Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sophie On: The Stop/Eject Podcasts

Hi Guys,

   It's a little while since I've done a blog post purely about Stop/Eject, which is odd for saying that my 2012 has pretty much belonged to that film. The latest news is that its post-production funding campaign is going well, with over £1,200 raised, which means we could finally release the Day 5 Podcast.

   Whilst it's a wonderful feeling to see all the shoot days alongside each other, I also felt a twinge of sadness when I finished the final podcast. Because, when it was done, I had completed all my official jobs as co-producer on the project. Granted, there are a lot of unofficial jobs which one has to do without being asked, such as promoting the film throughout the funding process and festival seasons, and giving feedback on things like press kits and merchandise. I've also had some cherished early glances at the film itself in the edit stages. I could technically be working on this film until 2014. But in terms of official 'assigned' tasks, I've completed all of mine.

   The thing is, creating a film is often compared to having a child, but a co-producer can never be more than a foster parent. You can nurture it, watch it grow, even come to love it like your own - but then you need to give it back, happy in the knowledge that you've helped to make it into the wonderful thing that it is today. So overall, I'm not sad; I'm privileged to have worked on such a special little film.

   So, serious part over - here are all the colourful, crazy, condensed shoot days for you all to enjoy:


 DAY ONE - The River Gardens, Belper

 BTS Videographer: Brett Chapman
    In the first podcast, we are introduced to the crew, and the efforts taken to assemble the all-important alcove set, in Belper's scenic River Gardens - which is the location for the flashback scene where Kate first meets Dan. This podcast also features an interview with co-writer, Tommy Draper.

DAY TWO - Magpie, Matlock

 BTS Videographer: Brett Chapman
    This was an evening shoot, and I feature quite a bit in this one - mostly teasing Neil for the difficult task of fitting an alcove into a quirky, cluttered little shop! It also features an interview with camera operator Rik Goldsmith, and it showcases the main location of the film for the first time.

DAY THREE - Magpie, Matlock

 BTS Videographer: Dale Murchie
   I had the most footage to condense for this podcast, because we spent the whole day filming in our main location. So all the crew features quite prominently, but none more so than the hilarious, scene-stealing Therese Collins!

DAY FOUR - Strutt's Mill, Belper

 BTS Videographer: Dale Murchie
   This podcast is a little different to the others; it was all hands-on deck, so we didn't have as much b-roll footage as previously. Therefore this podcast features an interview with yours truly, to narrate and tie all of the footage together. It also shows you the efforts went to with our infamous tape cassette props, and the old Victorian mill in which we filmed the basement scene.

DAY FIVE - Magpie, Matlock

 BTS Videographers: Kurt Baker & Laura Iles
    The official 'final' shoot day was another manic one, so rather than showing you the scenes being filmed (although you do get a bit of it), today gives you a warm-hearted look at the crew through a series of talking heads interviews.

 DAY SIX - Willesley Castle & Masson Mills, Roseley

  BTS Videographer: Sophie Black
    This makes me laugh every time I watch it. We we're supposed to be filming on this day, so there's only the cast and skeleton crew left, and no cameras left to get b-roll footage. I happened to have my stills camera on me, which gets a lo-rez video of the exact moment we go down to our wier location... and find out that it's flooded...

   So, there we have it. Every single shoot day from Stop/Eject, on YouTube for the world to see. You can even watch them back-to-back to have a taste of what it was like to be part of the crew. But you won't have the same mixed feelings of exhaustion and wonder at the end of it!

Sophie x

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sophie On: The Triskelle Pictures Website!!

Hi Everyone,

   I can't believe it's nearly two years since I had my photoshoot with Rei Bennett. I was very happy with the results, and I've used them all the time as promo images, so they've served me well. But the point of that photoshoot - on an extremely windy February day in 2011 - was to create background images for my website.

  I started this blog after my first attempt at building a website failed (it ended up in Latin and I couldn't change it back), and I went through a handful of different website builders without anything to show for it. Then writer Tommy Draper introduced me to Wix a few months ago, and I've been playing with it in my random snippets of spare time ever since.

  Yesterday, finally, I made the finishing touches, purchased a domain name, and so now... drumroll please... here is my official website!

