Midlands Showcase Archive - Back In Black Sophie Black and Triskelle Pictures
By midlandsmovies, Nov 28 2013 09:57PM
Midlands Mike chats to Sophie Black who works in the creative city of Derby and has been working since her 2011 debut as costume designer on local short Shelf Stackers. Mike finds out what it is like to go from Production Designer on the Light Films movie to directing her first film.
Growing up in Belper, Derbyshire, Sophie moved on from the sleepy town after honing her creative talents in local theatre and plenty of writing inspired by the scenery around her. After watching The Fellowship of the Ring, aged 12, Sophie read a lot of interviews with Peter Jackson and knew what she wanted to do straight away but, back then, no-one around her was making films, and no-one near her was even teaching it, so she began teaching herself all the way until university.
Shooting on Hi-8 tape, then DV tape, then HD DV tape Sophie got a place at the University for Creative Arts in Surrey who offered a scholarship and although the majority of students had been studying films for years, Sophie worked very hard over an intense three years to graduate in film before beginning her film career in the more scenic parts of the Midlands to make her films.
Using the surrounding countryside and quirky little places to her full advantage her recent notable credits are Jar of Angels (2011) and Stop/Eject (2012), which she produced, and Ashes (2012), which Sophie directed. She is now in deep pre-production on Night Owls, which she has co-written with Tommy Draper and hopes to be a pilot (of sorts) for her first feature film as a director.
After Crash Taylor of Light Films persuaded Sophie to produced and design his film Jar of Angels, this gave her the chance not only to take a key role but also to showcase her skills in designing for the 'creatively macabre' whilst producing that film also meant Sophie was brought to the attention of Neil Oseman who asked her to produce Stop/Eject. It was through working with these different people and building a checklist of crewmembers with different talents and disciplines, Sophie started to build a team for her own films.
Inbetween these fiction films, Sophie used her skills to develop something more grounded and lucrative by turning her production label Triskelle Pictures into a company of its own and making more music videos and promotional films. Sophie used to make costumes to order for friends, parties and role-play games and managed to find work on film projects this way too – this time mostly commercials - which gave her the opportunity to travel to London and the West Midlands. “Luckily I've become very fond of travelling on trains!” adds Sophie.
With her costume work, Sophie reflects her own fashion sense but working for other directors she adheres to their vision and whilst she says you can’t always be as creative as you'd like to, it does depend on who you work with. Sophie suggests that some filmmakers will be more 'out there' and keen to push boundaries but others will want to keep the design minimal and let the actors do the talking. Sophie suggests, “There isn't a right or wrong way, it just depends on what the film needs, but as a designer you have to go along with the director and in terms of directing my own films, people have pointed out specific themes and motifs that I keep using”.
Sophie prefers working on psychological horrors and fantasy films but doesn’t want to be tied down to any one genre. A lot of her films explore relationships, which is something she is keen to keep doing because romance takes so many different, often bizarre forms.
Sophie believes film can use visuals to enhance emotion and should show them on screen wherever possible. Her films have tried to reflect thoughts and are fantastical but in a relatable way. “Ashes did that well because we portrayed one room and scene in very different ways to reflect the lead character's emotions - starting with a beautiful, candle-lit 'Hollywood' look, and moving all the way to something very dark and gothic”. Sophie explains that different types of cameras were used to enhance this look.
Along with many local filmmakers Sophie tells us me that finances have always been a problem with filmmaking being one of those industries where you have to spend money to make money. She knows a lot of people who have struggled since the closure of funding resources for filmmakers in the UK and finding the balance between the creative work and the work which makes money is also a struggle
Standing out from the crowd is an equally difficult problem that fascinates Sophie. When in Cannes she attended a workshop run by Jane Campion (“What a legend!”) and at one point she asked how many of the attendees wanted to be filmmakers and almost everyone in the room put their hands up. “There were loads of hands in that one room, in one place in the south of France, and it made me imagine how many hands would go up if we asked that question to the whole world”.
Sophie advises that in a saturated social media world it is advisable that when you try to join the industry it can be like whispering in a room full of shouting people. Although disheartening, it's not a problem which will go away soon for anyone starting out in this industry and there will always be thousands of people wanting the same job as yourself and many of whom will be more qualified. Acknowledging that difficulty is the first step but he advises others to never give up and never stop trying to be heard
Her shooting day can vary wildly but Sophie explains they start really early which was a particularly problem when she lived in Belper and had to get up at 4am which can be a problem if you’ve never been a morning person like Sophie. “The days themselves are also a wonderful mixture of exhausting and energising; parts of your brain shut down after long hours whilst other parts keep on buzzing over”, says Sophie. “Ashes was the most stressful shoot for me in recent years because I was directing, and because some of the scenes were so raw and difficult to watch (I can't even imagine how hard it was for the actors). But usually, being on set makes me feel very contended, even when I'm exhausted, because I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing, and I'm in the place I most want to be”.
Her heroes include Baz Luhrmann and Tim Burton who inspired her to add creative style to my films and to experiment more whilst two of her design heroes were Eiko Ishioka and Ray Harryhausen so it was heartbreaking that we lost both of them recently. Although she is quite hard on herself, The Opening Night (2010) got Sophie her first festival entry but after finding out she was going to Cannes with Ashes, her thought process was, "there were lots of other filmmakers there, and since it's something I've achieved, it can't be that big an achievement." As a perfectionist and a fighter Sophie doesn’t think she’ll ever feel satisfied with any success but feels that's something she’ll reassess in twenty years' time.
In closing, her favourite films include Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge, Titanic, Braveheart - which she says aren't always artistically praised but which are huge accomplishments in themselves and are movies which take you on a big, emotional journey. On the other side, she finds films which paint more delicate, intricate portraits of life - like American Beauty, Black Swan, Blue Valentine and Like Crazy are closer to the type of films Sophie is looking to make in the next few years.
Not stopping until she has won an Oscar her immediate goals include getting Ashes and Stop/Eject into as many festivals as possible and hopefully earning some awards for those films from the smaller festivals. Working within the industry has helped Sophie appreciate the character-driven pieces of UK films such as The King's Speech and Richard Curtis' movies and feels these have been well received because the rest of the world likes to see Britain as a place of quirky little characters. Sophie advises aspiring filmmakers to begin with whatever is at hand as “we now have cameras at our disposal all the time, even on our phones, so there's no excuse not to start experimenting and developing filmmaking skills. But, at the same time, accept the limitations of this technology and always be ready to move on to better technology as soon as you can so you don't get stuck in the past”.
She also suggests surrounding yourself with people who have more experience than you and don’t forget to listen to them. Sophie explains, “It's all very well and good to have a style and to want to develop it but don't be stubborn to your style straight away. Work for other people and learn the basics first and your own personal style will be better for it because when it comes the time to use that style you will know how to use it in a productive and lucrative way”. Finally Sophie thinks all crew should be loyal to their team and people should not forget to build a team using people who share the same attitude and vision (“which makes them easier to love!”) and they will be loyal to you too.
Follow Sophie on Twitter @SophieBlack Film and at her website http://www.triskellepictures.co.uk
Photo of Sophie Black credit to Rei Bennett