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Past Featured Members

MARY ELLEN PORTO - SOUND EDITOR:

June 2015

Where are you currently employed?

 

I work freelance at various studios in New York City, including Goldcrest Post.

 

Current Project?

 

I am the sound effects editor on David Simon's miniseries for HBO, Show Me a Hero.

 

Describe Your Job.

 

I am a dialogue and sound effects editor for films and television. Living in New York, I have recorded quite a bit of the sound on locations throughout the entire area. When I cut sound effects, I like to record as much as possible so each show has its own sound. After 30 years of recording, I have built up quite a library. One of the things I most love about sound effects editing is listening to the sounds of different countries, different cities, different neighborhoods, different buildings and everything above and below.

 

When working as a dialogue editor, I try to stay as true to the original production sound as possible. If the director is on board with the approach, I always try to find alts as opposed to looping a line. I listen very closely to the pitch of the actors’ voices, the words they choose to stress and the placement of the mic in relation to their reading. I have to understand why the director chose one take over others. Often changing just a syllable can make an entire line sound different. Figuring out how to make a scene smooth and audible while keeping it true to the director’s vision is like doing a puzzle. It brings out the English major in me.

 

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

 

I have always loved movies and after college decided to get a job in the industry. I didn't want to work on set, so I moved to New York and started looking for work in a cutting room. A very wonderful picture editor named Jean Tsien knew a sound editor looking for an apprentice and that led to my first job in sound editing.

 

Who gave you your first break?

 

Toby Shimin, now a picture editor, was the sound editor who Jean recommended to me. Toby hired me as an apprentice on an indie film she was supervising called Working Girls, directed by Lizzie Borden — not to be confused with the Melanie Griffith film Working Girl. She was doing some amazing sound work and I was immediately taken with it.

 

What was your first union job?

 

My first union job was working on an NBC documentary about the writer James Agee.

 

Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?

 

Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay — my first sound editing credit and to this day is a great film. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, working with Sidney Lumet, simply made me happy. It was truly a gift to work with such a legend, who is also kind, funny and down-to-earth. He always knew exactly what he wanted but was open and collaborative. And Rosewater; it was a joy working for Jon Stewart and I love the film. Like Sidney Lumet, he is collaborative though he has a strong point of view.

 

What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?

 

My biggest challenge has come from working on TV series. There is never enough time to do the type of detailed work I love to do on films and the pace is grueling because you're often mixing every week to constantly meet deadlines. Many of the series I worked on were made by film directors who want that “film” sound — which I want, too — but it is exhausting and frustrating to fit a film soundtrack into the parameters of a TV show. As I do more TV, I am learning to edit to the strengths of the small screen. I've figured out what sounds cut through and play well on the smaller screen. Rather than doing less work to fit the time frame, I’m figuring out what is the right work for this medium. It is an ongoing struggle!

 

What was the most fun you’ve had at work?

 

The most fun was working on Rosewater. Supervising the dialogue and ADR, I got to spend time in the ADR studio with Jon Stewart, which was fascinating and creatively stimulating. Coming from working with a room full of writers for his TV show, he is very respectful of every member of the crew. You always felt like you and your input mattered. Every crew member and actor felt the same way. Everybody knew they were part of a great film, and there is a certain excitement and pride to that. To top it off, I spent a week in the studio with re-recording mixer Lee Dichter doing the dialogue pre-mix. He is so kind and talented, I always learn new things from him. I love watching him transform my tracks into something better — and making it look so easy.

 

Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?

 

Still sound editing as a freelancer and working with some of the colleagues with whom I've worked for years.

 

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

 

I love baking. I love swimming, though I'm actually not very good at it. I love going to Coney Island. And I am a long-suffering Mets fan. I hope this will be our year.

 

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

 

One of my all-time favorites is Gattaca. I love everything about it: the theme, the humanity, the look of the film, the dialogue, the direction of the actors, the acting. It was made quite a while ago but is still relevant. Another favorite is Rust and Bone. Marion Cotillard is amazing and there is just something about the pace and the mood of that quiet story that I loved. It is so moving but in a very subtle and undefinable way.


Favorite TV program(s)? Why?

 

My favorites are Justified, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and The Wire. All for the same reasons: really fantastic writing and great acting. They all take place in the gray areas where the line between hero and villain is never clear, and they have a great deal of humanity to them. On a much lighter note, I love the series Black Books. It really is the funniest series I've ever seen.

 

Do you have an industry mentor?

 

Starting out, I worked for a brilliant sound editor, Margaret Crimmins. She has an incredible ear and she very generously spent a lot of time teaching me how to listen to and edit sound. She always made sure to include me in the whole process. The things I learned from her are the foundation of everything I do in sound editing today.

 

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?

 

Don't do it unless you really love it. But if it is something you love, you should definitely pursue it. If you work hard, you will find your way. And trust your ears!

 

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?

 

I rely heavily on the Guild for health care for myself and my family. It has often been helpful getting me and my kids (still on the plan, thanks to Obamacare) sorted out.

 

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

 

I think that our job is getting harder. We all work longer hours for less pay and we are often not given the time we need to produce the quality of work we would like. Now more than ever it is important that we stick together and support one another. My fellow crew mates have always been one of the great joys of this job for me.

 

- Compiled by Edward Landler

 

Editor’s Note:  To recommend a member (including yourself) to be featured on the home page of the Editor’s Guild website contact edlandler@roadrunner.com.

 


Interested in Being Featured?

Tomm Carroll
Publications Director
323.876.4770, ext. 222
tcarroll@editorsguild.com