Friday, 23 December 2011

Sophie On: Her Costumes

Seasons Greetings!

   First off, Directing films is my major passion in life. Nothing compares to it - creating a world and having control over everything that goes into it is perfect for someone with my creative (and control-freak) nature. But something I enjoy doing as well as Directing, and which has got me more work, is making costumes.

   When I did my Film Production degree I did specialise in Production Design - and we covered Costume Design a bit in that because we all knew we'd be doing both on small projects - but up until then it had been little more than a glorified hobby for me. I first studied it at Sixth Form because I was forced to pick a fourth subject (I couldn't do Media until second year because it clashed with Theatre Design). Over the first few months of doing that course my other classmates dropped away so that it was just me left, and therefore I got to have one-on-one tuition with my two teachers for the rest of the course. I caught up with all the things I should've learnt at GCSE and got sternly criticised when I got things wrong, which helped me not to make the same mistakes again. When I finished the two years, my graded portfolio got 100% - and I learnt to love costume design. In particular, historical design.

   Over the years of practicing sewing, sometimes self-teaching, and watching hundreds of films, I started to evolve into a costume nerd. I can now tell you when a film is set - or which era it is inspired by - just by looking at certain details of what people are wearing. That's not a challenge for most costume nerds but it's good for settling arguments round a dinner table!

   People are often surprised when I tell them I design/make costumes as well as directing (both at the same time if the project is small enough) but I don't see why more people don't do it. Clothes can define a character. Nearly six years ago I started work on a film about vampires and it was in the days where I was a one-man-crew, with my friends for actors; I made a Georgian-style turquoise velvet frock coat for the lead actor and when he put it on, he said to me, "thankyou - now I understand the character I'm playing!" I feel the same way about costumes now. When I'm doing their back stories I also sketch what they would wear because it helps me completely understand who they are.

   Through combining my design skills with my directing, I have a pretty good eye for what works in camera. Obviously though, when it comes to technical skills I don't necessarily have the same knowledge as someone else my age who would've studied sewing or costume design at University. I think it is for that reason I didn't get the job I applied to at the V&A.

    I was pretty darn gutted when I didn't get that job, but whenever I get knocks back like that I try and prove to myself that I am talented so I told myself to get back on the sewing machine and make something else, just for the fuck of it, and to make it good. And big.

   And so my third Victorian costume was born. Here are photos of its creation:

Photo one - the base layer of the skirt, made out of an old curtain, with a bum-pad (that's my term for it anyway!) sewn under the back to support the upcoming bustle:

Photo two, a few steps later - the bodice with pleated front panels and collar tacked on (the fabric for which was made out of a sofa-bed lining from the 80s):

Photo three - the bodice with peplum (which sits on top of the bustle) attached to the back:

Photo four - the bodice is fully lined and assembled with trim, and apron is trimmed and pinned on to test the draping:

Next up I laced and hand-beaded the bodice then finished the bustle with a waterfall of chiffon and some v-shaped ribbons, but I didn't actually get a photo of that. Duh!

Photo five - the dress, completed and ironed, hung up with some of my other costumes waiting to go on set:

And finally, photo six - the finished dress worn by model Lozzi-Beth Godfrey (who I've mentioned on here before) as she has her make-up done off set:

    You can see more of Lozzi in the finished yellow dress in the upcoming costume advert Light Films have shot for me. For now, you can find out more about this dress - as well as getting a detailed look at my other costumes - in my latest video diary:

Enjoy! x

Friday, 16 December 2011

Sophie On: The Conflicting lure of London

Hi guys,

And a quick shout-out to my latest follower, Helen Greatorex!


    As anyone close to me knows, I am a country girl at heart. In late summer, there is nothing I like better than turning off the computer, putting on my walking boots, and setting off into the Derbyshire hills - particularly in blackberry season when I can collect a load in a basket. Sometimes I take a load to my mother and she makes a crumble out of them - my Belper life is genuinely that ideal. I have a wonderful little family, a solid friendship group, pubs that know my face, and a view from my office of rolling hills and beautiful Victorian mill worker houses and architecture. It is for these reasons that I am so glad Neil Oseman has chosen to film Stop/Eject round here.

