The Film Forward initiative is designed to create change in the UK film industry by supporting experienced Black, Asian or minority ethnic professionals to advance into more senior roles.
Adrienne is stepping up from boom operator to sound recordist 2nd unit.
With an impressive roster of productions behind her – from Top Boy to Black Mirror – boom operator Adrienne Taylor felt it was time to push through the ‘glass ceiling’ and expand her expertise.
A career as sound recordist beckoned as the obvious next step, but making the move demands both significant training and financial investment.
So, the opportunity afforded by a paid placement with ScreenSkills’ new Film Forward scheme seemed too good to miss.
Adrienne was already aware of the industry-led body, having previously won a grant to complete a short course at the National Film and Television School and taken part in some ScreenSkills online training during lockdown.
“I’ve always been happy to be a boom operator but last year I started getting phone calls asking me whether I could do sound recording and I would always say, ‘oh no you’ve got the wrong person – here’s this number instead’. And then I started thinking, why are you not taking the opportunity to do something different?”
She was also keen to turn her focus to film: “Each production poses challenges but film productions are on a larger scale with budgets to match, bigger sound crews and equipment. I want to gain experience working with the most talented people who are on the top of their game.”
Landing a place on the first cohort of Film Forward participants means she can work with an on-the-job mentor to learn about production sound mixing. A bursary will also enable her to buy sound equipment – “when you are a production sound mixer or sound recordist you are expected to have your own equipment; it’s a big capital outlay”.
The scheme is designed to help under-represented minority groups to advance into more senior roles in the industry. It’s an issue that, at 51, Adrienne is acutely aware of. Despite having worked in sound production since the early 2000s, she has seen little improvement in the diversity of the workforce around her – although she notes some changes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There are two things that have always been brought to my focus: the lack of diversity on-set and the lack of females in the technical departments. Throughout the years neither has changed that much.”
She cites just one established black female production sound mixer, Judi-Lee Headman, and muses on the “glass ceiling” that exists for many: “The step up can be difficult. A lot of people end up staying where they are. That’s why things like Film Forward are needed – they help to open those avenues.
She adds: “There are not many women and people of colour working in the sound department on films. It would be great to have access to this world and in turn open the door for others to enter.”
Adrienne herself only got into the screen industry by chance: born in London, then raised in Grenada and New York, she returned to the UK at 14 and went on to study Spanish and Theatre Studies at what is now London Metropolitan University. Theatre Studies was only in the mix because she was unable to find a course doing just Spanish – but it introduced her to a new world.
As part of the degree she had to help mount a theatre production. Adrienne assumed a stage management role, which she quickly recognised as her metier: “I realised I was more of a technical hands-on person than a theory person.”
From there she worked briefly in junior stage management and, having friends already working in TV, started to apply for jobs as a runner. Her first was for a small documentary production company.
She recalls: “They had a director and a camera op but they hadn’t budgeted for a sound recordist and ended up sending me along with a microphone and an SQN [portable mixer] plugged into the back of the camera.
“I really enjoyed being part of this small team, and I became interested in the sound side of things and thought, OK, it would be good to do this properly.” Trainee posts followed on a series of TV dramas, and she worked her way to assistant and then boom operator. Sky One football drama Dream Team proved a formative experience.
“They gave me the opportunity to take on a first boom operator role. I loved it because you’re the face and voice of the sound team on the floor. You have to communicate with the gaffer, the director, the 1st AD. You’re the person that coordinates what happens in the sound department. I could clearly see my role in the scheme of things.”
It was “hard graft” and hugely rewarding. But then, for Adrienne, life got in the way and she moved to Grenada for several years to be closer to family. Although she continued in the industry she ended up in a junior production management role for a local TV station rather than specialising in sound.
It was only when she moved back to the UK in 2015 that she started to work as a boom op again. Highlights since have included the interactive film of Black Mirror as well as Apple TV feature The Essex Serpent, the acclaimed Netflix series The Crown and psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes. She most recently wrapped on ITV’s Our House.
A typical day might span 15 hours – factoring in travel to the location and rehearsals “when you see the costumes, where people are standing, if they are moving, where the light is and shadows might fall, or if you need carpet for close-ups because the wooden floor makes a noise when they are walking”.
Watching the finished product when it hits the screen always provides a jolt of recognition and, hopefully, a wonderful surprise: “Recently the reaction to Behind Her Eyes was amazing. When you are working you are in the moment, looking at all the technical elements and never really thinking how it will be received.”
Looking past her Film Forward placement, Adrienne is excited about the prospect of adding to her knowledge and experience: “Year after year you are learning, and new things come with every job. I see this as a natural progression – and through Film Forward I’m giving myself the chance to do it.”
An experienced boom operator, Adrienne has an impressive roster of high-end dramas behind her – including Netflix hits Top Boy, Behind Your Eyes and the interactive film production of Black Mirror. She has worked extensively in the UK and in the Caribbean, being of Grenadian heritage. She has also worked on feature films for Film 4, BBC Films and others, and has a love for period drama: “I like being immersed in a particular time and location, learning how to achieve an authentic sound to match the images.” She is a member of AMPS, WFTV, Primetime and the Black Sound Society.