According to data compiled by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film in 2023, women are still woefully underrepresented behind the scenes, comprising 24% of directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films. This doesn’t even account for all the post-production editing that happens on every film and TV project. Judging by Women and Hollywood’s report from 2016-2018, only 15.5% of the editing jobs were held by women, where 14.4% of the positions were held by white women, and only 1.1% held by non-white women. Clearly there is still a number of barriers to overcome on a systemic level. But the most exciting changes we are seeing are on the individual level from creators, business owners, and entrepreneurs.
That’s not to say individual innovation is going to be the savior for systemic failure, but it sure as hell proves that change can be made by conscious decision-making on the part of people in positions of power.
An excellent example of this is what Kate Finan, co-founder of Boom Box Post, a leading animation and cinematic sound studio in Los Angeles, is doing. Kate founded the company with Jeff Shiffman, and together they and their team of audio creatives have built an award-nominated bank of work that is recognizable on top streaming platforms and the top of many Hollywood box office lists.
While celebrating three Children’s and Family Emmy nominations, the studio has been diligently crafting immersive sound experiences for some of this past year’s most anticipated projects, including Nickelodeon’s ‘Baby Shark’s Big Movie’ (Cardi B, Offset) and Disney’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever’, both of which recently premiered on December 8th. Kate served as the Re-Recording Mixer on ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’, lending a female perspective to a field in which women are so heavily under-represented. Boom Box Post is committed to correcting this gender imbalance, employing over 50% women/gender non-conforming staff at the company.
Boom Box also worked on Amazon’s ‘Invincible’, an hour-long adult animated television series following 17-year old Mark Grayson as he transforms into a superhero, also starring Sandra Oh, Steven Yuen, and J.K. Simmons.
So what does a post-production sound studio do? And why is it imperative that we see more gender balance behind the scenes in this area of editing? We spoke to Kate about her work, how Boom Box Post is taking the initiative to champion the next generation of underrepresented sound professionals, and why the perspectives of women, gender non-conforming and non-binary folks matter in the larger creation of making a film or TV project.
Can you first tell us how your career in film and TV began?
I started by studying Sound Recording Technology within DePaul University’s School of Music where I also played the clarinet. My degree was mostly focused on music engineering, but we did a short unit on post-production sound, which is a completely different application of the same tools. I fell in love with how sound could elevate a story. From there, I moved out to Los Angeles after graduation to pursue a job in sound design for television and film, and I got my first job as a sound effects editor for animation at a small boutique studio. That is where I met my now-business-partner Jeff Shiffman. From there, Jeff and I both moved to Warner Brothers and continued our careers as Supervising Sound Editors for animation.
How did you start Boom Box Post?
After five years at Warner Brothers, where Jeff and I both supervised the sound for numerous animated projects, we decided to take the plunge and open Boom Box Post together! At first we did everything ourselves. We slowly grew to a company with about 20 employees and a facility of our own in Burbank, CA. At Boom Box Post, we both act as supervising sound editors and re-recording mixers as well as business owners. So we have our hands in all aspects of the business on a daily basis.
So much of movie magic happens behind the scenes in post production. Can you tell us what Boom Box Post does and what elements you bring to your projects?
At Boom Box Post, we offer full post-production sound services. That means that we do dialogue editorial, Foley design and editorial, sound effects design and editorial, sound supervision, and the re-recording mix. Each of our projects is assigned a sound team including all editors, a re-recording mixer, and a supervising sound editor who manages the logistics of the project as well as the creative design work from start to finish.
When we first receive any project, we start by getting inspired by the visual artwork. Animation, after all, is moving art created by some of the best artists working in the world today. Because it’s all created from scratch rather than shot on location, the character designs, locations, and overall style can vary incredibly. So, we take keywords from the artwork itself and use that as a filter through which we run all of our sound choices. A project may be quirky, fun, exuberant, and nautical-themed. Or, it may be dark, horrifying, intense, and super hero-inspired. These differences completely change our sonic palette and allow us to create custom sound design work that really augments a project’s aesthetic goals.
We hear a lot about the lack of women on screen or in major production roles like Director and writer. But can you tell us more about what it is like for women in positions like yours and other post roles?
There is also an extreme lack of women in the sound world. According to Women’s Audio Mission, “Fewer than 5% of the people creating the sounds, music, and media in the daily soundtrack of our lives are women or gender-expansive individuals.” I can attest that this alarming statistic holds up to my own personal experience prior to starting Boom Box Post.
When Jeff and I were making first plans regarding how to run our company, I posed to him that I truly believed that we could create a workplace that was 50/50 male/female & non-binary. I believed that it would be an asset to our storytelling abilities and our employee comfort, and that we could do this while also always choosing the best candidate. Jeff readily agreed and together we devised a plan.
We decided that spreading the word when hiring to include a larger pool, rather than just word of mouth amongst the same small group, would yield a much more diverse candidate pool. We also created our apprenticeship program, which offers entry-level job training in all post-production sound jobs. We did this because we found that higher level jobs often didn’t have a diverse pool due to the lack of training of young women at the entry level.
