Interview with Filmmaker Sophie Black (SONGBIRD)

SONGBIRD was the winner of BEST MUSIC at the May 2019 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Sophie Black: Songbird’s writer, Tommy Draper, had the idea in the back of his mind for a while; then he heard Janet Devlin’s cover of The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’ on Spotify, and because Janet’s story (discovering her voice and her confidence through ‘The X Factor’) was so similar to the story Tommy wanted to tell, he started writing Songbird, and he built his script around her. We were very lucky that Janet agreed to take the lead role in the film!

Tommy told me about his idea for Songbird during a road trip (we were travelling back from a film festival in 2015). As a massive fantasy fan, I literally begged Tommy to give me and my film company, Triskelle Pictures Ltd., the rights to make the film. I think I wrote him a massive ‘pitch email’ as well! I think the story’s quite unique: it’s tonally similar to The Little Mermaid and other classic fairytales, but it’s set in the modern-day world of indie music, so that makes it really special.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

After completing the first draft of the script in Autumn 2015, we were then shortlisted for Creative England’s iShorts scheme in January 2016. Although Songbird didn’t progress any further with that scheme, it gave us confidence in the fact that the project had legs – so we brought producer Laura C. Cann on board, and vowed to make the film in any way possible. We then had two very successful crowdfunding campaigns, and shot the film in August 2016. Songbird was in post-production for just over a year (partly because of the many incredible VFX shots we needed for the film), and was finally completed in November 2017, before we started submitting it to film festivals. So, between Autumn 2015 and now, it’s been a big commitment for all of us!

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Voice discovery. I would say ‘magical journey’, but that might be too generic. Songbird is about finding your voice, in more ways than one, so ‘voice discovery’ it is!

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Funnily enough, it was the weather! We had every type of weather thrown at us during the shoot, starting with scorching heat (a lot of the crew got sunburnt in the process!), and then ending with a torrential thunderstorm on the final day of filming. We were shooting the film’s ultimate battle scene at the time; it was Scene 17 in the script, and those two words strike fear into the crew’s hearts even now, because the weather was so severe that day.

We were filming in the woods, and it rained constantly between 6am and about 5pm: our set flooded, things threatened to blow away, the cast and their costumes kept getting soaked, and we feared for the camera kit. I actually had to cut the scene in half in order to get everyone off location quicker, but you can’t tell when you watch the film – annoyingly, the rain looks kind of beautiful in the final footage!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

We’re always a bit nervous when people watch our films, because we never know how they are going to react. We always hope that they’ll like it. But my crew and I were really grateful for the kind of words of your audience, and we’re so glad that they enjoyed watching the film. Songbird’s music has been popular throughout its festival run (it won two awards before you kindly gave the film ‘Best Music’), so we were half expecting that your audience would enjoy that element of the film, but we were really touched by their comments about the film’s editing and its general aura as well.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

See question one.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

My favourite films are actually the ones I watch the least. The ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy made me want to make films in the first place, but I’ve probably only watched each film twice – I like those films to stick in the back of my mind like fond memories, so that they never grow old in the face of modern technology. That way they can stay perfect forever.

There are a lot of indie films I’ve watched multiple times – films like ‘500 Days of Summer’, ‘Breakfast Club’, ‘Empire Records’ etc are always great for a bit of easy viewing. I also used to watch ‘American Beauty’ every time I directed a film, usually the day before the shoot, to inspire me – and I watch ‘Stealing Beauty’ every summer, so that I can daydream about the Italian weather (it’s currently raining here in England, even though it’s June!)

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think it’s great. The layout is very user-friendly, and it’s great to have everything available to you in one place. The built-in press-kit function is also really useful; you know your film is going to be presented well to festivals, from the get-go. I’ve used other platforms in the past, but I can’t really fault Film Freeway (apart from the fact that there’s a few lower-quality festivals on there, but you get that everywhere).

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

It depends on my mood and what I’m doing at the time. I listen to music every day, and every time I hear a new song that I love, it gets played on repeat until I know it thoroughly. I’ve just done that with Hayley Heyndrickx’s ‘Untitled God Song’ and Lucy Rose’s ‘Nebraska’, if you need two examples.

Music is incredibly important to me, particularly when I’m in pre-production on a new short film. Tommy Draper and I create a playlist on Spotify or YouTube for every new film we’re writing, and that helps to set the tone and pace for our screenplays. It’s also very informative to try and imagine what kind of music each character would listen to. I then send that music to my actors, very shortly after I cast them, so that they can get in the same headspace.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

My team and I are in pre-production on two new films right now: a ‘Poison Ivy’ / Batman fan film (because she was a childhood hero of mine), and ‘Lepidopterist’, which is a gentle sci-fi film about a female scientist who smuggles a specimen out of a lab. We’re also in development on a fantasy thriller called ‘The Barn’ (working title), about a young man who abandons his ex-girlfriend when he discovers she is pregnant with his child; he then becomes trapped inside a magical building, which forces him to physically face his fears, with a new threat hidden behind every door. The Barn is one of our biggest projects to date, and it’s one which we’re really excited to get started on – we’re just in need of some extra investment before we can make it happen. You can find out more about all of these projects on the Triskelle Pictures website.

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