TORONTO — Among the names on the long list of Primetime Emmy Award nominees unveiled Thursday is that of Paula Fairfield, a sound designer whose journey to Hollywood started in tiny Bridgewater, Nova Scotia — with stops in Montreal and Toronto.
Fairfield and eight others are nominated for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series in recognition of their work on a season four Game of Thrones episode entitled “The Watchers on the Wall.”
Being nominated for an Emmy is nothing new to Fairfield, who was named in the same category last year for Game of Thrones and has four previous nods, including three for sound editing on the TV series Lost.
“It’s always wonderful to have one’s work acknowledged,” Fairfield told Global News on the phone from her home in Los Angeles.
She said the real reward is being able “to get to work on a show of this caliber and to hear how much people love it.”
Born in Halifax, Fairfield grew up in Bridgewater and then studied photography and art history at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. She left the province and worked as an artist in Montreal for two years before settling in Toronto, where she co-managed the artist centre Charles Street Video.
Fairfield got into the sound business by walking into SoundDogs, a Toronto production company.
“They needed somebody and I was looking for something new,” she recalled.
It lead to an impressive run of designing and editing sound for film and television — both in Canada and south of the border (where she moved in 1998).
Her most recent project was designing sound for the made-in-Toronto series The Strain.
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Fairfield joined the Game of Thrones creative team after the first two seasons.
She is responsible for the sounds of the dragons (“I design the vocals, the body movements and flying, and fire”) as well as the White Walkers, wolves, mammoths and giants.
The icy sounds of The Wall also come from Fairfield’s imagination.
“People ask me what I do and I say ‘I get paid to make weird sounds,’” she explained. “It’s like the best job ever.”
Fairfield said this season’s finale was particularly challenging.
(Spoiler alert!) In addition to designing sounds for the ice zombies sequence, she created the emotional sounds of the dragons as they were banished by Daenerys.
“They wanted me to make everybody cry,” she said. “It was not easy for me.”
Fairfield was still mourning the loss of a sister and her father to cancer.
“I got to put all that stuff of my living into these creatures,” she said, describing the process as “healing.”
Fairfield added: “When people respond to the sequences that I know have my own stuff in them, and people respond by feeling emotional, it’s a wonderful sharing thing for me. Which is what art is about.”
Of course, her art in Game of Thrones involves creating sounds for fantastical characters that don’t exist.
“The dragons are made of nothing. I work to a tennis ball on the end of a stick,” she explained. “Same with the giants and the mammoths. It’s created from nothing.
“I’ve heard people say ‘I can’t believe it’s not real’ and that is the biggest compliment. The better we are at our jobs the more invisible we are.”
Fairfield said she tries to go back to Nova Scotia as much as possible — her mother lives in Dartmouth — and reconnect with friends.
For now, she is focused on working on a series that is both critically acclaimed and wildly popular.
“In a show that is so visceral and intense there is so much heart and soul,” said Fairfield. “Some people find it incredibly violent but you look at what’s going on in the world — is it far from that?
“It takes all the harsh s*** that everybody’s living right now and puts it in this place where you can see it on a grand scale and relate to all kinds of pieces of it.”
Even with her impressive résumé, Fairfield almost can’t believe she’s part of Game of Thrones.
“It’s an incredibly special show with an incredibly special group of creative talent that is unlike any experience I have ever had,” she said. “There is such incredible respect amongst everybody who works on that show for the work that everyone else does, and everybody steps up constantly.”
What do fans have to look forward to?
“We’re just getting going,” Fairfield said. “Season four was outstanding but from what I understand, season five is going to be even bigger.”
© Shaw Media, 2014