Always negotiate your salary. Network with people in your industry. Remember your goals. And don’t forget that you’ve earned the position you’re in — that’s just a handful of the advice that alumni from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) gave to women looking to break into careers in post-production.
Speaking at an alumni panel at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival that’s taking place this week at the university in Savannah, Georgia, Hillary Corbin Huang and Brittany Ellis urged young women to advocate for themselves while they’re trying to break into their field.
“I was a sound design major here. I got my master’s, graduated in 2009, moved out to Los Angeles in July right as the economy had crashed and the writer’s strike had concluded. It was very difficult, to be totally candid, for a woman to get her start in sound design. It was a boy’s club,” said Corbin Huang, now a consulting recruiter at Amazon Studios as well as a member of the National Board of Directors at the Producers Guild of America. “I said well, alright, if I can’t be you, then I will manage you. And I became a post-producer working primarily in the unscripted space.”
Ellis graduated from SCAD with a BFA in sound design in 2015. Now, she’s a sound supervisor and re-recording mixer at Warner Bros. Among her current sound mixing projects are Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and Dear White People.
“The advice I would give them is to always remember their goal,” she said. “And to always keep that as the motivator — and to remember that no matter the reason that people give you for the position that you’ve earned, you 100 percent did it all on your own. There’s nobody propping you up.”
“There’s a big misconception in the sound industry for women right now that because there’s a lack of female mixers after the #MeToo movement that we are a #MeToo hire, so we’re getting hired more often for being women and we’re getting jobs because we are women,” she added. “I can’t tell you how many job interviews I got this year and they actually approached me saying, ‘We need a female mixer,’ and I said, ‘Uh, did you look at my credits?’ The answer was no most of the time.”
Ellis was forthcoming about the toll her experiences have taken on her, but she was resolute in remembering that she deserves to be exactly where she is.
“It does start to make you feel like your work isn’t being considered and it does a lot of emotional things to you over time,” she said. “Being the only female TV mixer at Warner, the thing that my parents tell me and the thing I tell myself is, well, it has to be for a reason.”
Something she and Corbin Huang both emphasize is the importance of networking.
“Meet other women in your industry,” Ellis urged, “because they are so there for you and they would love to support you.”
“All of your jobs are going to come from the people that you know. Get out there, shake hands safely during COVID, wear masks but shake hands, use hand sanitizer, then shake more hands,” Corbin Huang said. “It is the way you’re going to grow your career.”
She also advised to “be strong” and “speak with confidence.” Oh, and don’t forget to negotiate your salary.
“The most important and constantly frustrating part of recruiting is that women negotiate their salary lower than men do,” Corbin Huang added.
Corbin Huang and Ellis were joined on the panel by fellow SCAD alums Parham Hasibi and Thomas Verrette. Hasibi graduated with an MFA in film and television in 2020 and is now a producer and editor at Group Nine Media, and Verrette, who graduated with a BFA in film and television in 2007, is now a documentary producer and director of Zero Gravity, which screens at SCAD’s film festival on Thursday.
Speaking on what they learned at SCAD that’s been helpful in their own careers, Hasibi underscored the importance of being a go-getter.
“Being proactive is the key to a lot of things,” he said. “Some people may not agree with this but I think as long as things are sensible always say yes to things because then they just lead into other things.”
As for Verrette, he belied the importance of remaining teachable.
“You never really stop learning, even after you graduate,” he said. “But the work ethic and the relationships and the networking and skillsets are really what allow you to really climb the ladders that you’re after.”
SCAD Savannah Film Festival runs through Saturday.
Main image: Photography Courtesy of SCAD.