   At the same time, I work in a very technical, buzzing, energetic industry - one which doesn't always correlate well with a country lifestyle. I've been incredinly lucky with the amount and calibre of work I've found since moving back to Derbyshire, and lately there's been an increase in awareness of the arts in the Midlands, and that's a movement I'm so keen to support - when I was growing up round here there was absolutely nothing film-related in the area and I taught myself film by going out into the aformentioned hills with a Hi-8 camera and a bunch of my friends. 

   But there is no denying the incredible, exciting awareness of the film industry within our Capital. When I studied for my degree I was the distance from London that I am now from Nottingham, so I went into the city a lot, and I got a real taste for it. I fell in love with the architecture - that classic mix of cold shapely steel with the crumbling brown buildings of 100s of years of history (and the odd ship thrown in for good measure) - and I sampled the sardine-like nature of the nightlife. The vintage boutiques, independant little stalls and art shops filled me with inspiration. I've done a theatre workshop at Pineapple dance, attended an evening lecture with Derek Jarman's production designer, Christopher Hobbs, at the British Film School, and I've seen musicals and plays at all the theatres in the west end. Above all, I went to two of the film studios - 3 Mills, graced by Viggo Mortensen and Tim Burton amongst others (and I even got to film there thanks to producer Danni Plater) - and of course, Pinewood. Oh GOD Pinewood. I don't think anything can beat the elation of being there. I hope I get to go again someday - even more so, I hope that I get to have a film crew with me.

   Since I graduated (nearly two years ago) and moved home to Belper, I find myself yearning for the city. I'd be watching London set films and television shows such as Steven Moffatt's Sherlock and I'd find myself saying "oh, I've been there, I waited for a night bus" or "that's a great museum, I've been in there - there's a good Waterstones nearby too" and stuff like that.

    So, when I finished the main shooting block for Jar of Angels - mostly to beat the flat feeling that comes when filming suddenly stops - I did a corporate video (a tattoo parlour advert) to raise enough money to travel down to London for a weekend. This was partly because I wanted to see the people down there who I love and miss an extraordinary amount, but also because I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and the sights again. I wanted to feel like a tourist again. So, armed with my Powershot G10 around my neck (and an unfortunately Marilyn Munroe-esque skirt) I sped around Westminster, Southbank and Covent Garden, determined to see as much as possible in one day. Unfortunately that weekend was ruined by increasingly bad health (I was throwing up on the actual train home!) but I whizzed past Parliament, the London Film Museum, The London Eye, The BFI (inwardly praying that they were looking at my film at that moment and deciding to accept it for their festival), The Tate Modern, The Globe - I actually popped in there because I can't resist the gift shop - and lots of other random beautiful streets before ending the tour with (two) visits to Forbidden Planet. I was shattered beyond belief, but I photographed everything as I went along, and here are the pick of my point-and-click photos from that day to share with you:

    I had hoped that my visit would help me make my mind up as to which part of the country I belong in. But, for now, I am still completely split down the middle. I would love to work in London and attend the premieres there but I would always want to visit home, walk in the countryside and eat Sunday lunch with my family - particularly at Christmas. Plus the charity stores are a hundred times cheaper down here for prop shopping, and I will never stop supporting the local creative scene.
   Maybe one day I won't have to choose. If I ever get rich to the slightest degree, or, more importantly, if I'm successful, I would have a stone cottage in the middle of nowhere with a log fire as well as a teeny little flat in London with a view of the millions of city ants stuck at their desks, and treadmills, and bars.

    And I'd have to buy a Red cam, as well.

Sophie x

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sophie on: inflicting herself upon Youtube

Hi guys,

     A few weeks ago, I had just finished my work for the day - done a bucket load of emails, prepared for an upcoming casting session, and ordered some rewards for people who donated towards Jar of Angels - then I sat back in my chair, and realised something dreadful. I had nothing else to do that day. And, spare a few emails, nothing to do the next day, either.

