Nicole Kidman’s voice-over narrates a hectic scene of Soviet paratroopers jumping out of planes to an uncertain fate while orchestral music swells with dramatic portent, signifying the outset of the second Great War.
This brief scene from the HBO film “Hemingway & Gellhorn” is filled with competing sounds: the musical score, the roar of plane engines and the voice of the actor describing the scene. Acquiring these sound effects and mixing them into a coherent soundtrack is a most delicate craft practiced by SF State associate professor of cinema Pat Jackson.
“It’s painting on a canvas,” Jackson said. “I’m devoted to expanding the empire of sound.”
Jackson said that sound design is more than just filling a soundless film with noise to make it watchable. Sound design requires imagination and creativity in order to better advance the story and make the environment come to life.
Jackson was awarded an Emmy Sept. 15 for outstanding sound editing for a miniseries, movie or special for her and her team’s work on “Hemingway & Gellhorn.”
The film tells the story of two eponymous journalists, played by Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, and their romance during the years of WWII and the Spanish Civil War. The sound designers were tasked with designing and editing tracks to accompany previously silent archival footage in the film among other challenges of using sound to animate a motion picture.
“It’s an honor and I was happy that we were recognized,” said Jackson, who has been teaching post-production sound design at SF State for nine years. “Of course it was exciting, but we did not expect it.”
Jackson has nearly four decades of experience in the movie business as a sound designer and editor, beginning with the first feature film she worked on, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation.” Jackson went on to work on other esteemed titles, including “The Godfather Part II,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Blue Velvet” and “The English Patient.”
“I thought, ‘How could you be paid for having so much fun?'” said Jackson, reminiscing on her first endeavors in the film industry. “I didn’t even know you could work in movies unless you were a director.”
Jackson got into teaching her craft after feeling disillusioned when she noticed how many sound editing gigs were being outsourced to studios in Europe. She saw this as an opportunity to share what she knows with students in the city she loves so that they can have the skills to create the movies that they want to create.
“It’s fun to get students turned onto the potential of sound,” she said. “And the diversity of the student body at State makes for very interesting movies.”
Jackson’s contributions to cinema and the University is not lost on faculty and students.
“She’s fantastic and her reputation is fantastic,” cinema major Ernie Rafanan said. “Which is why I wanted to get in (her) class.”
Rafanan is enrolled in Jackson’s projects and post-production sound class, where she often brings in her own work to demonstrate certain concepts to the class, including the work she recently won an Emmy for.
“She’s the complete professor,” Daniel Bernardi, cinema department chair, said.
He explained that she has the perfect blend of teaching skills and real-world experience.
“She’s very modest and she’ll always dodge credit for her achievements, but don’t believe it for a second. She’s one of the world’s best sound designers and teachers,” Bernardi said.
Despite being honored by the award, Jackson claimed that is not why she does what she does.
“I wasn’t even thinking about (winning an Emmy),” Jackson said. “I wasn’t doing it for an award. I do it because I like to do it.”
Jackson is currently working on a documentary that profiles renowned Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser.