SOUND EDITOR X SOUND EDITOR: JILL PURDY AND KRISTI MCINTYRE

In the latest edition of Member x Member, two DGC Ontario Sound Editors trace the origin of their careers and their love of film. The Whale’s Sound Editor, Jill Purdy, sits down with Wednesday Sound Editor Kristi McIntyre to chat about collaborating with Directors like Darren Aronofsky and Tim Burton, how technology is changing the landscape of Sound, and their advice for brand-new Sound Editors looking to build their careers. 

“I think there are subtleties in the atmosphere that convey or are parallel to the emotionality of what’s going on with Charlie [Brendan Fraser]…Everything conceived was very purposeful. It was designed to support Charlie’s story in subtle ways.”

-Sound Editor Jill Purdy

Jill Purdy: I knew growing up that I wanted to be involved in film and TV because all I did was watch films and TV endlessly. I thought if I could get into this industry somehow, I would be super happy. My parents ‘strongly encouraged’ me to go to university for science – which I did – but three months after graduating, I was enrolled at Sheridan College for Media Arts. I tried all the equipment and technology I could get my hands on. I wanted to be a Picture Editor, but I couldn’t find anyone available to mentor me or take me on for my third-year internship. One of my best friends, Stephen Barden, who was at Sheridan at the time and already pursuing Sound, said, “Why don’t you do an internship with Sound Dogs? We need more women in the industry, and you’d be great.” I just wanted to learn everything I possibly could, so I said, “Absolutely!”. I joined Sound Dogs Toronto in 1996 and never left. I loved it so much! I started with dialogue editing, which I’m still doing today. It just suits me and my tunnel vision personality. I love the meticulous nature of fixing little syllables. It was by chance that I ended up in Sound, but it was where I was clearly meant to be.

Kristi McIntyre: I have a similar origin in that I started off in advertising and quickly learned that wasn’t where I was meant to be. I also ended up going to Sheridan for Media Arts and got my hands on everything equipment-wise that I could. I was in the studios all the time. I originally thought I’d end up in the more visual side of things, maybe Cinematography, Art Direction or Production Design, but after a few of my first sound-to-picture assignments, I thought, this is what I want to do. While still in school, I got a job with the Sheridan production house and did a lot of in-house commercials and short-form work for them, and a lot of location sound on set. After school, I worked on a lot of sound for kid’s animation at Spence Thomas Audio Post and freelanced with them for a few years. During that time, I also did a lot of Foley Editing for feature films, supervised short films for friends, Mixing, Sound Design, and Dialogue Editing – I tried a little bit of everything.

On Wednesday, I was the ADR Editor and one of the Sound Effects Editors. It was fantastic to get to work with a Director that was such a huge part of my childhood. I grew up with Tim Burton’s films, and he was a big reason why I decided to pursue film in the first place. Our Supervising Sound Editor, John Loranger, had spotting sessions for each episode with Tim and the Picture Editors. They would discuss the overall sonic vision for each episode and any big design moments, as well as ADR needs, and then they would relay that information back to our team of editors. It was a big collaboration from the whole team. I did a lot of work on the atmospheres and backgrounds. We wanted to really highlight some of the spookier absences of sound. In some of the exterior shots where you might expect to hear something like happy birds, we’d go for creepier elements, like birds that didn’t sound as friendly or insect noises, winds, etc.

Jill Purdy: With The Whale, it was more about the atmosphere within the main room where Brendan Fraser’s character Charlie is primarily located. It’s the sound of windows and doors opening or rain textures outside. I think there are subtleties in the atmosphere that convey or are parallel to the emotionality of what’s going on with Charlie. I’m speaking from supervising as a Dialogue Editor versus a Sound Designer in that respect, so I can’t speak entirely or specifically on what those atmospheres consisted of, but there was a lot of discussion about how to convey that story without too many sound details in the background.  Everything conceived was very purposeful. It was designed to support Charlie’s story in subtle ways.

Kristi McIntyre: After I watched The Whale, I realized that everything felt so specific… like it was just supposed to be there. There wasn’t anything wasted, no extraneous sounds.

