By Randi Altman
Toronto-based audio post house Tattersall Sound & Picture has been a fixture in audio post production since 2003, even though the origins of the studio go back further than that. Tattersall Sound & Picture’s work spans films, documentaries, television series, spots, games and more.
Now part of the SIM Group of companies, the studio is run by president/supervising sound editor Jane Tattersall and her partners Lou Solakofski, Peter Gibson and David McCallum. Tattersall is an industry veteran who found her way to audio post in a very interesting way. Let’s find out more…
How did you get your start in this business?
My start was an accident, but serendipitous. I had just graduated from university with a degree in philosophy and had begun to think of what options I might have — law and journalism were the only fields that came to mind, but then I got a call from my boyfriend’s sister who was an art director. She had just met a producer at a party who was looking for a philosopher to do research on a documentary series. I got the job, did all the research and ended up working with the picture editor. I found his work using sound brought the scenes to life, so decided I would try to learn that job. After that I apprenticed with an editor and learned on the job. I’m still learning!
When did you open Tattersall Sound & Picture?
I started the original Tattersall Sound, which was just sound editing in 1992 but sold it in 1999 to run a larger full post facility. I opened Tattersall Sound & Picture in 2003, along with my partners.
Why did you open it?
After three years running a big post facility I missed the close involvement with projects that comes with being an editor. I was ready for a change and keen to be more hands on.
How has it evolved over the years?
When we started the company it was just sound editing. The first year we shared warehouse space with a framing factory. We had a big open workplace and we all worked with headphones. After a year we moved to where we are today. We had space for picture editing suites as well as sound editing. Over time we expanded our services and facilities. Now we have five mix stages including a Dolby Atmos stage, ADR, as well as offline and sound editorial.
How have you continued to be successful in what can be a tough business?
We focus simultaneously on good creative work and ensuring we have enough resources to continue to operate. Without good and detailed and good work we would lose our clients, but without earning enough money we couldn’t pay people properly, pay the rent and upgrade the stages and edit rooms. I like to think we attract good talent and workers because we care about doing great work, and the great work keeps the clients coming to us.
Does working on diverse types of projects play a role in that success?
Yes, that’s true as well. We have a diversity of projects — TV series, documentaries, independent feature films, some animation and some children’s TV series. Some years ago we were doing mostly indie features and a small amount of television, but our clients moved into television and brought us along with them. Now we are doing some wonderful higher-end series like Vikings, Penny Dreadful and Fargo (pictured below). We continue to do features and love doing them, but it is a smaller part of the business.
If you had one tip about keeping staff happy and having them stay for the long-term, what would it be?
Listen to them, and keep them involved and make them feel like an appreciated part of the business.
What is the biggest change in audio post that you’ve seen since your time in the business?
The biggest change would be the change in technology — from Moviolas to Pro Tools and all the digital plug-ins that have become the regular way of editing and mixing. Related to that would be the time allotted to post sound. Our schedules are shorter because we can and do work faster.
The other change is that we work in smaller teams or even alone. This means fewer opportunities for more junior people and assistants to learn by doing their job in the same room. This applies to picture editing as well, of course.
There is no denying that our industry is filled with more males than females, and having one own an audio post house like yours is rare. Can you talk about that?
I certainly didn’t set out to own or run anything! Just to work on interesting projects for directors and producers who wanted to work with me. The company you see today has grown organically. I attracted like minded co-workers and complementary team members and went after films and directors that I wanted to work with.
We would never have built any mix stages if we didn’t have re-recording mixer Lou Solakofski on board as partner. And he in turn would never have got involved if he didn’t trust us to keep the values of good work and respectful working environment that were essential to him. We all trusted one another to retain and respect our shared values.
It has not always been easy though! There were many projects that I just couldn’t get, which was immensely frustrating. Some of these projects were of the action/violent style. Possibly the producers thought a man might be able to provide the right sounds rather than a woman. No one ever said that, so there may have been other reasons.
However, not getting certain shows served to make me more determined to do great work for those producers and directors who did want me/us. So it seems that having customers with the same values is crucial. If there weren’t enough clients who wanted our quality and detail we wouldn’t have got to where we are today.
What type of gear do you have installed? How often to do you update the tech?
Our facility is all Avid and Pro Tools, including the mix stages. We have chosen an all-Pro Tools workflow because we feel it provides the most flexibility in terms of work flow and the easiest way to stay current with new service options. Staying current can be costly but being up to date with equipment is advantageous for both our clients and creative team.
We update frequently usually, driven by the requirements of a specific project. For example, in July 2015 we were scheduled to mix the Canadian war film Hyena Road and the producer, distributor and director all wanted to work in Dolby Atmos. So our head tech engineer Ed Segeren and Lou investigated to see how feasible it would be to upgrade one of the stages to accommodate the Dolby requirements. It took some careful research and some time but that stage was updated to facilitate that film.
Another example is when we began the Vikings series and knew the composer was going to deliver very wide — all separate stems as 5.0 — so we needed a dedicated music Pro Tools. This meant we had to expand the console.
As a rule when we update one mix stage, but we know we will soon update the others in order to be able to move sessions between rooms transparently. This is an expense, but it also provides us flexibility — essential in post production as project schedules inevitably shift from their original bookings.
David McCallum, fellow sound supervisor and partner, has a special interest in acoustic listening spaces and providing editors with the best environment to make good decisions. His focus on editorial upgrades help to ensure we can send good tracks to the stage.
Our head tech engineer Ed Segeren attends NAB and AES every year to see new developments, and the staff is very interested in learning about what’s out there and how we might apply new technology. We try to be smart about our upgrades, and it’s always about improving workflow and work quality.
What are some recent projects completed at Tattersall?
We recently completed the series Fargo (mixing), and the feature films Beeba Boys (directed by Deepa Mehta) and Hyena Road (directed by Paul Gross), and we are in the midst of the TV series Sensitive Skin for HBO Canada. We are also doing Saving Hope, Vikings (pictured below) Season 4 and will start Season 3 of Penny Dreadful in early 2016.
Are you still directing?
I’m surprised you even know about that! I’m trying to! Last spring I directed a very short film, a three-minute thriller called Wildlife. This month I am co-directing a short film about a young women indirectly involved in a police shooting and her investigation into what really happened. I have an advantage, which is that I know when a story point can be made using sound rather than needing a shot to convey something, and I have a good idea of how ADR can be employed so no need to worry about the production recording.
The wonderful thing about these non-work film projects is that I learn a huge amount every time, including just how hard producers must work to get something made, and just how vulnerable a director is when putting something of themselves out there for anyone to watch.