It is not
very often that someone sends me photos from the red carpet at the Oscars or
references Brad Pitt and renowned director James Cameron in an interview. You
can only imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to chat with Buffalo
native and 2010 Oscar Nominee, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle.
nominated in the category of Best Achievement in Sound Editing for her expert
work on this years box-office smash hit Avatar. The ’79 graduate of Buffalo Seminary has a record number of
nominations and awards for the hundreds of successful films she has worked on.
Her talent has graced films including, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,
Saving Private Ryan, Fight Club and, among my personal favorites, The Simpsons
So how did
she get from Buffalo to Hollywood?
around a lot as a kid. I was shy and dorky, but all that also made me
observant, which helped give me courage to take chances when I needed to. I
graduated from Buffalo Seminary, an excellent school, and was an AFS exchange student
in a teensy town in Germany. That year was a big wake up call to me,” said
returned to the United States eager and willing to try everything. Whittle
attended four universities in four years studying everything from theater,
pre-vet, advertising and international relations before graduating from NYU
with a degree in film.
luck, being in the right place at the right time, Whittle is, among other
things, tenacious and humble. After moving to San Francisco with her sister,
she jumped at any opportunity that presented. From low budget advertising,
pushing paper to editing assistant- No job was too big or too small. It was
this mentality, that 20 years later landed her an Academy Award nomination.
thought it would be fun to be nominated, but never really expected it to happen
to me. So when it did… it was kind of a “pinch myself” moment,”
Whittle said. “They announce the nominations at a crazy hour in the morning. I
could not sleep the night before – it was better than Christmas Eve on the
excitement scale! I got an e-mail from the producer Jon Landau at 6AM saying it
was official and I think I squealed and kissed my husband right away.”
reviewers, such as rottentomatoes.com, have complimented Avatar as being even
“more impressive on a technical level than as a piece of storytelling.” Cameron
has editors like Whittle to thank for that.
approached in every aspect of the production and post as ‘How can we do this in
a better way?’ Cameron created new cameras to shoot in 3D, he integrated
editing and shooting on the same sound stage, and he had a sound effects editor
on site with him for three years. His attention to detail is beyond compare,
and it shows on the screen and the speakers around the screen. Working for
Cameron, you have to be ready to do whatever is on his agenda as quickly as
possible, so the level of prep was way beyond a normal show,” Whittle said.
interview with Buffalo Seminary, Whittle mentions that she especially loved
working with the Na’vi language and the translating of all the extra crowd
dialogue in the film with the inventor of the language, Paul Frommer, a
graduate of Rochester University. She and her colleagues in sound production
invented thousands of new sounds for the film and the Na’vi language, even
using newborn swan vocals.
the Whittle, “dream job is an odd concept”. To her the perfect job changes as
life and families
change. But for now working at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and waking up to
visit Brad Pitt at work is not so bad.
“It is very
surreal. When I’m on a plane from Tel Aviv to Paris having worked with the top
Israeli actors, flying on to work with the top French actors and heading to
London after that – I think my life is pretty cool. Or going to Australia 3
times in one year to work with Cate Blanchett – I have a great job.”
have to agree.