The Summer Update 2020


   Well, here we are - we are half way through the year, which means it's time for another one of my Summer updates, but I'm sorry to say that I'd like us to be further along the year than we are. 

   I'm not going to dwell too much on expectations for 2020 versus reality, partly because I can cover that in my end of year blog post; there is still six months left to go, and I cannot predict what will happen before the year is over. But yes, this year has so far been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and as it is for everyone, my life definitely feels like it's changed as a result. That being said, I am well, my family and friends are well, and I still have much of my income, so I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I feel grateful every day for that, much as I'm desperate for the 'wheels' to start turning again.

   Before I talk too much about the current state of things, let's back-track a bit. Yes, I have been in self-isolation for over three months, but what about before then? It was a different time, almost a different world, and my life was as hectic as ever...

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  I hit 2020 running with one of my most challenging jobs to date, working as Costume Designer on a television pilot. It had taken up the majority of my Christmas break, and I was fully into pre-production and costume shopping before 'Auld Land Syne' had even been sung. It was one of the biggest and most fast-paced shoots I've ever been on, with a tight schedule, multiple actors to dress, and some big studio presence behind it. As a result, it was a test of stamina, but I felt such a sense of achievement when it was finished. I also had the world's best costume assistant - the frankly legendary Jema Hewitt, a woman whose list of credits is almost as big and impressive as her infectious, lovable personality. Jema has been a sort of mentor figure to me since I was in sixth form , and yet this was the first time we'd ever been on set together! I can definitely say that it was worth the wait.

   Once that shoot was over, in spite of the test of perseverance and skill, I knew my passion for filmmaking was very much in tact. I felt ready to start looking for more work on a similar scale; even if it meant doing less indie films, it felt like the next logical step. But as the saying goes, 'best laid plans...' Little did I know that that shoot wouldn't be the start of something new (not yet, anyway). It was actually my only shoot of 2020. All productions were barely weeks away from stopping, although we didn't know it at the time.


[Above: Networking in Soho with the wonderful Michelle Darkin Price]

   At the start of this year, I was spending more time in London than ever before - and there was actually one week where I traveled down three times! I was mostly meeting with new producers, and having so many introductions that it almost felt like speed dating, but I also met up with my Screenskills-appointed mentor at the BFI (including one trip in the middle of the UK's heavy February winds, when I nearly blew off the Millennium bridge!). My mentor has offered me so much encouragement and guidance, and organised some very exciting meetings for me. Of course, all of those plans have had to be put on hold for now, but they will be picked up again in the future, as soon as it is safe to do so. I am still so thankful for his support and belief in me, and I know that he'll continue to be an asset.

   One of my London trips was when I attended a networking event for female filmmakers, hosted by Cine Circle. I was invited down by the actor Michelle Darkin Price, who I've worked with on a few occasions now. Michelle and I are planning on working together on another short film (Room 515) in the near future, so it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with her and discuss our project, as well as networking with some more potential collaborators (such as Mari Eesmaa of Moo Films, another filmmaker I met that night).


[Above: This year's BAFTA adventures, from The Savoy to the Royal Albert Hall]

  But of course, the best trip to London was when I went down for this year's BAFTAs. I will never, ever get used to that experience; the first time I attended last year is still one of the best moments of my life. This year was different and special for two reasons - firstly because I got to attend a Q&A with some of the nominated filmmakers the day before (at the too-swanky-for-the-likes-of-me Savoy Hotel), and secondly, because I was finally joined by more filmmakers from the Midlands. It was fantastic to have my peers with me, and to experience the ceremony with them, especially because I got to sit next to my regular collaborator/ creative business partner Tommy Draper. We always used to watch the BAFTAs on TV together, and although we weren't quite our usual 'yell at the screen while eating snacks' selves, it felt kind of like old times. Just with posher clothes.

   Every time I went on the tube, even back in January and February, I saw one or two people in masks. Like many people, I wondered if those people were over-reacting. I'm ashamed of how ignorant I was back then. I thought maybe England wouldn't be hit so hard, even as countries in Europe - particularly Italy - went into Lockdown. Selfishly, the thing I was most worried about was whether or not Goldfrapp would cancel their tour at the end of March, a tour I'd waited and saved up for for a long time. Of course they did cancel eventually, and I was gutted - but my ticket will still be valid next year. In the grand scheme of things, it really wasn't the worst thing that was about to happen.


