WWAS_sound-2 Asbjoern Andersen


Sound Supervisors Anna Sulley and Anna Bertmark talk about their group, Women Who Are Sound, which lends support to women and non-binary persons in the sound industry by offering advice, answering questions, and promoting visibility for those in the field.
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of WWAS, Anna Bertmark, and Anna Sulley
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Equality, acceptance, diversity, and inclusion aren’t just keywords to define these times of social change. They’re actual opportunities for growth. Just look at the Oscars and their new representation and inclusion standards for eligibility in the Best Picture category. These efforts to consciously include people from underrepresented groups — like women, racial or ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, and people with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing — will diversify the filmmaking process. A variety of creative voices will keep the industry from being so one-note.

This process of diversification is not an overnight event. Change has been happening, slowly. In terms of the sound industry, great efforts have been made by organizations like Women’s Audio Mission, SoundGirls.org, and now Women Who Are Sound to help increase the presence of women and non-binary persons in the industry.

A few years ago, UK-based Sound Designer/Supervisor Anna Sulley and Sound Designer/Supervisor Anna Bertmark started the WWAS (Women Who Are Sound) Network as an informal social with just a dozen members. Today, it has around 200 members worldwide (including Paula Fairfield, Vickie Sampson, Nina Hartstone, and Judi Lee-Headman to name a few) . WWAS is a thriving community network of women and gender non-conforming sound professionals and students on Facebook, Slack, and Instagram.

Here, Sulley and Bertmark talk about WWAS’s inception, its mission, and its future.

 

What is ‘Women Who Are Sound?’ How did this group get started and why do you feel it’s important?

WWAS_sound-1

Sound Designer/Supervisor Anna Sulley, co-founder of WWAS

Anna Sulley (AS): It started off quite informally. Both Anna and I used to be on the AMPS council. And when I was on the council, Brian Simmons (another fellow council member) was trying for quite some time to persuade me to start a women’s group. I was a bit hesitant to do it actually — in a formal sense to begin with. That didn’t happen at that point because I don’t like to divide the field. Anna [Bertmark] and I are both here because we’ve been given opportunities by some amazing men in the industry. I want to say that first off, we want to provide positive visibility to women in sound but also salute the great men out there.

But, fast forward a few years and AMPS was sponsoring an event run by Lighthouse in Brighton, which is called The Sound of Story. This included a one-off mentoring event for women who are beginning or mid-career in sound. As a result of being at that for AMPS — and Anna was chairing this — we just had a really nice time together. All of the speakers in the group hung out afterward and I carried on arranging drinks for a little while. While doing that, I came up with the idea of ‘Women Who Are Sound’ and suggested pooling contacts with Anna B. So it started as a super-informal social for drinks at various pubs around Soho, and BFI on the south bank.

… we want to provide positive visibility to women in sound but also salute the great men out there.

I then started up a Facebook group to try and expand it a bit further. That way people could refer friends of friends. And through that, we got quite a bit bigger.

Leslie Gaston Bird did a couple of events one with SoundGirls.org, which featured the amazing Paula Fairfield and Ai-Ling Lee. As a result of doing that, it was sort of a co-op with SoundGirls and Women Who Are Sound together. It was amazing to get a big-up from them. From that, we got more people joining up.

Anna B. was more keen to have an external presence, which is why we have the website. That’s how that came into fruition.

WWAS_sound-4

Sound Designer/Supervisor Anna Bertmark, co-founder of WWAS

Anna Bertmark (AB): It’s mainly because I’m not on Facebook. I quit Facebook about 10 years ago.

Women Who Are Sound has grown. As Anna [Sulley] has said, it started as an informal social meet-up for women, to have a space where women can meet other women in sound.

I know that when I started out in the industry, I only knew two other women in sound. Having this incredible event at Lighthouse — we had Ann Kroeber coming over from San Francisco as one of the speakers — we started off this mentoring scheme at Lighthouse and it was a great way to keep in touch with everyone. While there, we asked the question: “Should we do this more often? Is there enough demand to do something regular?”

So thanks to Anna S. keeping in touch with everyone and inviting people to the Facebook group, Women Who Are Sound grew a lot.

AS: It became a bit more than just a social meet-up. The Facebook group became a nice, safe place where people weren’t scared to ask silly questions. I think that we — particularly British women — have this fear of asking a question and feeling stupid. So the Facebook group was a cool place to share resources and the place to ask any question without the fear of looking silly.

 

WWAS_sound

That’s completely valid and I felt the same way when working in the studio. I was the only female audio engineer and although I could ask the senior engineer anything, I was often afraid to do so in front of clients or other people. I didn’t want to ask a question; I just felt like I had to know everything…

AS: That’s really interesting. Maybe I have a slight pre-conception about American brothers and sisters being slightly more confident, but perhaps this is a universal thing.