 I'm pretty happy with it (I may have hummed 'the most beautiful website in the world' to the tune of 'most beautiful girl in the world' a couple of times), although my style of doing things is never going to appeal to those with minimalist tastes. But I'm never going to say that it's finished - I expect it to expand and change, and grow, as I go along and work on more projects. The website at the moment stands as a testimony to here I am today, and I welcome people's feedback on that - typos have already been pointed out to me, and I've corrected them with thanks.

   The keen amongst you will have simply clicked on the link and found the website yourself. For everyone else, here is a little guided tour:

 1) Homepage

   News and updates, many of which will still link to this blog for more information. I was also lucky enough to have reviews written for me by Craig Luck, a previous director of mine, and Chris Laverty from Clothes on Film, which have made their way onto this page.

2) About

    Here's where I ramble on about myself in a bit of a 'luvvie' way, and the title of mini biography is somewhat misleading. But it gives a good overview of how I got to where I am today.

3) Fiction

   A breakdown of my producing/directing experience, including trailers of the most recent films, and a link to the Stop/Eject website.

4) Ashes

   A sub-page to the fiction one, but focusing purely on Ashes so that I have a link to put onto the press kits when we hit festival season. The trailer isn't on there yet (I'm still editing it) but it will be soon, and it's also a place where I can give shout-outs to the cast and crew.

5) Costumes

   Featuring photos of my most popular costumes and the advert Light Films Ltd created for me, but also glimpses of costumes made for some of my earlier film projects too.

6) Set Design

   In which I lay out my skills in Production Design and Art Direction (they are different!), but also showcasing some of my early work in Theatre Design, which I don't usually get to show people.

7) Non Fiction/ Corporate

   Not something I've had to do much of lately, but this page explains the corporate adverts/promotional videos I've created in the past, and also talks about my only documentary project to date, Margaret.

8) Weddings

   For those who do want me to film their wedding, this page explains my services and rates. But it also links you to people who do weddings as a day job, and can create something really slick.

9) Music Videos

    This is the least developed page, as it's an area of my career I want to expand more. For now it shows you a couple of my live recordings of great musicians.

10) Other Skills

   Every filmmaker has a wide repertoire of random skills, and I didn't want to keep creating pages. So here's a little breakdown of my 'side' skills - such as writing, editing, storyboarding and model making. I also do jewellery making and beading but that's linked to the Costume page.

11) Contact

   My contact details, and a picture of me in my favourite part of Belper. I hope I don't get any creepy phone calls after this, but that is the risk one has to run!
   So there we have it, one complete website for you all to enjoy. Unless you don't have a wide-screen computer. Sorry 4:3 crowd, I've catered to you in the past and upset those with modern tastes in the process. I'll make it up to you next time I shoot a Super-8 movie!

Sophie x

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Sophie On: Editing Ashes

Hi Guys,

   A little while ago, when principle photography on Wasteland was coming to a close, and there was only one shoot day left for Jar of Angels to schedule, I breathed a small sigh of relief; surely I wouldn't be able to fit any more film shoots in before the end of the year? Although I'd enjoyed my previous commitments, now was the time to concentrate on the post-production of Ashes and Stop/Eject, and nothing more.

   That lasted a couple of weeks, tops. A job proposition came out of nowhere (I actually got it whilst I was in the taxi that was bringing me home from my holiday), and now I am costume designer on the latest Anglo Klaxon Picture. So I've had to put my passion projects to one side for now; I'm knee deep in this new work and the whole thing shoots next week, so it's a wonderful little whirlwind which will end as quickly as it started.

My edit suite, tackling Scene One(A)
   But before I put Ashes to one side, it was in a pretty good place because the first edit had already been assembled. And the reason it's come to a temporary halt at the same time that I took on the new job, is because I'm currently the editor of Ashes.

   I haven't edited one of my own films since Deep Red Sun in 2008. Around that time I met many people who specialised in editing and had much more experience than me, so I started delegating and instructing rather than being a one-man (filmmaking) band. The Opening Night was therefore edited by the wonderful Laura Healey (then Brimley) in 2010, and other editors came to work with me after that.

