Female Film Sound Pioneer on the Lack of Women in Her Field

Anna Behlmer will be feted Feb. 24 for career achievement at the 54th Cinema Audio Society Awards.
Courtesy of Natasha Lee

The first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in the sound mixing category (for 1996’s Braveheart), Anna Behlmer, a 10-time Oscar nominee, talks about “supporting the story” with sound. 

What is most misunderstood about sound mixing?

People think that it’s very technical, which it is, but it’s really an art form. To balance a soundscape against images with dialogue and music and sound effects — it’s all supporting the story.

How did that play out in 2003’s Seabiscuit?

Horses are incredibly competitive creatures. So when Seabiscuit was passed, he would get agitated and his breathing would increase. Those sounds definitely gave the story more impact because you start to think of these animals as athletes.

Why aren’t there more women doing what you do?

There are more, compared with when I started, but there should be a larger percentage. I got the opportunity because we had a mentorship program at [sound facility] Todd-AO. I just had to work really hard. I didn’t want my gender to come into any part of it. I would be just as bothered to get a job because I’m female than to not get a job because I’m female. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.