I think there’s a common trait in women; that we’re more afraid of the knock-down of asking a question that might come across badly.

…having a feeling of community and having this network at-hand to ask any question and get support, it’s really welcoming and powerful.

AB: I think that thing of suddenly realizing that there are all these other women who are incredible and doing this job, making it more visible and meeting up, having a feeling of community and having this network at-hand to ask any question and get support, it’s really welcoming and powerful. Just having it out there as a support system is its strength and that makes people want to join.

WWAS_sound-8

The purpose for the website is to provide resources and visibility for our members and anyone curious to find out more about these professionals, who are working in film, TV, and interactive sound. The site offers an overview of the membership, including a photo gallery and it features resources such as member’s interviews, training, Film/TV/Game sound-relevant information and organizations, practical support, and advice.

 

So the group provides support on several levels — professional, educational, and emotional!

AS: Yeah, it’s sort of evolved into that. That wasn’t the master plan to begin with. It’s just organically evolved to become more of an information sharing hub. What’s great about the website is that there is a wealth of material now stored together in one place.

Industry media, tech reviews, and the like don’t often feature women. For instance, I was looking at a website the other day — and it’s software that I love — but all of their interviews were with men.

And AMPS — an organization that both Anna and I are members of and that is doing great things at the minute, they have made many progressive changes recently — when I was running events there, we didn’t have any speakers who were women. That was something I should have changed for starts. So, nobody is perfect. I was looking at their Instagram account today and there aren’t any pictures of women on there that aren’t part of a group photo. It’s something that we need to be more conscious of and push to get more visibility for women in the industry.

…we need to be more conscious of and push to get more visibility for women in the industry.

WWAS now has its own Instagram account where we’re currently posting daily photos of members at work in our various departments. We would love some more support and for others to follow suit.

AB: I was mentored mid-career when stepping up to be a sound supervisor and then I became a mentor myself for sound editors and sound designers, and I felt like everything was copy/pasted into emails and wouldn’t it be nice to have everything online and just be able to refer people to that. Doing that with the website is a quicker way and it makes it easier for everyone to just go to a place where the information is concise and presented in a way that’s easy to navigate.

Another inspiration for the website was, in the UK, we’ve got the Cinesisters (a network for female directors), illuminatrix (which promotes female cinematographers in the UK) and Edit Collective (for women picture editors). Obviously, there’s SoundGirls in the US (that we’re big fans of!) and we wanted to create something like that for women in sound in the UK that’s more film and TV specific. Those were my inspirations to do the website.

AS: But we’re not just UK anymore. Partly because of COVID lockdown, we now have many more US members and Russian members and some in Brazil. That’s one good thing that has come out of lockdown; there are all of these online events happening now. So even though we are all contained, we are more opened-up globally in the marvel that is Zoom. I don’t know what we would have done without it.

 

WWAS_sound-10

How does one become a member? Do you have to be established in your career, or can you be someone who is just starting out?

AS: Either. We have students and fully established professionals. It’s open to anyone in sound for moving picture; we have some members who are in sound for video games and some that work in broadcast. Predominantly though, we are production or post sound for film and TV.

That’s not exclusive though. There are no set rules. People can find us on Facebook and join us (if they are on Facebook). If not, there is our website, our Slack group, and Instagram.

For Slack, Facebook users will see the Slack link in the ‘About’ section of the members group and non-facebook users can request to join via the website contact section: https://www.wwasound.com/contact.

The Instagram account I started a few weeks back with the help of another member, Jane Lo, who also designed our logo. So, big-up to her!

AB: It’s important for us that the Women Who Are Sound membership stays flexible. Some members aren’t on social media but can still feel connected through the website and the online socials we do. Some members only use the FB group and forum on there. We realize that people use professional networks differently depending on their needs, so it’s something we want to keep in mind as it grows.

We realize that people use professional networks differently depending on their needs, so it’s something we want to keep in mind as it grows.

The website and especially the photo gallery will hopefully give reference to women working and studying sound, showing what working in the industry can look like. To quote the old adage “If you can see it, you can be it.” That’s something we feel is important to contribute positively to.

It’s quite inclusive and open to anyone who is studying sound or is working in sound. They can reach out into the network and tap into the wisdom of collective membership. If you can add everyone’s experience years together, there would be hundreds and hundreds of years of professional experience that is there and our members are happy to share it.


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What are the benefits of being part of Women Who Are Sound? Are your planned events educational — teaching how to mix in Atmos, for instance — or just social?

AS: We’re currently doing events that are socials. But Leslie has done educational events. One of those was an introduction to Atmos at a studio in London called Point1Post. Then she did the interview with Paula and Ai-Ling.

