Janet Urban has worked as a sound mixer in the film industry for over 26 years. She has an Emmy, multiple nominations and a résumé full of impressive names like Darren Aronofsky, Damien Chazelle and Peter Berg. But how did she get there?
Many young filmmakers moving to Hollywood have no idea what it really takes to make it into the entertainment industry. Janet Urban is dedicated to helping others break into the market and achieve their goals the way she did: by thinking outside the box.
In 2010, Janet founded Urban Friends in Film, an educational organization providing training from film professionals on how to navigate and build a career in professional word of mouth. She teaches an A-list work study program that helps students start their careers on professional film sets and quickly get into crafts such as acting, production, production design, and costume design. Friends in Film has students in major cities around the world such as LA, Atlanta, New York, London, Toronto, Vancouver, and Sydney.
In these programs, Urban encourages young filmmakers to find their own unique path. Her own journey began in Wisconsin, where she graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Marketing and International Business. It was only later that she discovered her passion for film. She quit her company job and wandered around the world for 2.5 years. In Kenya, she met a film crew and realized that her dream was to work on documentaries about wildlife.
Instead of applying for a film school, Urban flew to South Africa, the only country in Africa with a large film industry. When she spoke to the filmmakers, she felt that the rules in the film were different than in the corporate world: since it was a gig business, she felt that you found work by knowing the people in the industry and impressed them with your attitude. Skills and work ethic. Instead of taking on debts from the school, she preferred to join immediately.
In Johannesburg, Urban called production companies and sent out résumés, but eventually realized she needed to focus on her passion for wildlife filmmaking. By watching nature documentaries from South Africa, she was able to identify key stakeholders whom she contacted and flew across the country to meet. This led to work on a documentary, The elephant moving projectand in a commercial shoot in Namibia.
On her first foray into politics and the news, she learned how important it is to personally document extraordinary moments. She flew with a crew to Bophuthatswana, a home of South Africa, to spread the local news. What they expected to be an easy task put them at the center of the 1994 Bophuthatswana Crisis. Urban was able to complete filming and coverage, but the crew was threatened and had to be rescued by mercenaries hired by the production company . It was an amazing experience to be there to capture history in film and she wanted to keep working in documentaries.
Later, when she reached out to an American war photographer, David Brauchli, who was covering the 1994 election in South Africa in Johannesburg, she met a group of photojournalists. Known as the Bang-Bang Club, they referred her to a job as a runner for abc news. This unique experience about the election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid helped her get meetings at the BBC in London, meet wildlife filmmakers and tell a unique story when she later moved to Los Angeles.
Her continuous study and networking led her to work with greats like wildlife filmmaker Jeff Foott. Her connections grew and she found herself in the career she wanted.
Urban is currently working as a sound mixer for commercials and documentaries. Her most recent project was the Netflix documentary Taylor Swift, Miss Americana. She now teaches the methods she used to get into the industry at Friends in Film. According to Janet, it's about courage. Be obsessed with your craft, do a great job, and have the courage to do what you want.
About Lisa Smith
Lisa Smith is a freelance writer, critic, and editor. Lisa researches and writes on film and television, fashion, books and ideas.