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The other mother of dragons

Paula Fairfield is a big deal in Westeros, but she hasn’t forgotten her east coast roots.



When Emmy Award season finally came to its climactic end last Sunday, after three different ceremonies to honour the best in American TV, Game of Thrones walked away as the winningest fictional show ever. To get an idea of the depth of talent on GOT, consider some of the show's nominees who didn't win this year. There's Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and Kit "Jon Snow" Harington and Mother of Dragons Emilia Clarke and, behind the scenes, the Nova Scotian who makes those dragons roar for real.

Paula Fairfield lives in the California desert, a far cry from her hometown of Bridgewater. A graduate of NSCAD, she moved to California in 1998 to work as a sound designer, a field she came to work in mostly by accident.

"I ended up working for Sound Dogs in Toronto," she says. "I just wandered in one day and they had just lost their effects guy and they took a chance on me. I had a lot to learn, but I loved it." Fairfield has since worked on dozens of films and TV shows, and is currently the sound designer for GOT, having joined the series in its third season. She won the sound editing Emmy in 2015.

"I do all of the fantastical elements. The dragons, the white walkers, the wolves, mammoths. The dragons are the big beloved ones. When I inherited them they were like toddlers, then they were teenagers, then adults. They went from being the size of an ostrich to the size of a jet airliner this past season. So I have to grow the sound design every year, which is an interesting challenge. It's like tailoring a performance, but it's done with animal sounds and creature sounds. It's difficult work and it's very painstaking because I have to listen to tons and tons of sound to find its and pieces. It's kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle, and then blending everything together to it sounds like its coming from one creature."

Fairfield will continue working on the show for its final two seasons. "They have announced now that there will be two more seasons, but they're short seasons, partially because they will be more epic than anyone's brains can comprehend. I know that it's going to be incredible."

Fairfield is also starting work on a new series filming in Nova Scotia. "I'm doing the sound design for the TV series The Mist. They didn't contact me because they knew where I was from. And they're actually filming in my mother's church. I'm just starting the work, and I love that it's shot in Nova Scotia. That's very special."

Even with a busy life in Hollywood, Fairfield is finding time to work on a new art project that she has hopes of premiering in Nova Scotia. "I have not made an art piece since 1993," she says, "and I have been developing an immersive audio installation and performance piece and am thinking about debuting it in Nova Scotia. It's a piece called Ocean of Tears and it's an underwater piece, so it would be extremely appropriate for many reasons. After working on all the stuff I do, I'm super interested in continuing my work in film and TV, but also going back to making art pieces."

Fairfield studied photography at NSCAD, but says sound design has always been essential to her art. "I know my art will have changed radically because I've gone on this kind of journey of sound design. But this piece has been bubbling in my mind for a long time, and there are a lot of new and interesting things in technology and immersive audio. A lot of museums and galleries are starting to discover audio art."

Fairfield describes Ocean of Tears as an underwater installation about grief.

"I'm interested in the metaphor of underwater and grief. I think underwater is a beautiful sonic space. And if I think of launching it in Nova Scotia, there is such a history of loss to the sea that it would be highly appropriate. I remember that as a kid and it always haunted me."

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