     For some, this would be a blessing. Months ago - in the peak of juggling the filming of Wasteland and Jar of Angels, plus preparing for other projects in the pipeline - I found myself literally begging for some time off. Never too seriously, although I was exhausted. I hadn't had a holiday since October 2010. Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago, and I had 'time off' forced upon me. 
     I'm not the kind of person that can just twiddle their thumbs. If I have time off then I do it on my own terms - I'll even want to plan what I'm doing on my break well in advance. (I'm the kind of person that scheduled my Summer Holidays at school).

    So I caught up on my filing, cleaned my pets out, even got back into cooking for a couple of days. I had constant emails and the odd meeting or two to keep me sane. But eventually I had to try and find some more work, so I had a look on creative job sites. That was even more disheartening - a million projects coming up and none of them paid. With myself slipping back into my overdraft, and my pets having to be cleaned out with watered-down spray, I couldn't accept any more voluntary work outside of my usual companies. The few paid jobs I did see, I applied for. I even tried 'regular' job sites and couldn't find a single advertised job that I was qualified for. There weren't even any local retail jobs going. My heart sank.

   I spoke to other creative friends of mine and discovered that I wasn't the only one in this situation. Even people with a minor degree of fame and IMDB profiles confirmed they weren't getting as much work at this time of year. This season is not a productive time for anyone with an artistic proffession - come spring, we're booked up solid, myself included. Not to mention the fact that over 1 million people under 25 are unemployed in Britain at the moment. And I am part of that age group.

   After a mopey week, something in me snapped, and I tried to find other methods of promotion. I went to networking evenings, I joined more mailing lists, I chatted to my PR girl, and I even looked into applying for a grant. Then something else came to mind. Something which made me ever so slightly nervous.
   A few years ago, a young parent got out a dodgy camera (it could've even been a phone camera) to film his infant sons together. The younger boy bit the elder boy's finger, the Dad found this funny, and he put it on Youtube as 'Charlie Bit Me'. This clip was barely a few seconds long and cost nothing to make, but now that family are millionaires.
   Equally, an American teenage boy called Justin went online to record himself singing - as many young aspiring singers do. This boy must've had something special because he got noticed, recieved a record deal, and is now selling out tours and has his own documentary and perfume available.
   I'd rather make (another) perfume advert than make a perfume, but if it's good enough for Justin Bieber...

    Since planning my 'filmmaker diaries' I am happy to say I have become incredibly busy again. I'm still doing the regular daily emails but last week I had an amazing casting session for Ashes; I've got a few artistic projects for over the Christmas period including three shoots (one of which is Wasteland starting again); and I'm pretty much booked up for 2012. I'm even having a little dabble at acting for one music video, just for the fun of it, and as a favour to some dudes.

   All the same, I decided having myself 'out there' in an extra medium can't hurt. So I have started Sophie's 'filmmaker diaries', which will appear on Youtube whenever I'm free and allowed to report back from set. There should be more to follow but the first one is just a brief introduction and a little tour of my office, all filmed by my good friend, Josh Peacock.
   As my director and photographer friends all know, I'm notoriously difficult to put in front of a camera. I can 'play a part' but I struggle to portray myself due to a lack of self confidence. Any interviews of me are heavily edited, and this new video is no exception. But please understand - I'm not putting myself on the internet because I think I have a screenworthy face or because I think I'm particularly interesting. This is just a little video done on a camcorder in an afternoon and I'm not in any way taking myself seriously. I had a little fun with it and I hope you will do too.

    I apologise for the quality of the light in my office and for the marks on the camera. I would apologise for the camera itself but if I could afford a good camera, I wouldn't have to do shameless video plugs for my work.

   Also, Edgar Wright, if you see the video, I'm very, very sorry - it's just my sense of humour. (I do think you're wonderful though!)

   Here's the video. If you like it, let me know, and I'll do even more. And of course, it's all just a shameless please for attention - from one of many young, struggling creative types in this country:


Sophie x

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sophie and the Vintage Dress

Hi people!

