Podcast: Anna Behlmer on Mixing Sound Effects in Movies

Anna Behlmer was the first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award® for Best Sound, with 10 total nominations over the course of her career. But like most people who can call themselves the first, her path into the industry wasn’t a clear or easy one.

A rerecording mixer with credits on more than 140 films, Behlmer enjoys mixing sound effects rather than dialogue. She says that working with dialogue is “tedious. It’s tough. And it’s not that fun.” Behlmer tips her hat to those who do it.

Behlmer loves the collaboration of sound mixing. As she mixes sound effects, she often works alongside the dialogue editor: “You get a shorthand, you don’t even speak after a while. As an effects mixer, I’m sitting there and I’m with a dialogue mixer and trying to match ADR, so instantly I’m thinking about ‘I need some cloth movement,’ ‘I need some footsteps in there,’ ‘I need to get the Foley to be working.’ I’m listening. I’m thinking, ‘OK I need to dial the Foley up to make it match into the production a little better and as he comes into his ADR,’ it just happens. It just happens… You get into a flow.”

Behlmer has worked on a wide range of film genres and finds that each genre comes with its own challenges. With comedy, Behlmer says, “You have to stay very close to what the picture editor and director have been living with. You can’t really go too far with a comedy.” With an action film, “it’s easier because, especially something with visual effects, they don’t have the elements, they don’t have a fleshed-out track, so they’re so much more accepting.”

When approaching a new picture, Behlmer says her biggest challenge is trust. “With any film, you’re meeting new people. And the challenge, especially with new filmmakers, is to gain their trust, to let them know that you’re there to do your best for them, and to do that.” Mixing movies is a team sport, and everybody’s got to be focused on the same goal: to make the best movie.

Although the technology inside mixing suites has seen major changes during Behlmer’s career, she does not feel that it has changed her approach. “The source material is better, the way things are recorded and laid out. The accuracy with which we can do things is so much improved,” Behlmer says. “The great part is that all of that is behind the scenes, at least the way I work. And [mixing is] still completely kind of a ‘feel,’ kind of an emotional, artistic thing.”

Hear more about Behlmer’s work in her own words in this episode of the Dolby Institute podcast.