In The Spotlight: Jemma Riley-Tolch & Lilly Blazewicz from the Pinewood Creative Audio Team
Sometimes it’s hard not to get disheartened by the constant reminders of how far we still have to go to reach gender parity in the film and TV industries.
Whether it’s stats from the latest academic study or the absence of women in recent awards nomination lists; despite a shift in the way we talk about diversity and inclusion, the industry is still trying to figure out how to practice what it preaches.
In technical roles, we know women are particularly under-represented. According to the latest Celluloid Ceiling report, women comprised just 6% of composers, 10% of supervising sound editors and 6% of sound designers on the top 250 domestic grossing films in the US in 2018.
So when we heard late last year that Pinewood Studios Group had promoted Jemma Riley-Tolch (pictured right) to Head of Recording and Lilly Blazewicz (pictured below) to Head of Editorial – meaning Pinewood now has an almost 50:50 gender split in-house sound team, rounded off with Foley Artist, Zoe Free and Junior Sound Editor, Sophia Leader – it felt like something to be celebrated. Between them, they’ve worked on some of the biggest blockbusters of the last few years, including Wonder Woman, Tomb Raider, Baby Driver and Mission Impossible – Fallout.
A couple of months into their new job roles, WFTV caught up with Jemma and Lilly to find out how they’re settling in, what they love about working in sound, and to get their take on how as an industry we can best ensure that a new generation is inspired to follow in their footsteps.
“When I first went into the theatre my mind was blown with what was happening in there and I knew it was something that I had to be a part of.”
JR-T: Around 6 years ago I was just finishing working at the BBC as a runner and about to be out of work. I managed to get a phone number for sound post at Pinewood as they needed a temporary runner for 6 weeks. On my first day I remember walking into the theatre and seeing Pete Burgis (foley artist) performing the footsteps for a female character in a film and I just thought that it was completely amazing! From that point I knew I wanted to learn more and work with this great new group of people that I had met. An opportunity arose for me to do just that and 6 years later, here we are!
LB: I did work experience at Shepperton when I was younger and I had very little knowledge of sound at the time. I was shadowing a runner called Glen who is actually now Head of Creative Audio at Pinewood. When I first went into the theatre my mind was blown with what was happening in there and I knew it was something that I had to be a part of. After that I basically pestered as many people and did as much work experience as I could.
What’s your favourite thing about the job you do?
JR-T: One of my favourite things is getting to work with the people that I work with on a daily basis. We are one big creative family and its really lovely how we are all so supportive towards one another.
LB: Yeah, it’s been really cool. It’s also great that we can help and teach our junior members of staff and seeing them progress is so rewarding.
JR-T: Oh and being in the theatre, having so many different ideas flowing with my team and watching all the work that we have done come together when we play back and it all sounds beautiful.
LB: One of my favourite things is when you’ve worked hard on a project and then you go and watch it on the big screen. You see everyone’s hard work come to life across all the different areas of filmmaking.
And what’s the most difficult?
LB: One of the hardest things is the hours, which I think is a general thing across the industry. It is hard, but at least I get to go to work every day and do something that I love.
JR-T: There are times when the deadlines can be quite intense, planning can be quite difficult when it seems like things are ever changing. It feels like in the digital age, changes can be made to a project right up until the very last moment, obviously this isn’t always the case but there are crunch periods. It’s in these moments though that we really see our team pull together which can really lighten the day. We have a great team energy.
Stepping up into a new role can be daunting. How have you managed that transition and your new responsibilities?
LB: It’s been really great so far and I know we’ve said about the team already but it’s been an easy transition because of them. Although my workload has grown, the team are all so brilliant and supportive that I feel really comfortable in the role. So I wouldn’t say it felt daunting.
JR-T: I did feel it was a little daunting, but in the same breath, I also found it very empowering as I feel extremely proud to be in the position I’m in with another strong female beside me. We complement each other in the way that we work and help each other to continue to learn and grow.
LB: Ah yeah me too, we work really well together.
What’s the job you’re most proud of and why?
