Oscars: 'Unbroken' Sound Editor Opens Up About Angelina Jolie's Directing Style

Angelina Jolie's Directing Style - H 2015
David James

Angelina Jolie's Directing Style - H 2015

This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"There's not a lot of women doing big war movies," admits Becky Sullivan, the sole female nominee in this year's Oscar sound editing race. But then there are not a lot of women directing war movies, either, one of the rare exceptions being Angelina Jolie, who helmed Unbroken — for which Sullivan is nominated along with Andrew DeCristofaro.

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Sullivan, who had worked on Jolie's 2011 directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, joined Universal Studios Sound in the spring, so she was in exactly the right place when Unbroken came around. She recently completed work on Fifty Shades of Grey and plans to reunite with Jolie in March on By the Sea, a marital drama Jolie not only is directing but also will star in opposite her husband, Brad Pitt.

Sullivan insists she does not give much thought to the fact that she's a woman excelling in a male-dominated field. But in working with Jolie, she witnessed firsthand how a woman can bring a particular point of view to a project that not every male director exhibits. "She's very generous of heart, and she has a vision," attests Sullivan. "Instead of saying, 'I don't like …,' she would say, 'I want this emotion,' and she would allow us the creativity to find that emotion. She's very collaborative."

To get where she is now, Sullivan followed a classic Hollywood path to success: She started as a receptionist to get a foot in the door and, by working extremely hard, rose steadily through the ranks to earn credits as a supervising sound editor.

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She also was inspired by women who broke the glass ceiling in her field. She cites Kay Rose, who received a special achievement award at the Oscars in 1985 for sound-effects editing on The River, and Cecelia "Cece" Hall, the first woman nominated in a competitive sound-effects editing category in 1987 — for Top Gun — and then the first woman to win in 1991, for The Hunt for Red October.

"Now there are a lot of great women sound supervisors out there," says Sullivan, adding, "I have two daughters who now look to me, and they are thrilled that they can see their mom doing this."