Jill Purdy: Having the history I do with Darren [Aronofsky] and his films, I know that everything has a purpose. It’s all very specific and intentional. That’s always been his M.O., and it’s fantastic to work with someone who so clearly knows what he wants and how to get it.

 What did you think of the film?

Kristi McIntyre: I really enjoyed it. I thought the performances were incredible. When you go into a Darren Aronofsky film, you know it’s not exactly going to be a happy time, but I wasn’t expecting to cry in the end. It was fantastic.

Jill Purdy: Thank you! I was just watching Wednesday, and I’m a huge Tim Burton fan as well. I used to listen to Danny Elfman’s film scores in my teens. When I first heard that score for Wednesday come on, my heart just soared.

Kristi McIntyre: Mine too! Company 3 is still following strict COVID protocols with how many people are permitted in the theatre, and time constraints were tight, so most of our sound edit team never got to go to the mixes and playbacks, so I’m hearing everything put together for the first time on TV with everyone else, and it sounds really great, I’m so proud of our team.

Most of Wednesday’s post sound process was remote. We recorded ADR and loop group all over the world in different stages, from huge studios to actors’ bedroom closets. It’s nice to still be doing spottings remotely because that was a big time investment before COVID, between commuting and getting everyone together. I do miss playbacks, though, being on the mix stage and getting that collaborative energy.

“It was fantastic to get to work with a Director that was such a huge part of my childhood. I grew up with Tim Burton’s films, and he was a big reason why I decided to pursue film in the first place.”

-Sound Editor Kristi McIntyre

Jill Purdy: My process has been the same through COVID because I’ve been working at home for years. I am loving the fact that we now do spotting sessions remotely. We get QuickTimes sent for shows and all watch on our own and then reconvene on Zoom to talk about notes. We weren’t getting the full mix playback experience during COVID, but at least we figured out how to make it work for everyone by creating a process where we can listen to the mix happening on the stage in real time from wherever we are.

A Director or Producer can be in Los Angeles, New York, or wherever while the mix is happening in Toronto, and two theatres can be set up in both of those locations that are spec’d out in exactly the same way. This ensures everyone is listening to the exact same mix, regardless of location. This has been a major development that allows us to work more efficiently and effectively. I used to travel a lot more for ADR. I’m mixing in New York right now, which hasn’t happened since 2017. Everything has been working so well remotely that I was surprised I was even able to travel for the film I’m on now. Pleasantly surprised because I’ve missed the travel aspect. It’s nice to get together and have a defined meeting time and place, where you can catch up and talk. When I did Crimes of the Future last spring, it was the first playback I had been to where we did all of our spotting, editing and ADR recording remotely and then came together for the final mix. We were all COVID-tested daily before we went onto the stage, but it was nice to be back.

Kristi McIntyre: It’s interesting what new ideas and creative directions you can come up with when you’re all in the room together.

Jill Purdy: Absolutely. We’re still able to collaborate, but the time it takes to press a button to talk or make sure your Zoom’s not on mute or whatever can take away from that energy. 

Kristi McIntyre: The technology is very nice, but it can get in the way of that immediacy and creativity.

So what’s your collaborative process with a Director? Especially Directors where you’ve worked together multiple times, like Aronofsky?

When you have a shorthand like Aronofsky and I have, it all becomes second nature. There’s an unspoken understanding about what is entailed and required. Usually, my collaboration starts with that initial discussion about the overall soundscape and what they’re looking for. Sometimes there’s a back-and-forth of “What do you think?”, but it’s more about watching the film at the onset and then having that discussion about what the intent is and what the overall story arc will be. I am left to my own devices quite a bit when it comes to the Directors I work with, and we touch base along the way.

When it’s a Director like Guillermo [del Toro], he is a lot more involved in that collaboration, particularly with Sound Design, and sometimes with dialogue when it comes to loop group elements. He’s very specific about lines coming from loop group actors, which is unusual from a Director standpoint – they’re not usually invested so much in the background voices, but Guillermo, and Darren as well, are very invested. In terms of dialogue, the collaboration comes more in the placement and the overall makeup of the background voice group. Aside from that, a lot of collaboration happens during the final mix when we’re putting that all together.