JR-T: I don’t think I could actually pick just the one, there are a few! One of my early favourites was working on Ex-Machina, because I got to see the worlds of Foley and sound design blur. And more recently, getting to be the foley editor on Tomb Raider as it felt important working on a strong female-led film with such a recognisable character, that straddles both the game and film world. And even more recently I have just received a nomination for a CAS Award for the work that I did on Bohemian Rhapsody, which I am extremely excited about!
LB: One film that I always feel excited about is Fantastic Beasts as I am a huge Harry Potter fan. When I found out that I would be working on the first film, and the others as well, I felt like I could tick something off my edit bucket list!
JR-T: Same here! I felt very jealous of our team having worked on all the Potters before.
LB: But my proudest moment was when I first saw my name in the credits, which was on Cinderella. I always remember watching the credits of films when I was younger and being fascinated by all the different crafts that go into making a film. It was also quite cute when watching Paddington 2 hearing my nephews shout out “that’s auntie Lilly!” during the credits.
“When we hire people we don’t do it based on gender, we rarely even do it based on whether people have “relevant” degrees. We base it on passion and keenness to learn.”
You are both still very young and have long careers ahead of you. Are you optimistic about the direction we’re heading in terms of gender parity in film, TV and games post-production sound?
JR-T: I do feel that we, as a team, are taking huge steps in the right direction. When we hire people we don’t do it based on gender, we rarely even do it based on whether people have “relevant” degrees. We base it on passion and keenness to learn. With both Lilly and I being in the roles we are now and having worked up through the company I can only see it continuing to move in a positive way. Our team has an almost 50/50 split of males and females which is something that I am proud to be a part of. That’s not to say that it’s the same throughout the post-production world and there aren’t hardships for women.
LB: Yeah definitely, we still have a long way to go. I do feel confident though that we will see positive change during our careers, we are already seeing it a lot with Times Up and the #metoo movements. We are lucky enough to be in a place where we don’t have to deal with inequality day-to-day, I strive to be in a position where I can make changes and encourage girls or young women to feel like that they can do whatever they want.
What do you think we can be doing – as an industry – to ensure that girls and women know about the opportunities available to them within post-production sound?
JR-T: I am not sure about the industry as a whole but I think it has a lot to do with schooling. The opportunities need to be felt like they are available to everyone right from the get go.
LB: When I was in school I had no idea that people stood in a room making noises for films!
JR-T: It does feel like post-production is still very heavily a male orientated area to work in. But we are really keen to spread the word about who we are and what we do. Recently we both went to York to give a masterclass on sound at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, we also gave a talk at BAFTA along with two other female team members. Doing things like that I think, can only be doing the industry some good to see young, strong women in lead positions and hopefully inspire other young women to do the same.
LB: Yeah I totally agree, I think it’s all about spreading the word and just letting young people know what is actually out there! We’ve spoken about giving talks at all-girls schools and inviting some to the studios to show them what we do best, if there’s just one kid there that is as excited about it all as I was when I first learnt about the world of sound, then great!
Jemma has recently earnt her first Cinema Audio Society (CAS) Awards nomination, for her work with Glen Gathard as foley mixers on Bohemian Rhapsody. Bohemian Rhapsody is also up for seven BAFTAS, including for Sound, and five Academy Awards including Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The Pinewood Creative audio team also completed foley and sound mix on Roma, which is nominated for seven BAFTAS and 10 Academy Awards, including for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
Pinewood Creative Services manage film, TV and games productions assets from inception through distribution. Its award-winning teams offer on-set/near-set, location and studios based front-end digital services (digital dailies, archive, dailies grading), picture post (digital intermediate, on-line and deliverables), sound post Foley, editorial and mixing (including Dolby Atmos), character voice casting and international re-versioning in 40+ languages, archival and restoration of all formats.
All of Pinewood’s services are delivered in a FACT accredited environment through bespoke digital storage systems, workflow management and tracking tools. Visit https://www.pinewoodgroup.com/studios/pinewood-studios/creative-services for more info.
Pinewood Studios is the sponsor of the Performance Award at the Women in Film & Television Awards.
WFTV would like to thank Jemma and Lilly for taking part in this interview, and Fern Colao for helping to facilitate it.