'La La Land's' (Female) Sound Team Wants More Women Behind the Camera: Young People "Don't Even Know These Roles Exist"

Mildred Iatrou Morgan and Ai-Ling Lee- Photographed By Joe Pugliese - H 2017
Photographed by Joe Pugliese

Mildred Iatrou Morgan and Ai-Ling Lee, the first female team ever Oscar-nominated for sound, talk to THR about how to get more women leading below the line: "You have to ask."

Director and producer are more readily recognizable Hollywood careers than the likes of sound mixer or gaffer. 

Moonlight editor Joi McMillon, 35, who's the first black woman ever nominated for an Oscar in her category, says that the lack of girls in below-the-line roles is due to this lack of occupational visibility. 

"If kids are exposed to this area of the industry early on, I feel like that plants the seed and they think, 'Oh, I can be an editor or production designer or costumer.'" explains McMillon, who herself found a passion for editing in her junior year of high school, after a career-day trip to Universal Studios in Florida. "It's aspects of the industry that aren't talked about."

La La Land sound team Mildred Iatrou Morgan, 61, and Ai-Ling Lee, 38, the first women ever nominated for sound (with Lee also the first-ever Asian-American woman recognized in the category), agree with McMillon's start-em-young assertion. 

Iatrou Morgan and Lee talked to THR about how to get more women behind the camera and below the line.

How did you get into doing sound?

MILDRED IATROU MORGAN Starting out in film school, I always loved postproduction. And when I started to look for work, I wanted to be a picture editor, but I kept getting jobs as a sound editor. At one point I realized, "You know what? I should embrace this, go with it." And then my life changed and things got really interesting.

AI-LING LEE I'm from Singapore, and my dad is a big home-theater audio fan. Even though he doesn't understand much English, he loves watching Hollywood films. Growing up, we watched a lot of movies — and some movies a lot of times, like Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park. I was amazed at how much the sound helps heighten the experience and helps bring the audience into the world of the film.

Does being a female in sound make your work unique, as compared to your male counterparts? 

LEE For me, it is a different sense of detail. It doesn't have to always be bold, it can be some subtle sounds that can help bring up a sense of feeling and emotion. Women have a different take on certain scenes.

How can Hollywood get more women involved in below-the-line roles?

IATROU MORGAN Reach out to film students or young people, even in high school. Sometimes they don't even know these roles exist.

LEE It's good to explain how much sound can help a film and how creative it is. And that — whether you're male or female — you're always welcomed.

Have you seen a change in your craft?

IATROU MORGAN Early in my career, I'd be on the mixing stage, and I'd look around and there would be 15 people, and I would be the only woman. As the years have gone by, there are more women working in sound, but I still feel not enough. If there is someone I work with that is a really good editor, male or female, I will recommend them to sound supervisors, but I really love to give women a little boost.

Have you received any advice from women who came ahead of you?

IATROU MORGAN A friend who is a very accomplished sound editor always says, "You have to ask. If you want something, then you have to ask." So when I started supervising sound crews, I asked to do that. I was scared to ask, but the response was, "Sure. Here's a script. Try this show." I think some women have to be reminded that you won't get anything until you stick your neck out and ask for something.

When you were nominated, were you aware that you were making history?

IATROU MORGAN No. It wasn't till we saw it online.

LEE [I saw] a list of "10 Things to Know About This Year's Nominees" and that's how I found out.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.