“I’ve been able to work with people I idolized growing up, like George Romero. I watched The Exorcist when I was probably seven years old and was in awe of Ellen Burstyn, and then I was able to work with her on The Fountain. I went to the New York premiere of The Whale on Tuesday, and she was in the audience, and my heart just swelled. I worked with Madonna off and on for about six months. I wonder sometimes, “How did I get from childhood idolization of these people to this?”'”

-Sound Editor Jill Purdy

Kristi McIntyre: I’ve had the same kind of experience, not from the Supervising end, but it’s often pretty much “go off and do your thing, and we’ll see you in the mix.” When I’m doing Sound Design and Effects on a film or a show, the process typically starts with spotting the episode or film, then I create the sounds and record whatever I need. If it’s a very specific or unique sound, I’ll send the supervisor or director drafts as I go along and get approval, or go back and try something else.

Jill Purdy: When you do that, is it usually Quicktime files?

Kristi McIntyre: Yeah, it’s typically Quicktimes. Sometimes it’ll be just the audio bounces, and then the Picture Editor will put it into their Avid and export something from there. As far as crowd voices go, for Wednesday, Tim had some specific requests. In episode three, there is a location with some tourists, and he wanted to make sure it came across that they were German and very “fish out of water” in this environment, so we specifically required some German-speaking voice actors. We had a fantastic loop group coordinator who took care of finding all the actors for us, and I think it worked out really well.

Jill Purdy: Have you found all these new developments with tech have helped you or changed how you work?

Kristi McIntyre: I think there have definitely been a lot of different workflow changes since I’ve come up. When I started, we were on Pro Tools 8 in school, so we still had the old clunky M-boxes that you needed to lug around just to use the software. There are so many new Sound Design tools now, between Radium within Soundminer and all the different plugins available. And on the dialogue side of things, we have Auto-Align Post, which has completely changed the game for working with a combination of boom and lav mics in editorial. Instead of needing to reach for ADR, we can salvage so much more dialogue now with all the various noise reduction tools available, which has been amazing. The tools have changed, but the process still is very much the same. It’s a collaborative effort and wanting to get the best sounds recorded as you can, whether dialogue or sound effects. It’s so easy to over-process and go crazy with the tools and the toys that you can lose the core of what you’re trying to achieve though, which is getting the right sound for the right moment and context of the show.

Jill Purdy: I found that, too – the way I work hasn’t changed in terms of what I strive to do. I love the technological advancements for the same reason – preserving what’s recorded on set and preserving performances. My ultimate goal is to make the production sound as best it can, and not have to bring the actors in to record ADR if at all possible. It’s nice to have tools where you can go in and try out something so specific so that it doesn’t touch the nature of the voice itself or the waveforms of the voice, so you can just affect what’s in the background. It blows my mind that they’re still advancing this technology.

Kristi McIntyre: There’s no better feeling than saving a line that production thought was just completely unsalvageable.

Jill Purdy: That’s where I get the greatest satisfaction out of what I do: knowing how the track started and what the end result is and that you’ve made sure it’s the best it can be. It’s so personally gratifying and amazing.

Kristi McIntyre: So, as far as genres, do you have a particular favourite to work on?

Jill Purdy: I grew up watching horror, thrillers and sci-fi, but I love working on everything. I’m not a huge fan of documentaries, but I have worked on documentaries that I’m very excited about. What it really comes down to for me is who I’m working with and the experience I have working with those people. If I work on a film that I wouldn’t normally be invested in, but I have an amazing time with that crew, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done, I’m going to love that movie. I’m going to love that genre. I just love film in general, so I don’t want to focus on only one type because everything is so different. Every experience is so uniquely creative that it’s the ever-changing nature of what we work on that’s one of the most thrilling aspects.

Kristi McIntyre: Yeah, it’s all about the people you get to work with, and the Directors, and that collaborative energy. You can get so much out of every type of genre. That said, I have a particular love for working in horror and sci-fi from the Sound Design kid in me. There’s so much you can do psychologically there and so many boundaries you can push. There’s a sense of play that’s so important in those genres.