    Having extra sets of eyes on projects is always a good thing, but the one side effect was that I lost faith in my own editor's skills. I still took on small paid corporate jobs and happily edited my video diaries, but the idea of editing a fiction film myself felt like treason.

    So why did I end up editing Ashes? To cut a long story short, I know the footage better than anyone else, and I couldn't resist having a go!

   Of course, I won't be the only editor on the project. It's often bad for a director to edit their own film alone because they're biased, plus - confidence or none - I lack the skills to do the whole thing myself. I can cut films together, I'm good at creating pace and mood, but I don't do colour grading, sound mixing, or visual effects. I may not even have final cut. My current edit will basically act as a template for a select set of eyes to study, and possibly reassemble.

   I put the first cut together in about a day, using my storyboard as a guide, and to remind myself how I'd wanted it to look before we started shooting (which meant I could be sensible about omitting takes we didn't need). Having got the necessary shots in order, it gives me chance to step away for a bit, and come back to look for creative ways to tweak it. But already I'm starting to see how the edit could come out very differently in someone else's hands.

    When I re-wrote Ashes last year, I added the scenes set within Sarah's mind because I wanted to write something darkly fantastical - something which I knew would be macabre but beautiful on camera. And it was these fantasy scenes which attracted most of the crew. These scenes gave the project more of a visual justification and allowed used to have a lot of fun with the sets, make-up and lighting.

   I know fantasy like the back of my hand. My Dad raised me on all the 80s classics, cheesy or not, and Lord of the Rings is the reason I got into the world of films. I even wrote my dissertation on medieval fantasy epics. In my teens, I got into the work of Tim Burton - as everyone did - and developed my love of fantasy to incorporate the gothic and twisted too.

Two ways of filming Scene 3: on HD SLR (left) and vintage Super-8 (right)

   So, in spite of the added production values, the fantasy scenes in Ashes were the most straightforward to shoot - and putting them into the timeline was too. There was minimal acting needed in these scenes, so I didn't need to search for the best performances, and DOP Neil frequently nailed the camera moves in one take. (In fact, the only big challenge has been deciding between using the digital footage we shot for Scene Three, or the footage we shot on Super-8 film. There are arguments for both; with the digital footage, we get a sharper look at Sarah's facial features, but we would have to spend money to give it the dreamy vintage depth of the super-8.)

   Confident in my knowledge of fantasy, I didn't actually research the genre at all prior to the Ashes shoot. I was so much more concerned on nailing the drama scenes, partly because we needed to correctly portray the delicate subject matter (yes, we do go on about that a lot, but it's important) and partly because it wasn't an area I'd directed before, and I needed to prepare myself for it. So I found myself drawn more to films such as Shame, Stealing Beauty and American Beauty (the film I watched most this year), all of which let the camera act as an eye observing the human form, and all of which portrayed emotion with beguiling, sometimes changeable pacing.

Tension in Ashes. Photo: Neil Oseman
   So, with myself firmly manning the steering wheel, I spent most of the editing time working on the drama, teasing out the tension and working through take after take of the most emotive, sometimes heartbreaking performances from Sarah Lamesch and Adam Lannon. I revelled in playing with the pace - stretching it out, pulling it in and pushing it out again - so we get to a place where so much is said without words, and then when the characters do speak, no one is a villain,  and both are on an equal footing in a terrible place.

   Okay, so none of that will make sense until you see the film, but my point is that I think I have created a short which is exactly half macabre fantasy, and half drama, so I'm certainly happy with that.

   In general, I think I'm moving away from fantasy, for now, and keen to tackle the next drama script. In fact, I already have one of those in development, although it can't have my full attention for a while. But if that wasn't a case, or if the current editor was one who wanted to move in the opposite direction, they could push the darker elements further. It could be a full-out physchological horror, throwing the realism in at the end as a curveball so that it hits home with a bang. The edit could be a complex multitude of cuts, effects, and sickening tension. And if you need an example of that type of edit, you need look no further than the incredible cut of Feeding Jack, a film by some talented filmmakers that I know. The pre-production for it must have been an intricate labour, but it still inspires me every time I see it:

  That's where another - perhaps more specialist editor - could take Ashes. But would this be better? It would be visually more striking, but we run the risk of losing the drama I've been so keen to portray.

