In the Spotlight… Sophia Hardman, Foley Mixer at Twickenham Studios
Twickenham Studios’ Foley Mixer, Sophia Hardman recently won a prestigious Cinema Audio Society (CAS) Award for her work on Black Mirror… oh, and she’s only 24! WFTV caught up with Sophia to find out how she got into the male-dominated realm of audio post-production and what lies ahead for her.
“Film is absolutely my favourite, particularly period drama. This is because of the level of detail and finesse that it allows for.”
1. How did you get into the world of Foley?
I originally wanted to be a music producer, however after discovering during university that I actually wasn’t very good at it I started to explore other options. We studied a ‘Sound for Film and TV’ module and I was hooked. I found myself wanting to know more and went to my lecturer to ask for books and resources on this subject. The summer between second and third year I was lucky enough to secure an internship at Twickenham Studios and that four weeks turned into four months. I was offered a job upon graduating university and three years later, I’m still here.
I started work as a Sound Assistant but I slowly became more and more involved in Foley. I helped tidy the theatre, edit TV shows, and setup sessions for recording. Early on, I assisted on Jason Bourne, which showed me the ins and outs of how a Foley studio runs on big budget jobs. That was a turning point for me. I saw for the first time what I could be doing on a daily basis.
2. What is a typical day in the office for you?
On the first day of a project I usually get in 45 minutes before we start, enough time to check through my prep from the night before, test all the microphones, and set up for the day. I’ll then map out goals for the day. Plans can change but its a good idea to work towards a target.
Once the Foley artist arrives, we’ll watch the first reel and get started on the cloth moves: a good base to build up from. After moves it’s on to the footsteps. Breaking the feet down surface by surface (leaving the messiest till last) allows us to manage our time and the space well.
When we’ve finished the feet, we start the spot FX or ‘spots’. These individual sounds of, for instance, a character placing a mug on a table or typing on a keyboard are time consuming and really benefit from good organisation: knowing what props you have and where to find them. At the end of the day I back-up everything we have recorded, tidy my desk, and organise props. Starting the day on a clean slate is important to me for clarity of thought.
3. What kinds of projects are your favourite to work on?
Film is absolutely my favourite, particularly period drama. This is because of the level of detail and finesse that it allows for. It is not uncommon to spend lots of time perfecting, for instance, the intricate sounds of elaborate jewellery, or the nip of a quill on parchment. The result this yields is so satisfying when you playback.
“An environment in which we all feel able to communicate with, and bounce off, each other produces the most creative results.”
4. What are the biggest challenges of your role?
Tired ears.cIt comes with the territory of working in sound that your ears can start to fatigue. Listening critically eight hours a day can wear your ears down, especially if scenes are particularly loud.
5. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your role?
Working with people. Foley relies on good working relationships between Artists and Recordists. Artists, for example, need to feel comfortable and confident in order to perform to the best of their ability. And an environment in which we all feel able to communicate with, and bounce off, each other produces the most creative results.
6. What sort of skills and traits help in a role like yours?
The two main skills I use daily are technical and interpersonal skills. Knowing how to make something work, or how best to record something, is vital to getting the job done. But interpersonal skills, as I mentioned earlier, are of the upmost importance: being able to embrace ideas, accommodate different workflows, to offer feedback.
7.Would you say your role is more technical or creative?
Creative: putting sound to something that has never existed before, or something that I’ve never heard before. In cases like this, where there is no hard and fast rule, you have to get creative. Experimenting with props, surfaces, recording techniques and plug-ins almost always leads to interesting, if unexpected, results.
“There is a non-founded belief out there that women are not technically skilled, that women can’t work with technology. This is, of course, completely untrue.”
8. What project are you most proud of?
McMafia and Black Mirror Season 4. Both of these series’ had fast turnarounds and the added pressure of new clients with new expectations. In other words: lots for me to learn. Being thrown in at the deep end meant trusting my training, asking for help when needed and just going for it.
9. What was it like winning the CAS award in LA?
It was surreal. When we received the nomination it was a massive shock. And then to be given the opportunity by Twickenham Studios to travel to the ceremony in LA was so special and I’m forever grateful. Winning was an even greater shock and I felt very proud, especially since I was one of very few women nominated.
10. Why do you think there are so few women in audio post-production right now?
I think the main reason is that women lack technical confidence. There is a non-founded belief out there that women are not technically skilled, that women can’t work with technology. This is, of course, completely untrue but a belief that has been ingrained in us by society.
We can, in fact, do anything. I feel confident that I could go into a studio and find a solution to any problem no matter what. I was given the opportunity to learn that confidence through my university training and I’ve been building on it ever since.
11. Are things changing?
The attitudes I’ve come across in my working life have been 95% positive, which is enough to drown out the other 5%. But talking to more senior female colleagues, you get a sense of the negativity they have faced and how that has impacted them.
There does seem to be a greater push than in previous years for equality in the workplace and this is excellent. I see more and more women working in audio post-production all the time. But there can always be more.
12. What are your ambitions for the future?
I aim to improve as a Foley Mixer by working on more projects with more people. I want to keep expanding my knowledge and my skill base, and never stop trying to better myself.
Thank you to Sophia for her time and to our friends at Twickenham Studios for helping to arrange this interview.