“There’s no better feeling than saving a line that production thought was just completely unsalvageable.”

-Sound Editor Kristi McIntyre

Jill Purdy: What do you think makes a great Sound Editor? What skills do you need?

Kristi McIntyre: Well, stating the obvious a little, you need to be a good listener. Listen to the world around you and to what makes a good soundtrack. You also need to be able to listen to your crew and your Director because, at the end of the day, it’s their show, and you can’t really have too much ego attached to your work. You should have a good collaborative spirit. It’s important to find your own voice in Sound and to figure out what works for you and not just imitate someone else’s style once you start to find your feet in it. Problem-solving and experimenting skills are also very important, as a lot of technological and creative issues will come up as you go along, and it can sometimes be hard to find a particular type of sound.

Jill Purdy: I agree with that. I think listening is up there. Listen to the world and the people around you. It’s also important to know how to read a room when you’re collaborating. Just having a passion for film is so important. If you’re in this industry, sometimes you just really love film, and sometimes you love the tech side of it, but it’s great if you can make those passions work together.

Kristi McIntyre: The marriage of those two things really just solidifies it. It’s an incredibly rewarding career, but if you don’t have a love for film and television, it would be a lot more difficult to stay invested, I think. There can be challenging schedules and long, hard days and nights.

Jill Purdy: I have those days. I can be exhausted and think I can’t do this anymore. I cannot physically do this. It’s too much. And then I hear somebody walking down a hallway, talking about their next show, and I’m like, “Oh, I want to work on that!”

Kristi McIntyre: Exactly. And then the spark reignites, and you’re not so tired anymore. What would you recommend that new Sound Editors do to climb the ladder and really get themselves into the industry?

Jill Purdy: What I would say to anyone new in the industry is to keep trying to contact people who can give you advice and make your name known. Keep asking people if they have any free advice, any availability to be shadowed, or any mentoring possibilities. If you can actually put your own reels together or take a scene from a movie and sound design on your own, anything you’ve made that you can get feedback on is the best way to get your name out there. Contact as many people as you can, and check in with them regularly, even if you’re being a bit persistent. I think persistence is how you show that you’re passionate about the work and you want to get your foot in the door. I think we all know in this industry that it’s not always who reaches out first. It’s who reaches out during that exact period of time when you really need somebody. Get your face and your name out there, and keep putting it out there for as long as you can.

“I can be exhausted and think I can’t do this anymore. I cannot physically do this. It’s too much. And then I hear somebody walking down a hallway, talking about their next show, and I’m like, “Oh, I want to work on that!”'”

-Sound Editor Jill Purdy

Kristi McIntyre: Networking is so key, and just working on everything you can get your hands on, even if it’s just tiny short films, friends’ projects, or whatever you can do to get those creative juices working and make connections. I do wish that I had asked more questions and done more networking when I started because there’s so much more you can get away with when you’re new. You can ask questions you might be too scared to ask, and you can build relationships and get as much face time as you can. Early on, I probably got too comfortable too fast in some jobs and didn’t let myself explore other aspects as much. If I could do it all again, I would just try out more areas of Sound.

Jill Purdy: I mean, one of the things I love about you is that you put yourself out there in so many different aspects of Sound because you’re not limited. The opportunities are endless for you! You’ve recorded production audio for me on more than a couple of projects and really devoted your time to that. The fact that you’ve moved from that world into all the aspects of Sound Editing is really amazing and inspiring.

Kristi McIntyre: Thank you! I loved recording on those sets. When I first started out, I entered into the worlds of both Locations and Post, and as much as I did enjoy Locations, it didn’t really hit the creative buttons I craved. I just love Sound Design and Editing more so than being on set.

Jill Purdy: Do you have a favourite thing you’re working on, or are you going to keep putting yourself out there and trying different opportunities?