    I have one little shout out for you today. In Nottingham last week, I was with Crash Taylor when he noticed a girl in a bar who had the potential to look good on screen. This may not sound like much, but when Crash notices a girl in the street, and says they have potential, you'd damn well better take notice - he once noticed the talents of a girl called Leonie Manners and now she's winning modelling competitions and earning thousands!

    The girl we met this time is named Lozzi-Elizabeth (fantastic name) and I wanted to get in on a potentially good thing so I have promised to help start her acting career. Here is her profile if you want to check her out:

    Also, I think I forgot to tell you guys - my lovely PR girl Stephanie Murphy set up a Facebook page for my work: if like what you've read on this blog post or any other of my posts then please give us a 'like' and you can get regular updates including casting, crew jobs, or film news -

You can also follow me on Twitter:!/SophieBlackFilm


    The Stop/Eject funding campaign will be up in the next couple of days, and you can still donate to Jar of Angels but today's blog post shows me doing something a bit different. We are currently entering a bit of a quiet period for filmmakers (tis NOT the season for us) and I've seen a few depressing statuses about people looking for work lately. (If that's you, hold on, we'll all be crazy busy again come Spring). But the silver lining to having a teensy bit of time off is that, today, I got to indulge in a personal project for the first time in months.

    Do you remember my blog post at the start of the summer when I mentioned that I'd bought a vintage dress that needed restoration? I claimed it was 1950s and its style would still suggest that, although some of the fabrics involved are making me think it could be a 50s style party dress from the 1980s. Either way, it's GORGEOUS, and here is a reminder of it:

    The dress came to me - as all good vintage dresses do - a little bit worse for wear. It had a history and it had been lived in: the lining was torn and there was a lovely little lipstick mark in the lining right next to where the woman's bottom went. How interesting is that? It makes me smile to think the girl enjoyed herself in this dress. And here's a photo to prove it:

   So, this afternoon, with my emails done, and my little free patch, I decided to restore this dress and fit it to my body so that I can wear it too. First step - fixing the underskirt:

    The underskirt was made from a delicate, openly-woven fabric so I had to hand-tack it onto the waistband first, before machine-stitching it down. The 50s-style poofiness was restored to the skirt!! =)

   Restoration complete, the dress needed to be taken in about three inches so that it would fit me. Usually this would be a matter of removing the zip and taking away some fabric there before replacing the zip - but the zip was on one side, and if I adjusted it there then it could ruin the shape of the dress. (I once had a lace dress that was proffessionally taken in by adjusting the zip down one side, and it left the waist of the bodice sticking out oddly).

   So the sensible option to me was to take in the dress at the back. To make the fabric easier to adapt, I took out the boning down the centre back - I discovered that the boning was actually padded by a woven length of cord, the same fabric as the underskirt. You don't get that attention to detail in modern clothing!

   And for you costume nerds, here's what vintage boning looks like. It's a little bit... grimy looking, actually:

   Occasionally I do garment alterations for clients - you can message me if you need anything doing - and in just such a situation I would do a detailed job where I pretty much take the bodice apart and re-assemble it to smaller specifications. But, since I intend on wearing this dress myself, I just put a stitch down the fabric at the back and created a neat panel inside to adjust it:

   Next, I had to remove and replace the straps at the back, then it was time for me to try it on. The bodice fitted perfectly but, as I've mentioned before, the fun-loving girl who wore this dress was also very busty, and the fitted bust area of the bodice still stuck out quite far! There wasn't much more that I could do to the bodice there without ruining the shape of it (a constant worry when it comes to adjusting things) but I was able to put a couple of darts in around the bust line - apart from that I'll just have to don some shameless cleavage-enhancing underwear when I wear the dress! Here are the darts:

   For the finished result, I wanted to get a good photograph of myself in the dress; all of my costumes are available for rental (again, message me for details) so it's important to get a decent picture of it for my costume vaults. Unfortunately (or brilliantly, depending how you look at it) I know a lot of very talented proffessional photographers so it's just a matter of deciding how to ask. I'll update this blog with the photo when I've decided.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Updates and another shameless plea for finance!

