way of working. “One noticeable change I see is that many more people are pursuing multi-disciplinary careers,” she said. “Switching between different disciplines used to be frowned upon, but now seems to be the norm among Gen-Z creatives.”
Angela Neil, Sydney Levy, Kathleen Kirkman
Whilst sumptuous spreads may be off the cards, there are still those glittering career moments that elicit real ‘pinch-me’ shock. For Angela Neil, DOP and camera op with Warner Bros Creative Talent, it was a recent job offer to travel the world with NBC, shooting news and documentaries; for Olivia, it was helping launch the Friends 20th Anniversary at Comedy Central and now helping work with Hannah and the team to launch Sister Sound - a brand new studio by Jungle, built to make high quality production accessible to up-and-coming industry talent; for Napatsaporn it was finally seeing her name in credits; for Sydney Levy, junior producer at Big Buoy London, it was working on a Vogue and Condé Nast fashion film and being able to watch the development of the piece from start to finish; and, for Kathleen Kirkman, Flame assist at MPC LA, it was being on a film shoot with Star Wars legends R2D2 and BB8 and holding the Oscar MPC won for their work on The Jungle Book.
Whilst the industry has changed, those visceral reactions to working and creating in an industry we love are as powerful as ever before. We somehow suspect the same can be said for male and non-binary industry insiders, too…
So, perhaps we’re not quite so different after all?
For inspiration, please check out any of the role models our participants suggested; colorist Simona Cristea, producer Indra Nooyi, chef Rosio Sánchez, Icelandic composer Kira Kira, cinematographers Reed Morano and Nina Kellgren, Emmy Award-winning Foley artist Sue Harding, US congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and deceased author Agatha Christie.