Today, The Film Festival Doctor (Yes, she’s a real doctor!) Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith, will be exploring the process of filmmaking from the female perspective. To celebrate the completion of her latest short film PROXY below is an interview with one of her multi award winning clients Director Sophia Banks.
- Sophia welcome to my blog, its great to see you and I can’t wait to start questioning you about your filmmaking craft! Could you start by telling my reader a little bit more about yourself and your background?
Yes! I’d be happy to! My name is Sophia Banks, an Aussie Native and female filmmaker living in Los Angeles. I came here over ten years ago and knew this is where I wanted to be.
My background in the industry started with costume design. I always wanted to be a director but when going to school I was told I should “switch to the female departments” because I “could not lift heavy equipment”.
That was a different time and a different place and at the time, I felt deterred and did make a change during this period to the costume department.
It led me into a career in costume and fashion design that eventually led me to styling for top celebrities such as Pryanka Chopra, Shay Mitchel, Kylie and Kendalll Jenner and many more over the years. I then founded my own store, Satine, here in Los Angeles as well as created my own fashion line, Whitley Kros along with my fashion and business partner Marissa Ribisi.
It was a rewarding career but ultimately, I felt there was a part of my goals and desired left unfulfilled.
After 15 years in the design and fashion world, I decided to take a leap and become the director I’ve always wanted to be.
My breakout film was for Cristian Siriano, featuring Skater Girls shredding down the moody streets of Downtown L.A. while wearing high-fashion couture gowns. That film was later featured in Vogue, went on to win awards in the festival circuit and established my voice as a female in the industry today: we can be feminine and powerful (and just as good as the boys, too).
I then went on to direct commercials for top brands including Pepsi, Kendall & Kylie Jenner, Nestle, Target and many more over the years. However, my real passion is working in the VFX and Special Effects space, with an underlying obsession with all things Sci-Fi and I dove into my first major short film project, “Unregistered”, starring Trevor Jackson and Dylan Penn. I also recently applied that same passion and background in the VFX space on my recent film “Proxy”, starring Emma Booth and Erika Christensen, where I am currently working with Christoph Roth, award winning VFX Supervisor who worked on The Lion King, Guardians of the Galaxy and many more-who I am fortunate to work with now.
- We are currently working with you on your incredible short UNREGISTERED which launched at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and then went on to screen at over 20 festivals worldwide picking up plenty of wins on the journey – how long did it take to get that project off of the ground and into production?
I feel like Unregistered was a process for me, especially one of learning and growth as a director. It took about a year to really get the project off of the ground with the time we invested into creating the script, to finding the right team including DP Paul Cameron as well as securing locations and post production. I was lucky to work with Ivy Agregan in post for Unregistered on VFX and Special Effects. Another amazing female in the industry. We created over 300 Visual/Special effects for Unregistered which was the bulk of the work for us – the shoot itself was a 6 day shoot. We completed by Sept 2018 and premiered at Tribeca in April of 2019.
- What were the highlights of shooting UNREGISTERED?
The whole process was amazing. I was working with Erin Dignam, who I met on the set of Wim Wenders movie, and I was able to go watch him film on the set. She wrote the project “Unregistered” with me and helped me attract major talent such as: Trevor Jackson and Dylan Penn.
I also met Kim Winther on that same set experience, who came on to help me produce and also introduced me to Paul Cameron, our incredible DP.
Working with these experienced and talented individuals allowed me to grow as a Director. It helped me become better and learn.
Working with Paul Cameron was particularly special. He shared my creative vision for the film and he and I created a brand new technology that had never been done before: a practical way of shooting a Virtual Reality “world”. With the help of PRG North America, that vision came to life and I was thrilled to have been a part of that: https://vimeo.com/325066532
Cal Loucks was such an amazing production designer, she helped me build out the world and create something so beautiful.
My amazing actors, Trevor Jackson and Dylan Penn were so talented and brought something special to this film, really bringing it to life and making it what it was.
Ivy Agregan, the VFX producer and Ingenuity who created the VFX is another amazing female in this industry, one that I learned so much from on Unregistered and on so many more projects.
- And what challenges did you face shooting UNREGISTERED?