Hello everybody!

    Today's shout out goes to my latest follower and dear colleague Carl Cropley. His company is Full of Squares and they did special FX on Wasteland, Jar of Angels and the upcoming Stop/Eject and Ashes. It's industry quality stuff for a fraction of the price so he's well worth checking out:

    So here are the updates. First off, Ashes is well into pre-production now. Casting for that is now open and easy to find on some of the most popular online casting sites so spread the word! Also my assistant on Wasteland - Gina Hames - is taking the design reins from me
so I'll be meeting with her on Saturday.  But that didn't stop me from doing at least one little piece of concept art. So here is my design for a poster:

(Note - the final poster probably won't look like that!)

    The news with Stop/Eject is that it's taking a little hiatus and is probably set to shoot again in Spring 2012 (after Wasteland's intended February 2012 shoot). The production has also assigned a new Producer.... me! So I will be keeping you updated on that film's process including more funding campaigns (sorry guys....) but, in the meantime, here is director Neil Oseman's poster art for it:

And finally, onto the main news of today.

    The Jar of Angels official trailer is now online due to the combined efforts of director Crash Taylor and cinematographer/editor Rik Winter, and it is officially a stunner. I've said time and time again how much I enjoyed the production and how proud I was of the crew, but the only way to fully express everything that went into the film is by watching this beautiful little trailer:

    We've already having some good feedback (including a great one from Raindance of all people!) but the truth of the matter is that we wouldn't have gotten as far as we did without the support of our followers and film fans everywhere - the type of people who might be reading this blog right now. And what most people never take into account when they go into independant film production is how much is needed AFTER the film has finished shooting. We don't want Jar to be a beautiful little film that is seen by a few people see in one screening, applauded at, and then boxed and put onto a shelf for all eternity. We want to share it with the world, starting with all the best film festivals including the aformentioned Raindance. We know that we can do this, but we need your help!

    I moan on a lot about Hollywood making re-make after heartless re-make and throwing money into these films without much care for content, and I know that lots of people complain too because I've seen it all over the social network sites. But if you want to make this stop happening then you need to show your support for independant cinema. So here's the thing - instead of spending whatever rediculous price a cinema ticket is these days on watching a film you've probably already seen before by a different director, you can spend the same money on something new - give as little as $10 (that's the price of a cinema ticket here) and maybe you'll see Jar of Angels on a screen near you one day. In the mean time, you'll certainly get a free present for funding.

    Together we can stick it to Hollywood and show them the kind of films we WANT made. If everyone donates, Jar of Angels will be finished and distributed to all the best places. And what's more, I will love you all forever.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, 31 October 2011

The Ghosts of Costumes Past and Present

Happy Hallowe'en everybody!

Hi to my new followers, Jen, and Katie Lake, the Costume Designer who worked alongside my Production Design for Stop/Eject. She's a very talented new colleague and, even better, a new friend. Hop on over to her website for more information:

The news down my end is that the Jar of Angels edit is looking fabulous, plus I have started the pre-production for my next directorial project, Ashes - plus there have been some interesting developments in the world of my last directorial short, The Opening Night - so more on those to follow soon! 

However, for today's blog, I wanted to give you all a little treat. (Let's hope it doesn't turn into a trick!). In honour of Hallowe'en - one of the favourite holidays down my way - I have decided to delve into my costume vote and show you some of the costumes I have personally worn over the last decade - good or bad is up to your judgement! As a costume designer, this time of year is always huge for me because it's a chance to be a walking advert (I certainly hand out business cards at Hallowe'en outings) and the competition between me and my friends is always interesting! Remember that I'm often available to make costumes on request for clients so feel free to contact me if you ever want something lovely created!