   Well, this has been a rather long blog post, but hopefully you should all know where Ashes is at now - and at least it proves I definitely haven't forgotten about it! 

  For now, I'm glad I'm forced to step away from the edit suite. It gives me time to come back with a clearer head; and it's also time to let the other (carefully chosen) people have a look at it too. Whatever the feedback, I'm ready to hear it now; I think I've given the edit a good start.

Sophie x

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Review: "Caught in the Headlights" and "Pro Kopf (The Maid)"

Hello dear readers!

Photo Credit: Chris Newman
   Today's blog post is something a bit different, but something I hope to do more of. 

    Last night, after a good day spent editing Ashes, I attended this months' Five Lamps Films night in Derby. I've been before - and they've been good enough to show a handful of my films in the past - so I knew that I was in for an enjoyable night of local cinema combined with business networking, and almighty QUAD food. Plus it gave myself and writer Tommy Draper chance to fly the flag for Stop/Eject in our limited edition T-shirts (see left).

   Last night's 5Lamps, however, was a bit special because there were two films I was particularly keen to see. The first of these being Caught In The Headlights, showing there as one of its first public screenings.

   I, like everyone else on the Derbyshire creative scene, had followed Caught in the Headlights' progress from its early (highly successful) stages of funding right through to its release. Without having to look up anything about the film, we all found our social media sights flooded with information and regular updates without our patience being tested, and without our interest levels dropping. Needless to say, the crew's publicity campaign has been first rate.

   So, after the months of Caught in the Headlights news, updates and titbits appearing wherever we looked, the film's followers waited with baited breath to see the finished result. With a marketing campaign so well-done, I'm sure I wasn't alone in wondering if it was a case of too much hype. I'm happy to say that Caught in the Headlights was everything it set out to be.

Caught in the Headlights trailer

   It tells the story of Keith, a taxi-driver in the clutches of a midlife crisis, who discovers his inner strength on a particularly challenging late night shift. The plot is relatively simple, and it suits it - this is a film which doesn't have to shout or make an epic dance to move its audience. It doesn't have to demand your attention to get it.

    Directed by Christopher Beaven, who perfectly captures the loneliness of the nighttime setting, and the sadness of the central character, through a relatively slow paced edit, use of minimal dialogue, and existing location lighting. The film revels in stillness, often focusing on dark, empty streets, or the emotion on the actors' faces. All of which is neatly enhanced by the haunting and gentle music of Jonathan Armandary

Caught in the Headlights poster
   There's a great supporting cast - including Joseph Maudsley and Lucy Varney, the latter of which I've worked with before - but absolute praise must go to the actor at the film's heart: Neal Higham. He's perfect for Keith, a man who - at first - appears physically weak. He's greying, slightly over weight, and sobs on the phone to a cheating wife, blaming himself for her actions. There's a passion in him which isn't quite allowed out; he toys with the idea of calling her lover and standing up for himself, and he chases after a boy who dodges paying his taxi fair, but his ageing body doesn't allow for success. It isn't until the presence of three unruly teenagers that he is finally pushed over the edge, and truly finds the fire within himself.

   With all the hype it's had, and its use of wonderful equipment (including a Canon C300!), Caught In The Headlights could've been just another gritty drama, shot in a neo-film noir style. A tale of revenge in which a tortured soul releases his pain through a series of fight sequences involving unlikeable yobs. That's how Hollywood would have done it. And, in all honesty, the films' Drive-esque poster may have suggested that. But Christopher Beaven has created a timeless film through empathy and tact, and I wish it  success for the future.


   The other film which stood out to me last night was one which was written by Tommy Draper, my frequent collaborator, and so it is one which I would've gone to see for his sake whether or not I enjoyed it. With Tommy's work, you tend to expect certain things - clever one-liners, unusual quirks, and girls called Lolli. To my surprise, this film had none of those things, but could potentially be Draper's best script to date. Not bad considering he had the added challenge of writing an English script to be performed in German.

