Wed. Feb 19th, 2020

Emmy interview: Paula Fairfield, Emmy-nominated sound editor of ‘Game of Thrones’

(l) Paula Farfield, (r) Maisie Williams (photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

“The Long Night” of Game of Thrones was easily one of the most anticipated episodes of television of the decade. And who would kill the Night King was up there in cliffhangers with the likes of “Who Shot J.R.?” on Dallas. The difference being Game of Thrones airs in the social media era where fans do not just discuss the series with their friends and coworkers the next day they live tweet their thoughts and opinions—forgetting that those who crafted those episodes of television are looking at their comments and like any person can find the criticism baffling and sometimes hurtful.

If you do not know Paula Fairfield by name you are more than likely familiar with her sounds. Fairfield is not unfamiliar to highly anticipated television previously working on Lost and has worked on films most notably Mother. For her efforts, Fairfield has received three Emmy nominations for Lost (2007-2008, 2010) and one for the Limited Series The River (2012). And for Game of Thrones she has five nominations for some of the series biggest episodes: “And Now His Watch Is Ended” (2013); “The Watchers on the Wall” (2014); “The Door” (2016); “The Spoils of War” (2017) and winning for “Hardhome” (2015). She is nominated once again for Game of Thrones, for the episode “The Long Night.”

Maisie Williams and Vladimir Furdik in THE moment (photo: HBO)

What Fairfield gave was not just the answer to my questions but a defense of “The Long Night.” After watching the episode again knowing just what she and her fellow sound editors on Game of Thrones were trying to achieve I walked away with a new appreciation for not only the complexity and greatness of this episode but a better understanding. I hope everyone that’s complained about the episode appearing to be “too dark” reads this interview and re-watches it with a new found clarity. Turn the sound up and the lights off and it will amaze you.

AW: Congratulations on your 10th Emmy nomination. Is it still special when you get that phone call?

PF: It’s always great to have the work acknowledged, we worked really hard on this. I think everybody on the show feels very good about the work. It’s nice to be acknowledged by your peers– it was great.

AW: Not only were you nominated, but the show received a record 32 nominations. What was that like that morning?

PF: I was really happy about that because this spring when the season was airing there was just a lot of craziness, negativity, around the show. And I think it was disappointing for all of us who have worked on the show. We all worked with the sort of intent of doing our very best and giving everything. I was just a little surprised on the level of craziness that went on. So, to have so many people who have worked on this show be acknowledged with nominations was really lovely. I hope people, once they’ve calmed down will rediscover it down the road and embrace it.

AW: You previously worked on Lost so you’ve been a part of some very big television series. How hard is it fending off friends and family that want spoilers?

PF: Even though everybody’s like tell me, tell me. I always say, “you don’t really want to know, do you?” And everybody says, “no, not really.” I wouldn’t say anything and everybody knows that. My mother, was staying here the year John Snow died (season 5) at the end of that season. I was working and she stayed away because she said, “you know what, I don’t want to know.”

AW: “The Long Night” was one of the biggest episodes of television of the year. Probably the decade. How much planning went into the sound?

PF: Well, a lot. At the beginning of May of last year, I was traveling in Europe and one of the things I did was visit the set. I hadn’t had the opportunity before. When I was there, touring around, Miguel (Sapochnik) was working on episode three. When he saw me, he asked if I would come to the cutting room later that day. And that rarely happens in TV, but that was fabulous. And I went there and hung out with Tim Porter, the editor and they showed me the cut at that moment of three. And we talked about a couple of things and I did some sort of very rough stuff to help them try and figure it out, because one of the most complicated parts was the approach of the white walkers, the massive army, the endless horror. 

I think it was around 92 minutes at the time. And I, like literally couldn’t speak for about three hours after that. I was with friends and traveling with friends and met up with them after, and I couldn’t say a word of course, but also couldn’t– I was like, oh my God. Just the sheer amount of work. I basically had nightmares all that summer thinking about it, thinking how to approach t the issue. And once fall came and the rest of the team came on, I kind of started bouncing around ideas.

And so, I started basically by going through all the stuff that we had ever done with the white walkers and creating multiple big libraries of vocal depth, vocals, attacks and getting all this together. I created these big movements of multiple bits to start to create this sense of lots of beings. And then we kept adding to that more and more detail on top of that. That whole episode, the wights were the most complex of all because of the sheer amount, of layers to everything and the layers of the closeups and the attacks and then all the spheres on fighting and arrows.  Just endless amounts of detail. And then the, dragons,

Drogon bringing the sound and fury (photo: HBO)

The concept of “The Long Night” was that it placed the viewer there it was kind of disorienting experience, Everything’s very dark and you’re not sure. And then sound leads you and helps with that. But, also there’s all this disorientation with the weather and the interference with the night and the Night King can control the forces of weather and creating that storm. It was like, where am I? Oh, I’m on the ground. Oh, I’m in the air with Drogon. It creates that whole sense of what it might’ve been like to experience that. And so, there was a layer of weather and the dragon’s stuff of course. But it was, super complex and just trying to plan all the details in conjunction with the rest of the team to get it to stick and then they could really shape it because the shaping of it is so critical.

You’ve got to have just multiple layers of textures and detail to continue to shift and change because otherwise you get hearing fatigue and after a while nobody hears anything and nothing is interesting.  Just such attention to detail from everybody. Which is why when it aired and people were upset that it was so dark. But the darkness was part of the experience of it.

AW: I turned the lights off and it was fine.

PF: Yeah. And that’s the thing. I think if you’ve watched it that way along with this sound and you’ve heard the sound clearly, which was allowed to direct and help you through the story and parts where you couldn’t see much and that was sort of the point. And if you were there you would be disoriented, you couldn’t see stuff.  I think it was very successful. It was quite a feat, I think on everyone’s part.

AW: “The Long Night” received a lot of publicity because it took 11 weeks of night shoots. Did you have to be on set any of those nights?

PF: (laughter) No, we weren’t.  God bless all those people on set. My God, no, we were in our own version of hell but we were nice and dry and warm.

AW: You were the lucky ones.

PF: Yeah, we were definitely the lucky ones on that count for sure.

AW: You’ve also worked in film, most notably Mother. What would you like to do next?

PF:  I’m open to all kinds of things. With stuff like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, I think people are more and more interested in fantasy, which is really fun. I love working in that genre and there’s lots of interesting stuff people are cooking up right now. I’m really open, I just like exploring all kinds of stuff it’s really most important. It’s the kind of coolness of the project and the people involved. And, it’s a great time to be working, there’s a lot of stuff being made. 

AW: What was your last day like on Game of Thrones?

PF: It was weird. Yeah. Not gonna lie. I went to the stage and hung out and, playing it back to the final time. And from an editing point of view, the last thing I remember putting in was Drogon’s wings as he flew away. And when I was finished I just kind of stopped and I thought, oh my gosh, let’s tweak it. But I remember thinking that’s crazy. It’s been a significant, part of my life for the last bunch of years and I’m very, very grateful but, also excited to move on to other stuff.  All good things must end of course. I think this season I’m going out this way with the work that we did and how good we feel about that is a good way to end.

AW: Thank you, so much for taking time to speak with me today. I wish you all the best of luck, I don’t think you’ll need it.

PF: You know what you never know. And like I’ve said, it doesn’t even matter at this point the rest is fabulous and it’s great tasting icing.

Paula Farfield is nominated in the category of Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour). Emmy voting ends on August 29th at 10pm PST.


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