Sony Pictures’ Susan McLean Gives Insight into Post Production Sound and Scoring

by Helen Latimer, Class of 2014

With over two hundred film credits to her name, post production sound and scoring engineer Susan McLean is no novice.  She shared what she’s learned at an October 16 event hosted by the Film & Media Studies Program. 

As an FMS major nearing the end of my time at Hopkins, it was comforting to hear you don’t have to know what you want to do when you graduate to land your dream job, and that the route to that dream career can be less than glamorous.  A recent college graduate with a love of music but no musical ability, McLean moved to LA and handed her resume to every recording studio around. Starting out as a janitor at Record Plant, a studio frequented by rock and roll bands, McLean worked her way up to the recording booths one step at a time. Along the way she learned her craft by putting in extra hours, discovering what interested her, and finding those who could teach her. Meanwhile, she recalls being surprised by major artists like Barbara Streisand and Gene Simmons coming in one after the other to record their albums and chatting with each other in between sessions.

When the long hours in smoky rooms began to wear on her, McLean moved on to scoring films at Sony.  The film industry offered three times the salary, as well as better hours.  She finally had her dream job, working on the old MGM stage where Judy Garland sang her iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  McLean had made it in Hollywood.

Susan McLean has worked on fourteen films with Steven Spielberg and John Williams, and collaborated with myriad other film titans such as Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, Sydney Pollack, Barbara Streisand, Billy Crystal, and Kevin Costner. While not giving away too many Hollywood secrets, McLean did let us know that Tim Burton and Danny Elfman are quite the odd couple, bringing a shrunken head named “Uncle Billy” into the studio.

Today, she still works for Sony in the sound department; but she’s taken a less demanding job in marketing development in order to raise her children, one of whom is a sophomore here at JHU.  Before closing her speech, she offered a few words of advice to the students in the audience: “Find something that you love to do; something both fun and fulfilling. Be committed to your goal and stay the course. Smile, because you never know who you’ll meet. And always have a great attitude.”