Saturday, 25 June 2011

Sophie on: returning to her writing roots, and the many uses of coffee.

Hi Guys,

   Above all things, I see myself as a story-teller, and in this mind-frame it's fair to say that I have been writing all my life. I started seriously writing novels when I was 12, wrote a lot of play and film scripts in my teens, and did the screenplays for all of my directorial shorts. Now I have receieved my first paid writing job for a film, and although I am obviously ecstatic, it is a little like coming back to a town you loved in your childhood, and finding it completely bulldosed and rebuilt. It still has the same name and it still feels very familiar, nothing's where it used to be, and you find yourself having to explore and rediscover it for yourself. This takes a little trial and error, and you're bound to get lost along the way, but if you still love this place, then it's worth it.

   Random metaphor over, the job in question is the screenplay that I am co-writing with the one and only Crash Taylor (for the record, the story is Crash's - he employed me as a script editor then gave me co credits when I started inputting lots of ideas). The whole pre-production process for this film is so wonderful and exciting, and working proffesionally has caused me to encounter something I haven't had to encounter much before - proffessional feedback. Crash has many contacts in America so the screenplay - in its various stages of completion - has been doing the rounds, and what surprised me the most is how addictive feedback is. In particular, bad feedback. 
   Not that there's anything such as 'bad' feedback really, but there's compliments and there's criticisms, and it's the criticisms that prove the more useful. The harsher the better! The majority of the story in the later drafts of the script has been inspired by critical feedback: if someone says the story is good then you just think, wahey, that's nice, I'll put my feet up for a bit, and you miss things that might bring you down later. If people say 'I don't like this script' then they never just tell you that, they tell you why they don't like it, and then you make your changes from there. I've even found myself hoping that the script doctors don't like the story at all - it's an odd addiction. The only thing about this feedback is that it's not for people who hope that the marking system ends when you leave education - the last lot of feedback actually graded every element of my work from 'excellent' to 'needs work' (I won't tell you my specific scores!) and it reminded me very strongly of the results from my old exam papers.

   One thing that has been brought to my attention throughout the whole writing process is that you'll never get everyone to like your writing style. I did scriptwriting lectures at university, and I did well in them, with the main lesson I came away with being to keep description to a minimum. A visiting director even taught us that many people who recieve scripts in the industry actually cross out all the lines of description before they properly start to read the submissions. However, I occasionally hear demands for more description. If I'm writing a script for myself and I know I'm also going to be designing the set then I'll probably leave more description in because I'm leaving myself memos all in one place, but not everybody likes that!
    Some writers also seem to leave notes about characters within their scripts, even when these details can't be visualised (for example 'Barry is enthusiastic' can be visualised but 'he has no reason to be' is just a note about the character). Then there's the style in which you write the action lines themselves. My latest feedback has suggested that I use '-' instead of '.' and I've given that a go because they are proffessionals. It's a little bit odd to get used to though - I've tried mixing up dashes and full stops to ease myself into it and, as may now be obvious in my writing here, I think it's seeping into my everyday life!
    I decided to read more proffessional scripts to see how they write, to help me with my own (never stop researching or reading, even if you work into your 80s, seriously), but the only two scripts in my possession are Richard Curtis' Notting Hill and the best of Simon Nye's Men Behaving Badly. I don't know why those are the only two that I own, but they are. So I turned to proffesional screenwriter and fellow colleague Tommy Draper for help - he worked on the last Light Films project, Shelf Stackers - which I designed - and he's writing the next few, so I have his work to read, and he also gave me links to many other scripts online. Through this research I have learnt the following : THERE IS NO ONE CORRECT WAY TO WRITE SCRIPTS!! Well, okay, there's technical specifications you have to stick to, but every script I've read is written in a different style. Even Tommy admits that he's have one style for when he's working with a director he knows, such as our Light Films leader Tom Wadlow, and another when he's sending one off to another source. And finally, he had this one, great piece of advice for me: Forget everything you learnt in scriptwriting lectures.

  If you want to know more about the film I'm writing for, then check out Crash's blog, and most importantly, watch the AMAZING trailer he shot a few weeks ago (you can just see me in the little photo montage from the set):


 Wrapping things up now for today's blog post, but I'll just briefly update you with some costume news (I wish I had a jingle for 'costume news' but I don't...). The first Light Films feature starts filming THIS SUNDAY, and everyone's very busy getting ready for that. The initial scenes we are doing are all modern-set but I'm still working on costumes that I'm making for the later, bleaker scenes, and they've really been taking shape this last week. I don't usually like to show my costumes when they're not finished but it's interesting to see the making process so I have a couple of little photos for you.
  First is a picture from the first costume fitting with actor Jordan Hollis. As you can see, he is only wearing the outer layer of the waistcoat because it needs to fit him before I line it, and the fabrics all look very clean and basic. The back is in a reflective material that is too shiny to be used on set due to glare from the lights:

    The next step was ageing, which is possibly the most satisfying and fun part of the costume process. The fully lined waistcoat was left in a bucket of cold coffee with another costume overnight, then ironed, and then - as depicted here - I had to rub thick black coffee into the fabric with my (covered) hands, then scrape the whole thing down with a sandpaper block afterwards. I even recommend leaving solid wet coffee granuals on the fabric then pressing them in until they stick because it creates the effect of dirt being really worn-in in places. The next step will be ironing again, scraping it with a sandpaper block again - so that it looks even more worn than normal clothes, since this guy lives and fights in this waistcoat - then I'll be leaving stones in the pockets up until the shoot so that they look used. (That last one's a tip I got from watching the bonus features of The Lord of the Rings - bonus features are INVALUABLE tools). Through the aging process, the back of the waistcoat is now darker and much duller, so that it looks like gun metal rather than fabric, and is suitable to be used on film:

    Many, many film-makers are caffeine addicts. Edgar Wright even has an extreme caffeine coctail named after him in London. I drink ten cups of coffee on a long shoot and my house stinks of the stuff after all this ageing. But the real coffee addict award right now should go to the wonderful Mr Hollis who has allowed me to make him wear coffee throughout the majority of this summer!
That's all for now!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Sophie on: never saying no to a project, beautiful dirt on camera, and why you shouldn't throw away old fabric!

Hello again everybody! 

I'm off to London tomorrow until Monday so now seemed as good a time as ever to do my first update. I'm currently attached to five projects, perhaps six, two of which are heavily in pre-production at the moment (not to mention my own project, that I've been working on since I was fifteen and currently is nicknamed 'the Infamous Script'). Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely ever turn down a project, which will explain the current workload, but I have two good reasons for this 1) I'm very enthusiastic and I love doing what I do, and 2) when you work in this field, it's hard to stop giving 110% or turn down every one in five films because there are hundreds of people who are more than willing to step up and fill the place that you left! I am reminded of this all the time. I have even met people who want my job. They are very nice and often make very useful contacts!

So I'm rather busy at the moment. It's been a particularly crazy week this week, since I managed to slip in a job on a live music video on Monday for Front Row Films. The band filmed was headed by the local legend that is Chris Harding (one of his earlier groups was the first band I moshed to. True fact.). That was a good one-day shoot, with no problems except one of my lights' bulb exploded for the first time, which any film-maker will tell you is an interesting experience!

On Tuesday, after a day of set-designing, there was the shoot for the trailor of the film I am co-writing with the frankly brilliant Crash Taylor. I won't give away anything about the film yet (check out for updates on all of Crash's work) but I will say that the trailor was filmed in Mansfield and I had a bit of an epic trek getting there when not one but two of my trains were cancelled. There's a reason that filmmakers with cars get more work. But once I did finally get there the shoot was fantastic because we were filming in the singular most filthy place I have ever had the pleasure to film in! It was an old garage, thick with dust (you went brown the second you knealt down) and cluttered floor to cieling with mechanical junk. Not that I'm complaining. On the contrary, there is nothing more beautiful than dirt on screen. If I'm out and about with my camera I would much rather photograph a close-up of a rotten chain on a gate than a vast, calm ocean because it's all about the texture. I love rust and I'm not afraid to say so. Heck, I would gladly have that on a T-shirt! For one thing, it makes set decorating a lot easier, because there is never any dead space. For example, we had to set up one corner of the room with a chair, a heater, some tools, an a load of photos and newspaper clippings on one wall, and I worried that the area would look a bit sparce, and not in a good, minimalist kind of way. Then I looked on the viewfinder of Crash's beautiful camera and I was relieved to see that all the different colours and textures of dirt on the walls had filled in all the gaps and created a rich, multi-tonal image. I don't know why people say cameras add pounds to people because, in my experience, they minimise everything. I'll explain that more at a later date because this post is getting rather large, but take my word for that at the moment, and always refer to your lens!

Finally, pre-production is well underway for the next LightFilms project, and apart from the meeting today I've mostly been searching for locations and beginning the costumes for the two lead characters. The film is a post-apocalyptic lost-soul thriller, for want of a better term, so everything needs to look as though it's been composed from whatever materials the characters could source. Now, over the years, as a costume designer, I have accumulated a LOT of fabric. I never throw anything away if it's bigger than a scrap, and other costume designers I've met definitely do the same. My little studio is a quarter fabric, if not more at the moment, if you count all the stuff currently on the mannequin. I even have a large piece of Beano print fabric because I think it might come in handy at some point. But all these little pieces, combined with the specifications of the script, have given me a wonderful opportunity to work with patchwork. I did one patchwork military coat more than five years ago and it was a wonderful task. Some of the fabric from that has even been recycled here. The best part about it is going through your little scraps and thinking, "how/where would the character have found this bit? What caused the hole in his clothes, creating the need for the patch in the first place? This fabric is wacky but it makes for an interesting patch." It's like the clothes tell a lengthy story in themselves. I'm really only experimenting and pinning at the moment but, for you curious types, a little sample of my scavenger-style costumes is attached below.

I'll speak to you all next time,


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Welcome to the Blog!

Hey guys,
Well, welcome to my new blog. I know I've promised my followers a website for a little while now, and while that is going ahead, I'm having some minor hiccups with it (it's currently done in German, I'm not sure why!). So, in the meantime, stick around here and I'll try and keep you all updated with my comings and goings, and hopefully we'll all enjoy ourselves along the way!