These two things alone meant that we were able to considerably widen our pool of qualified applicants. Then, we offered interviews based solely on qualifications and hired the best interviewee regardless of gender (or any other qualities outside those that pertain to the job). This practice naturally created a 50/50 workplace and also proved to strengthen the breadth of talent within our company.
We use every opportunity we get to spread the word about how simple it was to do. Things are slowly changing across the industry, and there are now many women forging a path and doing great work in post-production sound. But, change is slow and there is still more work to be done.
Why is it important to have more female perspectives in post production? Can you give us some examples from the films you have worked on?
In creative industries where each person brings their own experience, culture, and perspective to a project, diversity is key. When we block 50% of all prospective storytellers, the work suffers. It’s not that the female perspective is unique in and of itself. I’ve been in plenty of sound meetings where someone has announced that “women can’t cut sound with balls,” or, for example, I was given several of my pre-school animated series because “women understand what babies like” even though I was in my early twenties and didn’t have any notable experience with young children.
Both of these assumptions are misplaced, in my opinion. There isn’t something innately feminine about the work that women do. Instead, I believe that it’s important to have more unique perspectives regardless of gender. When we hold back 50% of the workforce in any position, but especially in the creative ones, we are severely limiting what can be achieved. We also limit our capacity to speak to our audience when we limit the creative minds that come together to tell a story.
Although we see a lot of conversations about diversity in Hollywood, there is still a long way to go. What are some of the biggest areas that you see that need to change?
For me, it all begins with diversity in hiring. I’ve seen first-hand the difference that it makes to have a staff that reflects the beautifully diverse mosaic of our actual lives outside of the office. When it comes to hiring, I’ve heard many excuses which seem to be valid on the surface, but are actually fallacies. The foremost of these is that there aren’t any qualified women applying to key and/or high-level positions. That may be true. But, that fact is perpetuated by the inaction of those of us who have power in hiring.
We have the ability to fix this by increasing our hiring pool to include more women at the entry level. Another excuse that I have often heard is that women are hired, but they always quit. When this is the case, a company needs to take a realistic stock of the workplace culture (which always starts at the top) as well as employee benefits to be sure that once we have those female employees, we are able to retain them. Exit interviews do wonders in exposing weak points if you are open to hearing them.
Who are some other women and non-binary folks behind the scenes who are doing incredible work that we should know more about?
There are so many! Here are just a few from Boom Box Post:
Tess Fournier graduated from Emerson College with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Production: Sound Design/Audio Post Production. Tess spent her final semester in Los Angeles which led her to pursue a career in sound design in the world of television and film. Tess held several assistant sound editor positions before joining Boom Box Post in 2015 as a sound effects editor. In the eight years since, Tess has progressed to be a formidable supervising sound editor, leading numerous teams of audio professionals in post production projects both large and small. Tess has been nominated for five MPSE Golden Reel Awards and four Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing.
Natalia is a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award-nominated sound effects editor who has worked on a variety of projects ranging from feature films to documentaries, TV shows and animated series. She loves creating and editing sound effects to enhance the overall quality of a film or TV show. This includes everything from designing unique sounds for specific scenes to selecting and editing pre-existing sound effects from a library. She is one of the best sound designers in the business! Natalia can make any scene funnier, more action-packed, or more stylistically designed with her amazing creativity with sound.
Logan Romjue (they/them) is an Emmy-nominated dialogue editor based in Burbank, CA, working on animated features and shows at Boom Box Post. Logan has worked on notable feature films, such as Red Rocket, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, and Baby Shark’s Big Movie. They’ve also worked on the animated shows Invincible, Gabby’s Dollhouse, Mickey Mouse Funhouse, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Hailey’s On It, The Croods: Family Tree, Strange Planet, and many others.
Logan is passionate about fostering diversity in the sound industry, ensuring equitable access for all individuals, and advocating for increased representation of women and gender-nonconforming individuals in the field.
And here are a few outside Boom Box Post:
Terri founded WAM in 2003 while she was a tenured Professor and Director of the Sound Recording Arts Program at City College of San Francisco from 2001-2011. Her love of music and the recording arts spans 30 years as a songwriter, composer, recording engineer, and producer. Winston was signed as a recording artist, engineer and producer by Polygram and BMG, and has shared the stage with such acts as P.J. Harvey, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Flaming Lips, Fugazi, Cake, and Third Eye Blind. She has received an ASCAP songwriting award, Boston Music Award and Bay Area Music Award, is a voting member of the Recording Academy (The GRAMMY’s) and is active in the Producers and Engineers wing.
She is currently serving on the Recording Academy’s (Grammy’s) National Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and The Academy of Country Music’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
Similar to Women’s Audio Mission, Soundgirls is a non-profit organization that is committed to providing women in audio with a community for support, advice, empowerment and inspiration. Their website holds a wealth of knowledge, their members are amazing about mentoring young women to help them build real-world job skills, and they also provide educational events to their many local chapters.
Can you tell us the process of working on a film like ‘Diary of Wimpy Kid’ and how Boom Box Post delivers?
