‘Game of Thrones’ sound designer Paula Fairfield is best at intersection of vulnerability and sound design

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‘Game of Thrones’ sound designer Paula Fairfield is best at intersection of vulnerability and sound design

Paula Fairfield, Emmy award-winning sound designer, discusses her 30-year career with students at Annie May Swift Hall.

Paula Fairfield, Emmy award-winning sound designer, discusses her 30-year career with students at Annie May Swift Hall.

Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Paula Fairfield, Emmy award-winning sound designer, discusses her 30-year career with students at Annie May Swift Hall.

Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

Paula Fairfield, Emmy award-winning sound designer, discusses her 30-year career with students at Annie May Swift Hall.

Jacob Ohara, Reporter

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Emmy-award winning sound designer Paula Fairfield wove moving personal anecdotes with sonic expertise in a Q&A Thursday evening.

Fairfield, who has spent about six years designing sound for “Game of Thrones,” said she works best within the intersection of vulnerability and sound design. It’s a space she has learned to appreciate since her introduction to HBO’s award-winning drama in 2013.

“My father passed. Three months later I was tapped for ‘Game of Thrones,’ and three months later my sister passed,” Fairfield said. “‘Thrones’ came and gathered me in its loving arms and picked me up and let me fly.”

Fairfield pointed to a scene in the show’s third season involving characters Daenerys and Drogon as being particularly cathartic to design in those early weeks.

“I couldn’t help but put every emotion I was feeling at that time into it,” she said. ”It became this kind of channel and conduit for me to tell my story, what I was feeling, the pain I was in. I could feel the pain and I touched the pain to Drogon’s pain.”

The Nova Scotia-native went on to describe her growth from struggles as a woman, immigrant and victim of anxiety in Hollywood.

Toward the end of the event, Fairfield emphasized the importance of individuality and openness, encouraging students to “fly your freak flag proudly.”

Vishnu Venugopal, a graduate student who studies Sound Arts and Industries, said he found the message pertinent as he approached the final weeks of his study in sound.

“We’re in a place now where we have a bunch of s–t to do and we’re trying to figure out a way to stay creative and not to be too hard on ourselves,” Venugopal said. “To end on the note that she ended on, that you just have to keep opening up and keep going, that was really, really helpful.”

Darvell Jones, another graduate student in the program, said he was moved by her speech despite never having seen the show itself.

“It was just really nice to have a discussion about something that’s a culmination of what we’ve been studying all year,” Jones said, “Being bold in your thought processes or in your approaches to things is actually the most liberating and most rewarding thing you can do for yourself.”

Fairfield said her growth as a sound designer was continually challenged by the show’s ballooning scale. Contrary to most departments working on “Game of Thrones,” she said the sound design team added only a single member in the entirety of her time with the show.

The intimacy of the work made her a better team player, she said, and allowed her to become less protective of her work.

“It’s like we’re laying this feast out for you,” Fairfield said about her role as a sound designer. “Go to the edges of the Earth, bring back all the treasures, place them on the table, invite everybody to the feast [and] let them choose what they wish to eat.”

Email: jacobohara2022@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @JacobHenryOhara

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