   Directed by Sascha Zimmerman, Pro Kopf  (renamed 'The Maid' for English audiences) is a story of a man who discovers his wife is having an affair when he rings home and talks to the new maid (infidelity seemed to be an underlying theme at last night's 5Lamps!). In a moment which is handled very well - one which starts out as a spoken thought but which quickly turns to a plan - the man asks the maid to kill his wife and her lover. As the plan develops, the characters barter, settling on a fee for the job through a battle of wits which wouldn't seem out of place in a Tarantino film.

Still from Pro Kopf (2012)
   The whole film is done in one room, in a single scene where the supporting cast appear only as voices on the other end of a receiver. The film is carried wonderfully by Draper's script and the performance of the film's lead, Ray Strachan (I'm particularly impressed by his performance, in fluent German, having learnt that Strachan is in fact Scottish).

   But of course, since this is a Tommy Draper script, the audience was made to laugh - albeit through dark humour - with the film's wonderful twist towards the end, one which I wouldn't dare spoil for you!


   5Lamps Films is a bi-monthly film night in Derby, and there's always a great selection of films on (sorry for not reviewing all of them), so it's a night worth making if you can. Head on over to for more information.

   You can follow Caught in the Headlights' progress at, and visit Tommy Draper's official website ( for more information about a great writer. And I'm not just saying that because he's the new co-writer on my upcoming feature!

Sophie x

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Sophie On: Writing on Walls

Hey Guys,

    I realised something this afternoon, whilst I was sat with my sandpaper and a pot of cold tea. Today was the last day I would be ageing costumes for Wasteland.

    That's a weird feeling. I've spent over a year working on it, and made some great friends along the way, and all of our efforts have paid off thus far. It's already on IMDb, and the footage is looking amazing. Plus it gave me one thing no film had given to me before - a fully designed and built set.

    The set's in the process of being dismantled and sent to the tip, and I've been quite nostalgic about it. Not just about all the memories shared within those hand-built walls, but also how it worked in terms of design. In spite of all the intricate little bits of vintage electrical clutter, my favourite part of the set was the simplest, and happened by accident. I filled a gap with a cardboard box which had the word ' fragile' taped on the back. And it sat in the background perfectly during the scenes where actor Shameer Seepersand sat on the radio, talking sadly to a friend he'd never met in person. Basically, he looked fragile, and the word behind him emphasised that.

Forces of Nature, dir. Bronwen Hughes 1999
   I've always loved written words on sets, before I was trained to design for films or even to 'read' them.  The reason designers use them (or editors sometimes, when they put text over a shot which isn't subtitles) is to emphasise the scene, or to make an ironic comment about what we're seeing, generally. It works best in scenes where there is no dialogue - so that the walls do the talking for the characters, and for the director. I just like the use of words because they make the audience stop and think.

   The first time I noticed 'words on the wall' was in Bronwen Hughes' Forces of Nature, designed by Lester Cohen & Christa Munro - a film which most people don't look to for inspiration, but I've always loved. During a tender scene in a laundrette, in which no words are spoken but brooding thoughts are obvious, someone has written on the wall "Jesus is a truck heading for Gods Wherehouse". Spelt wrong and grammatically incorrect. I've never known what the designers were trying to say but I've spent years trying to figure it out!

   Then, at the start of the 21st century, I saw Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! - designed by the great Catherine Martin - and instantly fell in love with every aspect of it. Baz used letters and words throughout the film, starting with close-ups of the font on Christian's typewriter (a technique also used in Joe Wright's Atonement years later), and featuring montages where the characters sung in front of giant standalone words. 

A 'wordy' montage scene from Moulin Rouge!, dir. Baz Luhrmann 2001.

Baz Luhrmann's Chanel Advert
   After further research, I discovered that Baz loved words in film design as much as I did. His first feature film, Strictly Ballroom, featured scenes where lovers danced in front of a giant Coca Cola sign (on a rooftop, again. I love rooftops as well, even if I don't love product placement) and his advert for Chanel, again starring Nicole Kidman, featured a similar set-up to the Moulin Rouge! 'Come What May' montage, but this time working to advertise the brand.

   In spite of my love of words on sets, I didn't get to indulge in them until about half a decade later, when I worked on a film called Fireworks. During that time I was also quite inspired by graffiti, and I'd walked home one day and seen the word 'you' spray-painted on the floor. As with Forces of Nature, I was left wondering what the hell the 'artist' was trying to say, and I thought about it for the rest of the walk, and into the evening as well. I never did figure it out but I knew that I had to get it into a set some time.