So, there hasn’t been many educational events so far but that doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. I was talking to someone at a studio today — fingers crossed — about a partners alliance scheme for members but that’s still in the beginning stages of conversation.

AB: We don’t have an established mentorship program, but meanwhile, we’d like to mention the UK Post Sound Collective. A colleague of ours, Steve Little, started this as a place you can go to find professionals in the UK sound community, who work in film and TV. You can make a request to ask for advice from a specific person, which is an incredible resource that hasn’t existed before with this purpose.

AS: It’s a list of professionals and you can search by area of expertise, like dialogue editor, Foley recordist, or whatever. You can schedule a half-hour of time to chat with whoever you choose. That’s open to anyone who identifies as a woman, is trans or non-binary and/or is Black or from an ethnic minority and is interested in a career in sound.

So we point people in that direction because we don’t need to do the same thing again. That resource is already there.

AB: We don’t want to re-invent the wheel too much, but rather point people in the right direction where they can find resources to help.

 

[tweet_box]The Mission of “Women Who Are Sound”[/tweet_box]

What about sound mentorship? Are you considering a mentorship program for women to mentor other women or non-binary persons in the sound industry?

AB: For now, WWAS haven’t done any official mentorship opportunities itself but I think that will be something we look at in the future. We’d have to look into the demand for that. Maybe I’ll have to do a poll to see what the membership thinks about that.

I think it’s something important to look at as well. There is going to be more effort involved if we’re doing something structured and official. We’ll need more information.

…I’ve had sound mentors and I’ve been a mentor. It’s really powerful.

I know that AMPS has been doing mentorships for a few years. That’s the Association for Motion Picture Sound, which we’re all members of. They’ve done sound mentorships through that guild.

It’s interesting because I’ve had sound mentors and I’ve been a mentor. It’s really powerful. If you get paired up with someone who is right for you and if you’re at the right point in your career, I think you can get a lot out of it. It’s really great.

 

WWAS_sound-5

WWAS gallery

What impact are you hoping that WWAS will have? In what ways are you using this platform to promote equality in the sound industry?

AB: I think the visibility aspect and the way that it’s grown organically from 12 into over 200 members now, over two and a half years.

AS: The photos were initially going to just be for Instagram but we’ve made them a part of the website too because they’re so powerful. A picture does tell a thousand words. We’re out there, working. There have been people who said they’ve never met a woman who works in sound and so the point of WWAS is to shout louder and, in a positive way, say here we are.

We might not have any formal mentorship programs, but the resource page is full of links to places that are offering opportunities for women in film and television. There is bursary information, training opportunities, and interviews with members, etc. I think that visibility is the main thing at this point.

…visibility, work opportunities, collaboration, and community are the main points.

AB: And hopefully some work for all of us as well! So, visibility, work opportunities, collaboration, and community are the main points.

For women in sound, quite often you’re the only woman in the room — as I am very often on the dub stage — and it’s nice to know there are women in the sound industry and to feel that sense of community.

Going back to the photos, I got quite emotional the first time Anna S. sent over the Dropbox folder with all these pictures of these amazing sound women at work. There they were, and there was no doubt that there is so much talent there.

AS: We’re in a time of change and hopefully we will be a resource for people looking to diversify their crew. We’re not a directory, but hopefully we’re one of several places that people can look to for inspiration.

We’re in a time of change and hopefully we will be a resource for people looking to diversify their crew.

AB: Inspiration. Yes. I totally agree.

At the moment, we consciously didn’t want to create a directory because we knew there were several directories out there already. So far, a lot of our membership did bring up the fact that directories don’t necessarily mean more work. We don’t know what the big crux is for how to get more work for women in sound but there are things like Primetime, a great directory for all women working in film and TV. There’s also AMPS directory.

AS: There’s also the EQL directory from SoundGirls.org.

AB: So we didn’t want to be a directory. We just want to help create visibility and promote visibility for women in sound.

AS: We welcome further conversations and hope there are many more opportunities for collaboration in the future!

A big thanks to Anna Bertmark and Anna Sulley for discussing Women Who Are Sound (WWAS) and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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  • Human Sound Effects Applauses Play Track 50 sounds included, 11 mins total $30
    It took me 2 years to create this sound library and for the first time I used AI to create a cover image! 50 applause recordings made in various interior and exterior places, small and big audience, some with cheering and some with only clapping. All files are recorded 32bit, 192kHz with FEL Pluggy EM272 and Sonorous Objects SO.3 microphones, Zoom F3 recorder. The library is also available in UCS.
  • Environments & Ambiences WINTER SCAPE Play Track 33 sounds included, 148 mins total From: $119

    Feel the coldness of winter landscapes. In the heart of the Cantal mountains in France, immerse yourself in a soothing nature or in the cold winter wind.

    All files are embedded with extensive UCS compliant metadata.


   

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