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Sister Story

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How Two Sisters Built Careers at the Male Bastion of Todd-AO
By April MacIntyre
It’s not uncommon for people to move from company to company during their professional lives, often switching careers. Unusual, then, is the story of two sisters, Marti Lakin and Andrea Lakin-Eliseyan, who started with Todd-AO nearly 30 years ago, both never imagining that a career in sound would be their calling, let alone working with the same company throughout that period.
Back in the early 1970’s, Marti, a film student at UCLA who remembers Angela Davis teaching there, and Andrea, armed with a degree in anthropology from the University of Arizona, came in at ground level. Marti was hired first as a receptionist, later bringing younger sister Andrea in to “hang out” while she was passing through Los Angeles on a post-graduation road trip, undecided what she was going to do. Their story shows that sometimes when you’re not looking, career paths just might find you by accident.
In the early years at Todd, the sound mixers of Local 695 were more of an “old boys” club. There were only five women—all wives of sound men who did mostly clerical work in the union for the benefits. Marti was hired in 1973 by the late legendary Fred Hynes, handpicked by Mike Todd to run his company. At that time, Marti had aspiratons to write, or even to work in film production. That desire was soon squelched by her observation of a real movie shoot that used her company’s reception area for filming. She realized that the hurry-up-and-wait atmosphere on a film set was not going to suit her—nor would the lack of respect and inadequate remuneration that writers were grappling with at that time.
After a year of slipping into the machine rooms to study the engineers as they loaded the machines, she approached Hynes to request a position alongside her male counterparts loading the mag tape. Not so much driven by feminist fervor, Marti simply sought an opportunity to earn wages on par with her coworkers.
Through hands-on learning and observation, though, she eventually became a member of the union. But Marti found the more established male re-recordists were less than enthusiastic about introducing women to the mixing consoles or the back sound rooms. Their argument for keeping women out of the mix was that the era’s male directors would balk at the idea of working with women closely in a technical environment.
Andrea learned similarly, mentoring with Marti and through observation and practice in the machine room. She became proficient enough for the shop steward to ask Hynes if he could use her on a project. Again, ruffling a few male co-workers’ feathers in the process, Hynes and other key players at Todd gave them the open door to pursue opportunities at the company.
Marti and Andrea were groundbreakers during this time in Todd-AO’s history, elbowing their way past the 1950’s bastion of male sound mixers and engineers, winning their respect and friendship. The sisters built a close relationship with Hynes, whom they described as a wonderful boss, a “sound geek,” an audiophile, engineer and expert in the science of sound. They also occasionally enjoyed Hynes’ culinary talent (few knew that he was a world-class cook). Both Marti and Andrea also worked extensively with Buzz Knudson, who recently retired from a brilliant career in film sound. (See BTL, issue 7, p. 20)
In 1985, Marti was the first woman given the chance to enter a sound mixer training program. Mentoring with Knudson’s recordist Bob Glass, she successfully completed the program, only to become frustrated by complete inertia at the company’s management level to utilize her in the position she had trained for. Though now professionally trained to be a mixer, Marti found herself stuck back in her old recordist position.
Despite this professional setback, raw initiative drove her once again. She began calling studios and production companies, pitching Todd’s services, creating a business development department that didn’t exist before. Given a choice by Hynes to “go creative,” mixing in ADR stages, or to continue building out a sales division, she chose the latter.
Andrea stuck with sound recording, working her way to the main console from the backroom. Sound mixers worked in the projection rooms with the above-the-line creatives and were considered the “stars” at the console, sitting side-by-side with the client on the main boards. Sound recordists, fine-tuning the mixer’s work, worked in the backroom—the boiler room.
Both Marti and Andrea noted that during the last 15 years of Todd-AO’s history there was a lot of employee attrition due to the inability to make the transition from analog to digital sound mixing. They saw many of their colleagues fade away. But the sisters, resilient and driven, kept up with the new computer programs and technology, re-educating themselves over and over. Yet they both believe that there was more camaraderie with analog sound mixing on a film, involving a wider group of creative people in the project. They say it was a much more intimate working environment than today’s digital sound mixing, which is a more intricate and difficult task, involving more work in less time.
When asked what work they were most proud of in their careers, both noted Out of Africa, which won them an Oscar. “For me, I have been fortunate to be able to do what I love for such a long time and for the relationships and creative collaborations over the years that have made for such a rich lifetime experience,” said Marti. “During my time, the sound industry has gone through staggering changes and it is very satisfying to see how the new generation of mixers and engineers at Todd are working very hard to preserve the craft,” added Andrea.
In an impromptu tour at the Culver City studios where the sisters work, there appeared to be as many young women as men working in the large sound bays—a big change from their first ten years at Todd.
Ascent Media Creative Sound Services, Todd-AO and the entire Ascent Media family have benefited tremendously from the Lakin sisters’ years of work, loyalty and input. Filmmaking crafts taught at universities cannot replicate the mentoring experience and expertise one craftsman can bestow on hungry, ambitious students—even if they’re sisters.

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