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Singaporean Ai-Ling Lee first Asian woman to be nominated in sound editing for Oscars

Singaporean Ai-Ling Lee first Asian woman to be nominated in sound editing for Oscars
Photo courtesy of Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan via Variety.com/Reuters
Published: 10:00 PM, February 17, 2017
Updated: 10:18 PM, February 17, 2017

LOS ANGELES — When Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan scored sound editing nominations for their work in La La Land, they became part of cinematic history as the first female team in a category traditionally dominated by men.

What’s more, Lee, who is Singaporean, became the first Asian woman to be nominated in sound editing; she is also part of the team nominated in the sound mixing category for La La Land.

The skilled artisans focused on creating a layered soundscape for La La Land that was both lyrical and modern.

“I remember telling my husband that I wanted more responsibility on a project that I was doing, that I wanted to be in a position where I could make decisions. My husband just told me to tell them that. So I did,” says Morgan, who also worked on Hairspray. “I think we have to speak up, say what we want, and take responsibility for making it known when we want to advance.”

Lee, who started her career in Singapore doing commercials in a small studio before coming to Los Angeles to work on film, believes that women who want to work in sound or other crafts must put the time in as well.

“I would say you need to have the skills and demonstrate you can do the work so people have confidence in your abilities, and then you can ask for more based on having earned it,” says Lee, who worked on Wild, Deadpool, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. “I always had the desire to do more, to do mixes, to push my skills and build up my resume so people know I can do a lot of things within sound.”

Both think there’s a need for women to find mentors who can provide guidance and feedback on work and career choices. That means these women may be in line to become mentors to the next generation of sound editors and mixers. Lee says she’s been approached by women who want to make a career in sound editing, sound design, and sound effects and look to understand the profession better.

“A couple of years ago I taught a sound editing class at USC, and several women came up to me after class and told me that they wanted to work in sound,” says Morgan, who has been at it since 1986. “Over the years I would often find myself in the minority as I worked in sound, and now I see more women coming into the field.”

She encourages her staff to think of the next step: assistants should consider trying to become editors, and editors should think about becoming supervisors.

Lee developed a love for movies early on, her father was an audiophile with a great home theatre and loved to watch movies with his daughter. She moved to Los Angeles in 1998.

“Your passion for what you do will carry you, but you also have to be willing to really learn how to do everything within your field,” says Lee. VARIETY.COM/REUTERS