[Above: It was a day of many talks, starting with Confetti Industry Week and ending with a celebration of International Women's Day]

  My last notable event was in early March, when myself and Tommy gave a talk at Confetti Industry Week. I was so touched that they invited us down to talk about Triskelle Pictures, and it made me quite emotional to go through the archives and share over ten years' of footage and memories. It felt like we were giving our very own Ted talk! Then, that very same day, we went down to Beeston so that I could give another talk, joining a panel of female filmmakers for an event to mark National Women's Day, hosted by Reel Equality. I was sat alongside my fellow director Jess O'Brien, and they screened her film Hidden (which I wrote). It was a wonderful day, and apart from the multiple hand sanitsation stations we had to pass and use, everything felt pretty much normal.

   The first time Coronavirus felt closer to home came in mid-March (apologies in advance if this next section sounds more graphic and dramatic than it was!). I'd gone to bed one evening feeling queasy, and ended up being sick throughout most the night, and in more pain than I'd ever felt from an illness. When blood appeared, my partner Edward called the NHS helpline, who sent an ambulance round; I'd never dealt with paramedics before, and I felt so embarrassed that I apologised to them many times when they arrived, saying I'm sure they had bigger things to deal with. It turned out I had (sorry again, this is a bit gross) burst a blood vessel, although not too deep internally to be too serious. At that point, the paramedics were still making light jokes about Coronavirus, but they did tell me that they were more cautious about giving me a hospital bed than they'd usually be, so I'd have to stay home. After a couple of days in bed (I wasn't conscious for much of the first day) and the prescribed medication, I eventually recovered - and the whole experience left me in awe of our NHS, even moreso than before. They were so fast at getting to me, so courteous and knowledgeable. Although I don't always write about personal matters in my blog, I have to stop and sing their praises now. I can barely imagine how hard those two amazing men had to work when the pandemic really hit the UK, and I pray that they are both still safe and well.

[One last cinema trip
before Lockdown!]


   Because of my illness, I sadly missed the chance to go and see Rusty Shackle per
form live, with my great clients from Towersey Festival, which might've been my only chance to see a concert this year. But the next day I did feel well enough to make a tentative trip to the cinema, to see Autumn De'Wilde's brilliant debut film Emma (made all the more special by the fact that I went with my parents). The very next week, the cinemas all closed... and then things really hit the proverbial fan for the UK. 

  Many of you know that I still work part time at Dynomite Productions, a corporate film agency, and my boss there was amazingly supportive of me, as well as the rest of the team. Because
of my commute and my asthma, he enabled me to work from home a couple of weeks before Lockdown was officially instigated, and he kept us all safe as much as possible. Not long after that, furlough became necessary for all of us - but again, I'm so thankful for the regular income and continued support, and I look forward to being reunited with the team when I can.

   For my own small business, Triskelle Pictures (and its clients), things are not so secure. I've just come to the end of the 2019/2020 trading year, which went well, but I am facing the new trading year with such uncertainty - although I'm still pitching, having virtual meetings and trying to bring in work as much as I can. This being said, my regular clients did request a couple of videos during Lockdown, all made remotely or using virtual footage, and I am so grateful for their continued business. First up, I had the sad job of creating Towersey's postponement announcement video, and also their slightly-more-positive subsequent crowdfunding film (I'm missing festivals in general, but Towersey in particular, and it'll feel so much sweeter when we're finally reunited in that field in 2021!). I also got to create a new social media video for the lovely guys at Apothecary Mead, mixing older interview footage with shots I actually captured in my own garden, which was very fun to make. 

[Above: screenshot from the footage I captured for Apothecary Mead's latest social media video, which was such a joy to work on!]