   Fireworks seemed like a good place to put it, since it was a quirky romance and featured a girl - the 'you' of the story - who turned the lead character's world around, if only briefly. Originally we were going to build a set so we could paint whatever we wanted on the walls, and director Ollie Caswell was happy to let me have my creative streak. The set was to be a bathroom, built because we wanted to flood it, and it would have been my first proper set (rather than the Wasteland one).

My rarely-seen concept art for Fireworks, dir. Ollie Caswell 2009

    But the script was changed so that it didn't actually have to flood, and we filmed on location. The only part we built was the shower curtain with collapsible rail, since there wasn't an existing one, and I got to paint the word 'you' onto that. We only get a little glimpse of it in the finished film, but it's enough for the audience to go back and think about on a second or third viewing, and I like things that do that.

    The next time I got to 'indulge' wasn't for another few years, when I co-wrote and co-produced Jar of Angels. Since I got to add details into multiple drafts of the script, and had as much control over the design of the sets, I wrote words onto windows, onto ceilings, and pretty much everywhere in one rather striking scene:

My concept art for Jar of Angels, dir. Crash Taylor 2011

     You can see this scene in full cinematic fashion within the Jar of Angels official trailer, property of Taylor | Winter Films:

    Another time I used this technique was more of a result of the current consumer craze for hand-made items; in Stop/Eject, the lead character is a costume designer, and crafty by nature - with beautiful similarities to the film's actual costume designer, Katie Lake - so it made sense for us to fill her living space with handmade fabric items. Fabric letters have always been popular in nurseries but are now popular in living rooms as well. So all that was left was for me to choose the perfect word which summed up the character, scene, and message of the film: Live.

Screengrab from the Stop/Eject trailer, dir. Neil Oseman 2012

    To find out more about my work on the Stop/Eject living room set, including pieces of concept art which showed how I integrated the word 'live' into it, please read this blog post I did about it a few months ago. And if that inspires you, please, please chuck a few pennies towards the film's post-production funding campaign, because we're all so keen to get the film finished, but festival entry fees don't come cheap!

Wall-writing in Ashes
   With my most recent film project, Ashes, I returned to the director's seat and let someone else do the set design for a change (much praise to Gina Hames for taking that job!). But again, because I was the film's writer as well as the director, the words seeped their way into the film's visuals, so much so that they became the third character of the film. They weren't just ironic words on the wall - they were the voice of Sarah's conscience, giving her advice in a difficult situation.

   I wonder if I'll ever get bored of writing on walls - hopefully I will do so before my designs become too predictable. But at least the words have changed over the years, and I've noticed that I've started branching out from single words to full phrases. Perhaps that should be my next challenge - getting a full quote onto a wall!

   Besides, words never go out of fashion. There aren't many years which pass where I don't see them used on film sets, and with the increase in cinematic television programmes, they've started appearing their too. Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss' Sherlock is abundant with text-type put onto the screen, visualising everything from thoughts to character's text messages, and they've been used within sets to dramatic effect as well:

Screenshot from series two of Sherlock, 2012

   And what's more, that wonderful series has even inspired some bizarre graffiti in my neighbourhood (not by me, for the record):

   Words surround us; not just in films or graffiti, but on plaques, clothing, and even tattooed onto people's skin. That's how much people care about certain letters, names and phrases. As designers we should embrace the world's love of words, and occasionally exploit it too.

   But I still don't understand "Jesus is a truck heading for Gods Wherehouse".

Sophie x

Monday, 20 August 2012

Layer by Layer: The Ashes 'Toybox' Dress

Hey Guys,

   For all my moaning about the difficult crowdfunding session we had during pre-production, that's not to say that there weren't people who donated to Ashes. I still feel extremely grateful to the people who did contribute, and hopefully these posts (combined with Neil's - the latest of which you can see here) will show them how their money was put to good use.

