Queen's University

The sound of success

Jane Tattersall, Artsci’80, makes films shine with her award-winning sound design.

The sound of thunder revealed Jane Tattersall’s career path.

Not as a meteorologist, but as a sound designer, now considered, with an entire wall in her downtown Toronto offices filled with Genie and Gemini awards, Canada’s top talent in post-production.

A shy and soft-spoken Queen’s graduate who majored in philosophy, Tattersall had no idea what she wanted to do after Queen’s. She was considering law school when she was hired to research a film on gardens. As she sat with the editor, watching him add sound to images of a rain-drenched garden, it became clear.

That was my ‘Aha!’ moment.

“Suddenly, the shot had mood. I was so astounded by what he did just by adding the sound of thunder. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment,” she recalls.

She went on to apprentice for a year with Jeffrey Perkins, who later won an Oscar for his work as the sound mixer on “Dances With Wolves.”

Jane Tattersall Jane Tattersall

Thanks to Toronto’s thriving film industry and its many international co-productions, she quickly found ongoing work. In 2003, she opened her own company, Tattersall Sound & Picture, with nine full-time employees and 15 freelancers.

Within 11 years of leaving Kingston, Tattersall won the first of 5 individual Genies, Canada’s highest award for feature film work, and 6 Gemini awards, for television.

“I arrived at Queen’s planning to study English and history, and in first year I took English literature, intellectual history, world religions, art history and philosophy. I enjoyed all of them, but philosophy really grabbed me,” she recalls. “It was like a light went on. I had never thought about such ideas or concepts or existence.” Class discussions including older students made her feel “a part of something exciting and stimulating.”

Through the Film Society, Tattersall first learned about European and foreign films. “I never thought about studying films,” she says. “The pleasure of the film-going was that it was part of what I had expected university to be -- a chance to explore and do the things that I did not do in my high school years. Be ‘grown up and sophisticated’!”

She met her husband, Tony Pepper, who graduated Queen’s in 1977 and is now a Toronto advertising executive, over a meal in Ban Righ. They were arguing about her history class -- not her style at all. “Very uncharacteristically, I jumped into the argument, and vigorously defended this course,” she recalls. “Tony and I and another couple of guys debated the topic. I am not sure how it was resolved, but I was in love.”

They married nine years later. Their son Thomas, 19, is studying English and film at Trinity College in Dublin, while Jonathan, 16, attends high school in Toronto.

The late philosophy professor Pall Ardal also left a powerful impression on her.

“He was a wonderful teacher for me because he was inclusive, gentle and enthusiastic. I felt really part of the class, unlike some of the others where the profs seemed to like the students who were most vocal and precocious. Professor Ardal challenged his students but in a very indirect way, eliciting students opinions, thoughts and ideas. He did not ‘duel’ with them,” she recalls gratefully.

She also asked for his advice and guidance on attending graduate school.

“Was I good enough? Was I capable enough to go that course? The response was that I was thoroughly capable and he would support my application,” she recalls. “I didn’t ever apply, but knowing that he believed in me was enormously gratifying and helpful as I continued on in life.”

Today, Tattersall’s skills are in demand worldwide. She’s now working on “The Bang-Bang Club,” a new film shot in South Africa that tells the true story of four young news photographers deeply affected by the violence they covered there.

She has worked on many acclaimed films, including "Away From Her", "Fernando Meirielle’s Blindness", and the 2008 war film "Passchendaele", shot in Alberta. Ongoing television clients at her company include "Little Mosque on the Prairie" and "The Tudors".

While her work remains central to some of the industry’s most influential producers and directors, she prefers life far beyond the spotlight.

“I can’t imagine what else I’d do that I’d be so happy at. It’s very creative and it’s very understated.”

Queen's Alumni Review, 2009 Issue #4Queen's Alumni Review
2009 Issue #4
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