   Around that time, BBC Radio Derby contacted me and asked if I'd do another interview (via phone this time), to talk about how I was keeping things afloat and adapting my client offerings, and it was nice to talk with them again, although I'm sorry I didn't have much positive to say this time round. As I write this, at the end of June 2020, I have next-to-no work on the go and no live edits at all - and it hasn't been that way in over eight years. I can't even work on my current short film projects in the way I'd like to; I can do emails, I can plan and I can dream, but there's so much that just isn't feasible right now. That's without considering the fact that funds available for the creative arts are ever-dwindling...

  BUT Triskelle Pictures did have some good news this year, and it's up there on the list of top five best things to ever happen to the company. Right before Lockdown, I successfully completed my business plan and pitched Triskelle Pictures at my Prince's Trust panel, even though we had to change venue and cut down on the amount of people allowed in the room, so that social distancing measures could be followed. Not only did I get through the panel - meaning Triskelle Pictures is now officially a Prince's Trust supported business - but they gave me the most amazing mentor! I have learnt so much from him in the past few weeks, and he's also set me monthly tasks to work on, which has really helped to keep me focused and structured during this unsettling quiet patch.



[Above: One of the videos I released as a 'public reward' during the 
Lepidopterist Crowdfunder campaign]

   Lockdown also gave me and my team the time to finally complete work on Lepidopterist, the extended cut of FIFTY/FIFTY, our entry into last year's Sci Fi London 48hr Film Challenge. Much as I loved the original film, my brilliant crew has spent longer on this version, adding a completely new sound design and colour grade as well as extending the edit, so it feels even better than before. I am so excited to show the film at festivals - providing they can all stay open (one of our submitted festivals has had to cancel, but so far the rest look hopeful, so I am staying positive as much as possible).

   I also created and launched a funding campaign for the film during Lockdown, to raise just enough money for those aforementioned festival fees. This was never the ideal time to run a funding campaign, and I was so grateful to everyone who not only donated, but also encouraged me to proceed with the campaign in the first place. Ultimately my team and I did decide to stop promoting the campaign in its final week, making it my only funding campaign to publicly not reach its goal, but we did this for a great reason. The Black Lives Matter movement is more important than I can begin to describe, and we wanted to take part in the social media blackout, so that we weren't conflicting with any voices that needed to be heard. It's given us all time to listen, reflect, and learn - about white privilege as much as the issues that black people face. My eyes are certainly open. If you haven't already, I implore you to visit the Black Lives Matter page, to see how you can help.

  As well as Lepidopterist, Lockdown also gave me the opportunity to go back over my general 'to-do list', so I've edited new showreels for myself and Triskelle Pictures, and also a suite of Songbird behind-the-scenes videos for social media. I've mean meaning to do those Songbird videos since we finished making the film in 2017, but I always had more urgent work on the go, which is why I've been forced to put them on the back-burner until now. The first of these videos, all about the film's cinematography, was released this week - and I'll be releasing another video every Sunday for the next seven weeks, so please subscribe to the Triskelle Pictures YouTube channel if you want to see those.

[Above: Growing Shadows' festival run moved online in March]

  Growing Shadows also continued on its festival run, and it started the year on a high with multiple screenings and nominations. Sadly, many of our intended festivals have had to cancel, with the last of our physical screenings taking place in February. A huge shout-out to all the festivals who have adapted and brought their events online during Lockdown, including Beeston Film Festival and Kino London. It may not be the way we intended things, but our film was seen by new audiences, and it also gave me chance to catch up with the film's producer-actors, Aislinn De'Ath and Robert Dukes. We joined in the watch-along parties and got to respond to viewers' kind comments, which was really lovely.

  And in one more bit of short film news, my graduation film The Opening Night turned 10 in April, so I took the time to look back and celebrate that milestone with this blog post.

  I also found time for some hobby activities recently, which really isn't like me (although I've mostly tried to stay productive and keep work coming in wherever possible). I've been reading books again, I've started catching up on my photo albums, and I even did a painting of Kate Bush, which is something else which has been on my to-do list for years. But the best thing has been reconnecting with nature; when Lockdown was at its most strict, there were no cars on the road, and we woke to the sound of birds every morning. Edward was furloughed then too, and we had so many walks around our village. I've lived here for three years, and I'm only now discovering all the sights my local area has to offer.