   One of the people who donated to the project was none other than Chris Laverty of Clothes on Film, the much-praised costume blog (nominated as blog of the year by Total Film and one of Channel 4's top fashion blogs), so of course, as a Costume Designer by trade, his support meant an absolute load to me.
Sarah Lamesch in costume

   Therefore, as part of my 'look where the money went' posts, it makes sense for me to talk about the costumes of Ashes, and to show you how they came into being. Bearing in mind the subject nature of the film, it's not exactly one which screams out for costume design. But with my background being what it is, I couldn't resist getting a couple of costumes into the film, and I even made one of them myself. That being the nightdress worn by Sarah Lamesch in scene 3, nicknamed the 'Toybox' scene by the crew because of Rena Kalandrani's creepy make-up. 

   Since I made the Toybox dress myself, I managed to take lots of photographs throughout its production, so here is the step-by-step guide to how I did it.

   First of all, I chose the colour. I did an early piece of concept art for Scene Two which showed the lead character in a blue nightdress, just because it felt right as I was painting it. When we cast Sarah Lamesch, I knew I had to dress her in powder blue, not only because it was the perfect compliment to her colouring, but because it would match and enhance those incredible eyes of hers.

The structured inner layer
   Oddly enough, I didn't start with a blue fabric. I made the underlayer first because I knew that it would be the most structured, fitted part, and I wanted to build onto it. I also wanted to make the outer layer in chiffon, which ranges from transparent to translucent depending on quality, and I needed to see know what would show through the outerlayer. To add a little interest here, I made sure that the majority of this layer was made of lace (basically adding a print to the dress without breaking the smoothness of the blue chiffon), but of course the top half was made from a plain fabric - satin - to preserve Sarah's dignity.

   Another reason for building this layer first was that I wanted to use old fabric to save money, only buying the outer layer for the film, so I needed to pin the old pieces of fabric to the mannequin and check that we had enough.

Testing the outer-layer
   When I bought the powder blue chiffon, I draped it over the white inner layer to check how it fell, then pinned it into place. I wanted the dress to be fitted at the top, holding Sarah in where she needed support, but be A-line down the rest of the body - basically more 'floaty' - because I knew that she would be sitting down through all of the scene, and it needed to sit well around her legs. 

    However, a mix of the many bulky layers with the fact that chiffon is notoriously difficult to work with meant that the dress finished up looking fitted on Sarah - particularly when she sat down. But sometimes you have to shut up and let the fabric tell you what to do, even when you're as stubborn as chiffon yourself!

   Anyway, the chiffon outer layer was the last part to be attached, so once I'd tested the fabric, I unpinned the chiffon and returned to the inner layers. I added a layer of organza to go directly under the chiffon to bulk it out and stop it from being fitted (or so I thought), and finally lined the whole thing with an opaque blue muslin-type fabric, to stop the lower half of the dress from being see-through under bright lights.

An organza layer for bulk (left) and an opaque blue lining for safety (right).

    I always believe that the difference between a party costume and one built for a film is in the detail, particularly when that detail is applied by hand, so - once all the layers had been assembled - I went back to the lace inner-layer and added a fine coating of beads and sequins. This was mostly to add an ethereal twinkle to an unnatural scene, under the right lights. But hand-sewing is also very therapeutic, and it calmed me down in the evenings after long pre-production days (remember, I wasn't only working on Ashes when I made this dress, but also preparing Stop/Eject and shooting Wasteland at the same time).

Adding some beaded detail to the dress by hand.

    With all the layers finally complete, and edged with appropriate trim where necessary, I added thick blue straps to hold it up, and to compliment the doll-like make-up design for the scene. The last step was the fitting with Sarah Lamesch, which we didn't manage to do until the day before the shoot. To save time chopping and changing the fabric, I added a lace-up ribbon back (which I don't actually have a photo of) so that it would be adjustable.

The finished 'Toybox' dress, with the hem pinned up to show the layers.

    The funny thing is that I went to all this trouble knowing that the dress would only really be seen in one shot, when Sarah's legs would cover most of it anyway. As the director, I even designed the shot that way, to make her look vulnerable. A lot of my work on this dress was on a 'just in case' basis; I knew that under a strong key light, the chiffon would refract a block blue colour - but I thought, if we just get a glimpse of the underlayers in a close-up shot with a fill or kicker, then it would add so much interest to the shot, and look so magical.

