Alumni Profile: Bellfort ’67 helps craft what we hear in films

Tom BellfortA major element in an emotional response to a film or documentary is the sound accompanying the images.

Tom Bellfort ’67 of Berkeley, Calif., is a sound editor who has worked on 80 films. He won an Academy Award for “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing” for his work on “Titanic” in 1997 and an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special” for “The Pacific” in 2010.

He was nominated for “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing” from the Academy Awards and “Best Sound” from the BAFTA Film Award for “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” in 1999.

These days, Bellfort is enjoying the luxury of choice, working mostly with longtime friends and colleagues. “Working in southern California but living in Berkeley gives me more time with my wife, children and three grandchildren,” Bellfort says.

Bellfort became interested in the world of entertainment during his childhood in France where his father was the head of foreign distribution for RKO Films.

“I was exposed intimately and early on to both business and creative aspects of film,” Bellfort says. “After I finished an MFA (master of fine arts degree) at California Institute of the Arts, a dear friend, Paul Hirsch, picture editor on the very first ‘Star Wars’ (film), opened my ears to the artistic soundscape possibilities of film and convinced me to take my first job as an apprentice.”

In expressing his appreciation of movies, he says, “A director once said that film cheats 24 times per second (in reference to film speed and frames). Movies create a powerful reality, transporting the viewer to magical worlds and experiences of what is really but a grand illusion.

“King Kong was just a big puppet brought to life through stop-motion photography, and the Titanic was just a set that never moved through water,” he says.

“Film is important for people in society because it has the power to create a communal experience of worldwide accessibility. In the United States alone, there are more than 30,000 theater screens showing movies. From the largest cities to the smallest towns, there is a movie theater, and this makes film a most democratic, accessible and universal expression.”

He enjoys the performance in theater, he says, because he appreciates cadence: gesture, expression and emphasis from the directors and actors who add meaning to the art.

Some of the others films on which Bellfort has worked include “Amadeus,” “Cotton Club,” “The Princess Bride,” “Big,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Mission Impossible,” “Fight Club” and “HellBoy.” His favorite works thus far are “The Pacific,” because its sound is “intense, real and sonically dense;” and “Source Code,” because it featured “pure sound invention and design.”

“I have had the pleasure of working with some of our finest actors and honor the great insight they bring to the world,” Bellfort says. “What I have loved and cherished about my career is that I have always worked free-lance, each project always different with new challenges and opportunities.”

-Tsering Yangchen ’14
Madison, Wis.

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