[Above: the retweet that provided one of my happiest moments during Lockdown!]

   I got to practice my lighting skills a bit more; camerawork has never been my specialty (I prefer to collaborate with my amazing regular DOPs instead!), so it was nice to have the opportunity to address that. I used some of my (many) action figures as stand-ins, instead of actors, including my gorgeous set of Pans Labyrinth Neca figures. I shared the photos on Twitter... and Guillermo Del Toro himself saw and retweeted the post! This is a very nerdy, fangirl thing for me to say, but it was genuinely one of my happiest moments of the year, and it really raised my spirits during an otherwise difficult time.

   My birthday came and went in April (I'm 31 now, in case you were curious), and it was surprisingly lovely; although I couldn't see many people, I had a few doorstep visitors, and enough flowers to fill my largest windowsill. I also introduced Edward to my beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy, watching the full extended saga back-to-back for the first time, and falling for it all over again. I've done a separate blog post about all the things I watched during Lockdown, but that was definitely a highlight - along with all the amazing and informative livestreams hosted by the likes of BAFTA Crew, Screenskills, Birds Eye View and many more.

    Zoom, Skype and other digital platforms also enabled me to meet so many brilliant new people, as well as reconnecting with older contacts, and attending some hilarious themed quiz nights with my friends. Much as I prefer meeting in person, Lockdown made me realise how lucky we are to have this technology at our fingertips, and I am much more comfortable using it now than I used to be.

[Above: So many livestreams, including Q&As with some of my favourite female directors, and the 'Reunited Apart' LOTR event, which was another highlight]


   Being away from my family was the hardest thing. For safety reasons, I haven't hugged my grandparents since the start of February, and there were a few teary phone calls during the strictest part of Lockdown. But as soon as things eased up, I started walking over to the town where my Grandparents and parents live, and I try to visit their gardens or have a long-distanced walk with them once a week as much as possible. We were a close family before, but my god do I appreciate them more than ever now, and I cannot wait until it's safe to be physically near them again. (On that note, I've always been a big hugger, on shoots as well as socially, and I wonder if I'll go back to being that way in the future, or if my approach to physical affection will be altered indefinitely).

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   So that brings us pretty much up to today. It's at this point in my usual Summer updates where I would look forward to the next six months, and let you know what projects are in the pipeline, but the truth is that I can't do that right now. I have just had my first physical meeting in months (thanks so much to THiNK Nottingham for safely hosting myself and my client - see left), and combined with all the virtual meetings I've conducted recently, that means there may be some new work to show you guys within the next few weeks - but I remain understanding and sympathetic towards the financial situation of anyone I meet with. We're all in this boat together - we've just got to keep bobbing along and helping each other stay afloat until we reach the shore. If people need to be on dry land before we can work together again, I'll just do whatever I can to help them get there quicker.

   As I said, I do have narrative film projects in the pipeline: two short films, The Barn (the script for which continues to do me proud, even as we struggle to find the funds we need to make the film itself) and Room 515, plus Tommy has been working on a script for a wonderful new feature film called Postcards To Izzy, which I'm attached to direct. If I could tell you guys more about those projects, I would - but they are all on hold as much anything right now. As much as I keep working hard, and try to keep a routine to my weeks, I also need to accept that I won't achieve as much as usual right now - none of us will - and that's ok. We've got to take it one day at a time. The ground work we've put into these projects still matters, and will still be in place when the time comes to finally get the films made.

   When it comes to the end of the year, and I do my full 'yearly review' blog post, maybe I'll be in a different place. I might even look back and long for the quieter days. But focusing on the past six months alone, there's still so much that I'm proud of, great days have happened among the bad, and I am so thankful for everything and everyone I have in my life right now.

   However you have spent the last few months, I hope that you are safe and well. If you are struggling in any way, I hope things get better for you soon. None of us know what will happen next week, let alone next year, but all things pass. The main thing right now is to keep supporting one another. If things cannot stay the same, then let's try and make sure the new world is greater than the one we're leaving behind.

Sophie

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