Right, the first picture out of Sophie's Costume Vault comes from 2008, and my best friend's 19th Birthday party. The theme was 'Heroes and Villains', and I decided to go as one of my all-time favourite comic book heroes, Phoenix. However, the best costume for her came from one of her worst portrayals - in the film X-Men:The Last Stand. Phoenix's main outfit in that film (designed by Judianna Makovsky) is actually in my top 50 costumes of all time so I couldn't resist giving it a go:

(Judianna's Phoenix costume)

(My Phoenix costume in progress, Summer 2009 - I didn't have time to do the trousers!)

(Me in my finished Phoenix costume with my friend Sammie as Poison Ivy - I also made her leafy bodice!)
 (Me showing off the back of the costume after a few drinks!)

The next costume out of the vault is more of a life lesson than a technical example of brilliance. Easter 2008 - the snowiest spring I've ever known - I was invited to a Fantasy/Myths/Legends type party. I had a handmade sorceress dress to wear, and disaster struck - with less than an hour before the party, i discovered that it didn't fit me properly! In a rush, I grabbed basically a strip of fabric and a pen and made a Celtic Warrior costume! Which goes to show you that anyone can make a costume with minimal time and resources:

(My 20-minute rushed Celtic Warrior costume. Sword from a stage production of Lord of the Rings, where I played an Elf).

Although I have many, many costumes in my vault now, and I would love to show you them all, I want to show you a diverse range today - showing you my Moulin Rouge dress, for example, might seem too similar (to some) to my Phoenix costume. Therefore, the next costume I'm going to show you is from my 20th Birthday party, when I got to live out a life-long fantasy and re-create Belle's dress from Disney's Beauty and the Beast:

(The dress in Beauty and the Beast - one of the greatest films of all time?)
(Me in my interpretation of the dress at my Disney themed 20th. I had less than 3 days to make it!)

(The second time I got the dress out - and had to take the bodice in - for a Disney party at University two years ago)

The last costume out of the vault is my Hallowe'en costume from last year. I had a bit more time and a lot more money back then so I decided to pay tribute in two ways - one, to a great costume, and two, to one of my top three directors, Tim Burton. The character? Emily the Corpse Bride!

Anyone out in Derby this time last year would've seen me walking round, slightly cold, slightly inebriated, and very very blue. The dress was made from multi layers of vintage & modern hand-dyed lace and chiffon, and it was surprisingly comfortable! Although I did leave blue roses everywhere... Here is the story behind the costume:

(Still of Emily from The Corpse Bride. I think the Costume was by Michelle Scattergood)

(My interpretation of the costume in progress, on my mannequin)

(Me in the finished costume around the streets and pubs of Derby)
(Close-up of the bodice and the rib cut-out detail)

And now onto this year's Hallowe'en costume...

Personally, I didn't think I could beat last year's effort and I certainly didn't have the time or funds to attempt it, but I did have one source of inspiration. For Jar of Angels, I had to make a load of hand-painted Venetian masks, which I loved doing, but I didn't get to make any for myself. So this October, I made a quick bird-like, 'plague-doctor' style mask:

This ended up being the base of my costume this year, and last Saturday night, I went into Derby as a Harpy. Here are the photos:

I hope that you all have a wonderful, devilish night - if you have any good costumes to show me then please send them in, because I would love to see them!

Spooky love for now,


Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Wasteland Script Read-through (and girls' costume fittings!)

Hi guys,

Things are a little crazy down my end right now so not a huge update today, but I thought I'd share the following photographs with you.

Last week, the soul cast for Wasteland (minus the legend that is Carl Bryan) met up for a read-through of the script with director Tom Wadlow and writer Tommy Draper. So I came along too and used the opportunity to get the female leads into their costumes - the girls' outfits have been finished and on display in my house for months now so I literally couldn't wait any longer!

Once the girls were dressed we decided that they might as well stay in costume for the read-through, so they did, and the result was pretty awesome. A fun, slightly silly evening was had by all and the script sounded really good read aloud as an ensemble piece.

Here are my photos from the evening - enjoy, and I'll chat to you all again soon!

Shameer Seepersand - Scott
Lucy Varney - Beth (in the white and brown)
Rachel Benson - Lolli (in the blue, purple and yellow)
Ed Nudd - Max

Sophie x