Our process for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever was for our supervising sound editor, Tess Fournier, to begin by sitting down with the filmmakers (the supervising director, Luke Cormican, plus our executive and post-production teams from Disney) for a spotting session with locked picture. That gave us the opportunity to talk through specific sonic moments as well as get overall direction. Tess then gathered our team for a kickoff meeting to discuss the project overall and open the lines of communication, Then she spotted with specific editors to give individualized direction on how to address their part of the sound design process.
When all of the editorial was completed, Tess combined the dialogue, foley, and sound effects, and did an overall pass to ensure it all worked together as a cohesive design which addressed all of the thoughts, ideas, and expectations expressed in the spotting session. At that point, Tess brought the filmmakers back in to preview the work, received feedback from them, and we did a round of fixes to fine-tune it to their exact specifications.
Once the editorial was complete, we received the music from the composer and music editor, and I was able to begin the re-recording mix process along with my fellow mixer, Jacob Cook. Jacob and I put a lot of time into making the re-recording mix intelligible, emotional, cinematic and to also give it forward momentum all while adhering to the strict Disney+ Atmos specs. Then, our client reviews began. First, we did a quick pass with the music editor since she was so tuned into the musical preferences of the team after spending months on the project. Then, we did several days with Luke, the supervising director, really digging into each scene and crafting each moment to fit his vision. Once he approved, we began executive passes.
After receiving our final approval, we created all of the Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround sound deliverables, and the project was complete!
As an Emmy-nominated studio, how do you get hired for work? Do you have to constantly pitch to studios and networks, or do you get recommended based on previous projects?
Both, actually! We are always considered because someone has recommended us. That could be someone on the studio side who has worked with us on another project, or someone on the creative team has either worked with us personally or received a recommendation from a colleague or friend. That’s what puts us on the list of prospective choices for post-production sound. At that point, if everyone agrees to consider us, we give them a tour of our facility and get to pitch ourselves to the production team. We love this process because it allows us to hear more about the project as well as make a connection with the team to tell them first-hand what we bring to the table, as well as give an individualized account of how we would approach their project.
Given the way the writers’ and actors’ strikes forced everyone to understand the need for equity and fair working conditions, where do post production studios like yours fit into this ongoing conversation? How do you ensure you are creating positive change in the industry within your company?
Jeff and I are always striving to create equity and fair working conditions. This begins with having compassion for each person who works for us as an individual. We know everyone personally, and we recognize that we all have precious few years on this planet, and our employees are choosing to spend an incredible portion of that time with us. That means that our decisions, actions, and treatment of our employees have a huge impact on their lives. Acknowledging that is key.
The second thing is opening ourselves up to being vulnerable. Running a business is difficult and involves countless decisions and considerations. And as humans, sometimes we find out after the fact that there was a better choice than the one we made, or we make a decision and it fits well for a while, but the company eventually outgrows it. When we get feedback like that (and if the culture is good, people will be comfortable enough to let you know!), it’s so important to stay open and curious. It’s important to us to ask questions instead of jumping to our own defense. And then, once we’ve gathered enough information, we ask ourselves, how can we course-correct? Being able to receive negative feedback with an open mind and then enact change based on it is incredibly hard, but it’s so important to evolving our culture and the growth of our company.
What is on the Boom Box Post slate for 2024?
We have so many great projects that we’ve been working on coming out in 2024! To name a couple new series, Kindergarten: The Musical! will premiere on Disney+/Disney Jr. and Rock Paper Scissors is slated to be released by Nickelodeon (you can catch a few episodes now on YouTube). We are also working hard on Invincible for Amazon Prime, and it’s expected that season three may be released sometime in 2024.
We are also excited to announce that we’ve been nominated for a Motion Picture Editors Guild Golden Reel Award for Transformers: Earthspark (Nickelodeon), and we’re anxiously awaiting the awards ceremony!
Additionally, four of the series that we work on were nominated for “Best” Annie Awards this year: Ghee Happy (Netflix/Ghee Happy Studio), Playdate with Pooh (Oddbot/Disney Jr.), and Storybots: Answer Time (Netflix) in the category of Best TV/Media – Preschool, and Invincible: Atom Eve (Amazon) in the category of Best Special Production. We are really looking forward to those awards in 2024 to share in our clients’ successes within the animation industry.
Given your passion to elevate more women and non-binary members of the industry, what advice would you give to people looking to explore post production careers and looking to get their foot in the door?
I would advise you to thoroughly explore entry level positions. These jobs get you in the door, allow you to understand the business, and give you the opportunity to learn what you love (and maybe what you hate) along the way. Like I mentioned, getting a top-level position starts with having experience at the lower level. Build your resume, make it your mission to figure out how you can add value in whatever position you take, soak up all of the knowledge and experience that your coworkers have to offer. Then, let it be known what your goals are. Be sure to not just make demands, but instead pitch a plan that you think will get you closer to your goals and will also be mutually beneficial in the process. If you are the best you can be in any given position, someone will notice–even if that position is at the bottom.
You can learn more about Boom Box Post on their website, connect with them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. If you are interested in getting into the post-production sound industry, get in touch with Kate and her team today!