   And then, last minute, I decided the scene would look best (and by best, I mean most creepy) if Sarah was mostly bathed in shadow anyway. I got Neil to do moving shadows to create a jumping impact on her face, but never instructed him to light the dress well.

   Yep, I managed to do what Peter Jackson did to Ngila Dickson, but to myself. And I don't regret it at all - the lighting highlighted the most important part of the scene, and the dress took a dignified back seat. I'm sure you'll all get a good look at it on Sarah in the behind the scenes documentary.

   For now, with an exclusive first look on my blog, here is how the 'Toybox' dress features in the film itself:

From concept art... reality.

   (Many thanks to Neil Oseman for getting that last still for me.)

    Right, time to go to bed and rest before another early start on the Wasteland set. And hopefully I won't have any nightmares about how (intentionally) scary Sarah's face looks in that last shot!!

Sophie x

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Looking Back at Ashes

Hey Guys,

Directing in the Dark. Photo: Rena Kalandrani
   Well, it's a week since Ashes started filming, and since we wrapped there have been photos popping up online, and Neil has already released a lovely blog about how he lit scene four (with another post in the works for scene two). Yet I have been very quiet about the whole thing - I did a couple of status updates but that's not much for saying I've finally directed the film I've been dreaming about, and which I worked so hard to get made.

   A lot of this has probably been down to exhaustion. Thankfully not physically; although my back still twinges occasionally, I am fully mobile and didn't break it by being on set (although I feel as though other parts of me got broken along the way). So I'm healthy enough at the moment, yet the Ashes shoot left me feeling rather drained, and ever so slightly crabby.

   In spite of the wonderful performances from both my cast and crew (including a wonderful A-team moment from the camera crew, which I'm sure I'll talk about at some point), I was worried I hadn't enjoyed the shoot as much as I'd expected. I experienced something similar to a post-Christmas crash, and I think the following are reasons why:

    1) The subject matter was always going to be difficult to shoot. It was such a challenge for the actors that I had to face it with a clear, somewhat stoney face and not let it affect me (at least not so that they could see). And even though creating something so raw was a good challenge for everyone, it was never exactly going to be fun.

    2) We were behind schedule, and not just a little bit. Like, a lot - and although we powered on through and clawed back the hours without getting too stressed, it did mean that I couldn't dedicate as much time to honing the performances as I'd planned. Adam and Sarah nailed the scenes as I knew that they would; I just feel bad for not being able to give them hours worth of direction. Still, what director gets that chance?

Shooting cutaways with a bad back. Photo: Jenna Cataldo

    3) Due to the fact that we were behind schedule, we had to keep going (on the most difficult scene in the film) through lunch, and members of my team were getting exhausted. A director is never more happy than any members of their crew, and I felt responsible for putting them all through it - and hoped that I was giving them enough motivation and support.

    4) We had some technical issues. Combining my luck with getting Ashes made in the first place and all of Neil's misadventures on Soul Searcher makes me think that we are a cursed couple of filmmakers. Because, seriously, every member of the crew had some of their kit break - some of which couldn't be replaced, so we had to carry on without them. And having to work without parts of your ideal kit is always so disappointing because you can't silence the voice that says "what if...?" or "would it've looked better...?"

    5) Personal problems do not belong on set, but that doesn't mean people don't have them. I had some news which affected me, but I had to shake it off and pretend I was fine for the sake of my cast and crew. The director should never be the weak link, after all! My only advice in such a situation is make sure that you have an amazing 1st AD (like I did) who finds time in the schedule to let you have a quick cry, and a quick cuddle, and put you back on set looking right as rain!

   When we made Stop/Eject, I was left feeling a sense of accomplishment, mixed with sadness that it was over, so I knew that we'd made something special. After Ashes, I didn't feel that, and I was worried that I'd fallen out of love with a project which had been so dear to my heart.

   And then I watched the footage back...

Screengrab from the ungraded footage of Ashes

    ...and now I know that I've directed a stunning little film, which I will love tomorrow and through all of next year's festival season, at least. I am so, so proud of what everyone achieved in this film. And now I'm starting to feel a little bit proud of me, too.

Sophie x