Kristi McIntyre: I like having my feet a little bit in all of the different Sound disciplines, and a skill you pick up on one film can easily be transferred to the next, whether it’s dialogue, Sound Effects, or Foley or mixing. I enjoy dialogue and ADR, but I think my particular passion is Sound Design and Effects Editing. I love getting my hands dirty and recording out in the field, and then coming back and making those recorded elements fit into the context of the scene.

Jill Purdy: Yeah, and it’s great when you record your own stuff. You can say, “This is mine. I didn’t pull it from anyone else!”

Kristi McIntyre: And there’s a particular feeling of joy when you get something to work.

“I love the variety, not doing the same thing every day. You’re on a show for a couple of months, and you get to interact with different genres and different people. It’s an incredible career and industry.”

-Sound Editor Kristi McIntyre

Jill Purdy: If I had to do it all again, I don’t know if I would do anything differently, but I think I would try to put myself out there more as a mentor. I don’t know that I would change anything about my career because there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve been unhappy with it. I just think that it’s important to try and get more marginalized folks and more women into the industry. The fact that I work so much has prevented me from dedicating more of my time to mentoring, and working at home on my own makes it harder for me to put myself out there. But I think it’s important to cultivate that network as much as possible.

Kristi McIntyre: Yeah, exactly. I’ve been starting to feel that, too, as I get further along in my career. I’m also fairly busy all the time and working from home, so it’s hard for someone to come in and get their hands on gear when you don’t have a studio space to share. It’s a challenge.

Jill Purdy: I’d love to be able to have someone shadow me. I’m thinking about doing something like a workshop to give more women, or really anyone who wants to break into the industry, a little more knowledge and confidence to start networking.

Kristi McIntyre: That’s amazing. I would love to help with that if you need it!

I think we have a ways to go with gender parity. Things are a little bit better from when I started about ten years ago, and there are more avenues for women to connect and share their experiences. But as far as who I’m seeing on mix stages and in the Zooms, it’s still predominantly male. I’m frequently the only woman in the room, so I think we’ve still got some work to do.

Jill Purdy: I think so too. I’m happy to see that there are more women, BIPOC and LGBTQ peers on mix stages, mixing, recording and supervising, but there is definitely a long way to go. I’m on stage, getting along with all of the fantastic crew members – and then I realize, I’m one woman, surrounded by nine men.

I think it’s important for schools to teach and show examples of women and people of colour working with tech – working on a mix console, for example – so that anyone who is marginalized can see that this career is an option for them from a young age.

Kristi McIntyre: Yeah, it makes all the difference for sure. Is there a moment from your career you would consider a highlight or especially memorable? I’m sure there are tons.

Jill Purdy: There are so many. I’m just so grateful to do what I love doing. Every day is different, and I don’t know who I’m going to get a call from next. I can’t say there’s one specifically memorable moment, but there are so many things that stand out, like working with Guillermo del Toro. I saw Cronos at TIFF in 1992 and just fell in love with his work. I’m actually going to see a screening of Pinocchio later this afternoon. I’ve been able to work with people I idolized growing up, like George Romero. I watched The Exorcist when I was probably seven years old and was in awe of Ellen Burstyn, and then I was able to work with her on The Fountain. I went to the New York premiere of The Whale on Tuesday, and she was in the audience, and my heart just swelled. I worked with Madonna off and on for about six months. I wonder sometimes, “How did I get from childhood idolization of these people to this?” The weird thing is that I don’t get nervous when I’m working with someone in that context. But if I had to meet them at some event, I’d be completely beside myself.

Do you have one especially memorable moment?

Kristi McIntyre: Wednesday is probably the biggest one of my career. I’ve said this about a hundred times since it’s come out, but if you had told 16-year-old me that one day she would be working on a Tim Burton show, it would have blown her mind. It’s unreal. It’s just been so great getting to work with the crews and the people that are on all these shows. Every day is a new adventure. I’m like you, I love the variety, not doing the same thing every day. You’re on a show for a couple of months, and you get to interact with different genres and different people. It’s an incredible career and industry.

Watch Wednesday Season 1 streaming on Netflix, and The Whale in theatres beginning December 21st. 

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