The time and budget – a story I think is true of all shoots, no matter the budget or size. We had 6 days to get it all shot, which meant not a lot of opportunity to spend time on takes: fast blocking and not too long of rehearsal time as well.
We had to make quick decisions, and having to really know what I was shooting-lots of preparation. Also, because it was a short there are only limited things one could get within a 15 minute film. There were things I had to let go, like I wanted it to finish with a big action sequence but we didn’t have a chance to get it done. It’s give and take.
- What is the hardest thing about working as a female director in Los Angeles?
Initially, getting my foot into the door was a challenge. I had an extensive and successful background as a designer and in the world of fashion, which was an interesting transition. I think once I promoted and continued to get my work seen and out there in the film world, I met more and more like-minded people who shared my vision. It was no longer a conversation about the fact that I was a woman that was holding me back from getting to work on projects that I wanted to, it was really the lack of just getting that work out there and known to people who didn’t know who I was. That’s a huge difference to the way things were 15 years ago. People are hungry for female and diverse directors but you have to get it done first and get it out to anyone who will listen to you.
- What is the best thing about working as a female director in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is a hub for so many things, including the film, fashion and design industries. When I moved to the U.S.A. I lived in New York City for the first few years and although I loved it for the fashion and art scene, I knew that I needed to end up in LA to be involved in the ever-booming film industry. It made it that much more exciting when I did break into directing because I had so many resources at my fingertips and a large network of women in film already established that I could turn to and network with.
- Clearly you are a visionary director – who are your inspirations?
Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Tony Scott, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. These are true masters of their craft and Directors that I am constantly finding myself referencing.
- We are super excited to be working with you again on your new short film PROXY – could you kindly tell my reader more about this film and the inspiration behind it?
I am thrilled to work with you on Proxy and we have just finished the Visual Effects portion of post-production with my incredible VFX Supervisor, Christoph Roth (Gaurdians of the Galaxy, The Lion King).
This project is a story that Dominick Joseph Luna came to me with, the idea that in Japan, people have been using “actors” to stand in for people they felt was missing from their life. A new kind of “role playing” but for everyday scenarios.
Being a lover of all things sci-fi, I became enthralled in this concept: what would a world look like if everyone employed a Proxy?
Emma Booth, fellow Australian and incredibly talented actress became attached, followed by big on-screen talents such as Erika Christensen, Marcus Coloma, Shaw Jones and Madison Mason.
Dominick and I decided that this was a great short film concept that we could later develop into a feature and he wrote the script, which was then Produced by Banks Films with my team of Producers Jessica Bradham and David O’Donnell.
We put together an amazing crew of people including DP Joshua Reis, Art Director Rene Navarette, Hair and Makeup Artist Nana Fischer and our Wardrobe Stylist Angela Hadnagy. All of them were extremely passionate about the project’s success, which shines through, throughout the film.
For post-production, we have been fortunate to not only work with Christoph, but we have worked with Billy Rich who edited the film, Tyler Roth from Company 3 for Colour Grading, Tai Vare for the sound design and James Burkholder is composing.
- Has the impact of COVID-19 affected you as a filmmaker?
Prior to COVID-19 I had seen what would look like my biggest year yet: 10 commercial spots shot from January up until the March ‘Stay in Place’ shelter orders. I had another 4 commercials lined up, all requiring travel of some form or another. It has certainly been an interesting time, to say the least.
Although those projects are postponed until further notice, I have decided to see the silver lining in all of this and spend time developing our feature film projects and current Television projects that have also been in the works. I have seen this as an opportunity to grow and build on future projects.
- What other film projects do you have in the pipeline?
Currently, I am working with my agents at CAA on a number of feature films. I have also taken this opportunity to write and work with writers on various film and television projects, while developing Unregistered into a TV series. I also have a newly developed TV series; Evenge, which explores the concept of the power of social media amongst teens today.
Thank you so much Sophia for the insightful interview – your story is truly an inspiration!
….Coming Next Week – The ‘Stay At Home’ orders of the CV19 pandemic have helped a lot of creatives become extremely productive and an abundance of writing has occurred, resulting in completed screenplays. My next article will revolve around ‘What’s the Formula to Make a Great Festival Film?’ and you’ll find out that it all starts with the script…