For Joanna Fang, silence is rarely golden.
“I create sounds that can’t be bought from a library but have to be performed by a human watching the screen in real time,” says the Foley artist and editor with Alchemy Post Sound in Peekskill, New York.
During postproduction, Fang re-creates the background noises that characters make — footsteps, prop handling, clothing rustling, chairs screeching. “I’ll walk across a plank in heels to simulate a woman on a dock or step on a cornstarch-filled pillow to create the sound of snow.”
The California native developed a fascination with sound after watching a behind-the-scenes clip from Lord of the Rings:The Two Towers. “That was the first time I had heard about a Foley artist,” she explains.
In 2009, she headed to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and began experimenting with recording effects for student films. “I did at least 200 shorts before I graduated,” Fang says. She went on to apprentice for Leslie Bloome, lead Foley artist with Alchemy Post Sound, and has since worked on projects like Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, Netflix’s Making a Murderer and Master of None, as well as the independent feature Still Alice.
In 2016, she and six colleagues (including Bloome) won the Emmy for outstanding sound editing for nonfiction programming, for the A&E documentary Cartel Land. Fang became the first openly transgender woman to take home a statue.
“That blew my mind!” she exclaims. “There were a few people before me who had transitioned after they had won or were stealth about transitioning, and while I was the first openly trans recipient, I do not want to subtract from the accomplishments of my predecessors.”
Fang’s Emmy serves as a reminder that her work speaks for itself. While transgender professionals often face backlash in the workplace, Fang suggests that the postproduction world is very forward-thinking.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the sexual preference, gender identity or race of a person creating the sounds. What matters is, does it help tell the story? Did it sound right?”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 4, 2017