Gwendolyn Yates Whittle interview: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ sound

“Clarity is king” is the most important mantra that Gwendolyn Yates Whittle has learned in her time working with James Cameron. “You have to make sure that you have the sound that supports the picture narratively, and very very precisely,” she explains. After designing major films like “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar,” she served as a supervising sound editor on Cameron’s latest trip to Pandora with “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

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Yates Whittle has an affinity for dialogue and ADR work. “I really really like getting out from underneath a computer sometimes,” she confesses, “I love words, and I love dealing with human interaction.” Given that the sound team on a film is often doing much of their work in post production, supervising ADR allows her to peek into the actor’s creative process. “You get to watch the actors and directors interact. And you learn so much listening to a director speak to an actor, trying to get them back to that performance,” she explains.

This knowledge comes in handy when Yates Whittle has to sort out the sound within an epic action sequence. The finale of “The Way of Water” is one such chaotic moment, full of explosions, gunfire, background characters, aquatic creatures, and character dialogue. “It’s really tricky because the music is going, and the effects are going, and the people are screaming and yelling and running around,” describes the editor. “The trick is to not lose the thread of which character that you’re following.” She notes that breathing and effortful sounds often prove essential tools in helping the audience focus, so a great deal of ADR was recorded for these effects.

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Yates Whittle is a two-time Academy Award nominee for “Avatar” and “Tron.” She is one of only 12 women to be nominated in the Sound Editing category in the 46 years of its existence (the category was recently combined with Sound Mixing into a single Best Sound race starting with the 93rd Annual Academy Awards). While she admits that it can feel like a male-dominated field, she sees change afoot as major studios make strides in enlisting diverse artists into their training programs. “We have to be better about bringing people up through the ranks and mentoring people,” says Yates Whittle, “I think it makes us better storytellers if you have all those different perspectives.”

So, what does this decorated expert believe makes her art stand out? As it happens, standing out isn’t quite Yates Whittle’s goal. “If I do my job really well, you will not notice it all,” she asserts, “You’ll be so involved with the movie…there will be nothing that will take you out of it.” That means no bizarre background noises, no sibilance to the dialogue, and not one moment out of sync. “In a good movie, everything’s in the pocket. And that’s exactly what you want,” she explains, before adding with a laugh: So you shouldn’t pay any attention to me at all!”

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UPLOADED Dec 20, 2022 3:30 pm