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  • Writer's pictureSophie Black

The Summer Update 2024

[Above: Two exciting new additions to my wallet.]

Believe it or not, we have now gone past the halfway point of 2024. For those of you who didn't follow my previous blog, I like to give a little update on my work around this time every year, partly to stop my end-of-year blog posts from being too huge! But this year, in particular, an update is needed. Whereas 2023 felt like a bit of a throwaway year (apart from becoming a BAFTA Connect member, and my intense but wonderful experience directing Ren: The Girl With The Mark), 2024 has already been epic for me. So much so, I feel like I might be at an exciting turning point in my career - and in my personal life too.

There's a lot of news to share, so I'll start by breaking down the past six months, and I'll try to do so as succinctly as possible...

January was, in all honesty, a bit of a write-off. A beloved family member became seriously unwell, so my family all (gladly) banded around them, providing care and support for them but also for each other. Things improved, and it reminded me how lucky I am to be part of such a close and loving family. Career-wise, 2024 also started relatively slow; the aftermath of the 2023 WGA & SAG-AFTRA strikes was still being felt, with freelancers I know being out of work for months, and the cost of living crisis continued to reduce the marketing spend for client-focused branded content (more on that later). Everything felt a little dire.

By the end of the month, it's safe to say that I was in need of a cheer-up, so I decided to take myself down to London for an 'inspiration break'. Jo Lewis, a lovely producer I have a few projects in development with, took me out for dinner at BAFTA - which gave me an excuse to finally pick up my BAFTA Connect key card - and then I caught the 'Gothic' selection of shorts at London Short Film Festival. I haven't attended LSFF since Night Owls played there back in 2016, but the standard of films on show was as high as I remembered, and the screening left me so pumped up to get back to making new work. My highlights from that programme were Calf by Jamie O'Rourke (wow, what a film!), SHÉ (Snake) by Renee Zhan, Meantime by Guillaume Scaillet, and The Third Ear by Nathan Ginter.

[Above: A few highlights from the start of the year, including BAFTA HQ, LSFF, and the 'Hamlet' cast & crew screening.]

So I came back home to Derbyshire feeling refreshed, but little did I know that I'd be going down to London again a few days later, in February - and that's when the first truly incredible thing of the year happened...

My regular collaborator and friend Neil Oseman, who I last worked with on Ren, was also the DOP of Sean Mathias' cinematic adaptation of Hamlet, starring Ian McKellen. Knowing that I'm a massive Lord of The Rings fan, Neil kindly invited me along to the Hamlet cast and crew screening - and I got to meet Sir Ian himself! They say you should never meet your heroes, but he was completely charming. I shook his hand and thanked him for LOTR, and told him it was the reason I make films today, and he also shared an anecdote from the making of Rasputin. It was only a brief conversation (I posted a bit more about it on Threads), but it was still one of the greatest moments of my life, and I cannot express how much I needed that exchange during a time which was personally and professionally so difficult.

You'd think that that would've been the highlight of February, but at the end of the month, I got engaged! Because it was a leap year, I proposed to my perfect long-time partner, Edward Harvey, by hiding a ring in his Dominoes pizza box. To my delight and relief, he said yes. The ring was custom-made by the talented Clare of Bone Arrow, with a design that was cross between the Ring of Barahir (from LOTR) and classic Whitby Goth stylings, with mine and Edward's pets' initials engraved inside. It was the perfect mix of everything that made us us.

[Above left: Edward's LOTR-themed engagement ring by Bone Arrow. Above right: The Cohort of the first ever BFI NETWORK Midlands Director Lab.]

In March, I was lucky enough to be selected for the first ever BFI NETWORK Midlands Director Lab, where Film Hub Midlands hosted two days of industry talks and networking within Nottingham's Broadway cinema. The Midlands is one of the most under-funded regions in the UK, and there's very few opportunities for directors in particular, so it means a lot that the BFI have chosen to invest in this programme - and that I was part of its inaugural iteration. The guest speakers were top-standard industry representatives, and it was wonderful to share the experience with my fellow Midlands-based directing peers.

Then, after a brief but much-needed break in the middle of nowhere (for one of my best friends' 40th birthday), Ren: The Girl With The Mark Series 2 was released online, and I had a great time reuniting with my cast and crew on Zoom and Instagram Live to help promote that release. Thank you to everyone who has watched and commented on my episode already. We've had over 13,000 views so far! If you want to find out more about what went into the production, Neil also edited this fantastic mini making-of documentary.

[Above: with some of the cast from my episode of 'Ren: The Girl With The Mark', which was released online this Spring. Photo by Emma Barrott.]

And now we come to the biggest news of the year (as if all the above wasn't big enough!). As many filmmakers do, I spend a lot of time applying for things like workshops and funding opportunities, but I get a lot more nos than yesses. So when the National Film and Television School launched this year's Prime Video Directors Workshop, I obviously jumped at the chance to apply (I would've been mad not to), but because the standard was so high, and the numbers so competitive, I genuinely didn't expect to be selected. Well, I should've trusted my voice and experience more, because this is one dream that came true! I have been selected as one of only 6 directors on this year's cohort, to receive world class training at NFTS itself. This training will then be followed by the creation of a new short film, made through the programme, which I'm currently in the process of writing. It's all a bit of a 'pinch-me' moment!

The first part of the training took place in April, and because I'd foolishly convinced myself that I wouldn't be selected, I'd already booked a lot of jobs around that time; cue me working my bottom off to deliver client work during travel time and in the evenings after my training! I went straight from all that into the screening of A Different Place at the BIFA-qualifying Beeston Film Festival (their 10th anniversary edition). The following day was my 35th birthday, but I was so shattered that I spent pretty much the whole day in a catatonic state, watching old episodes of Keeping Up Appearances!

[Above: The cohort of this year's NFTS Prime Video Directors Workshop alongside 'Baby Reindeer' director Weronika Tofilska. Photo by our excellent course leader, Shakil Mohammed.]

But for the second part of my NFTS training, which was in June, I made sure my calendar was clear (apart from popping home to briefly film a conference for a client!). I relished every single moment of my training, which included visiting lectures from incredible working directors like Weronika Tofilska and Myriam Raja, a session which re-wrote everything I thought I knew about script writing from 20 years of making films, and workshops where I had to decide how I'd shoot big scenes from films such as Ex Machina and Se7en with actors I'd just met and minimal rehearsal time! (As someone who always preps to the nth degree, this was an eye opening experience for me - I realised that I can think on my feet and make quick decisions that still work well.)

As with the BFI NETWORK workshop in March, one of the greatest things about being on the NFTS scheme is my cohort. I've rarely met a group of people who are so talented but still really supportive of each other at the same time; it's like we all had five cheerleaders for our work, in every class and networking session. I can't wait to see how their films develop, as much as I'm excited to make my own. I'll say more about my film in the future, but for now I'll say that I'm really falling in love with it. This will be my 10th short film (!), and so I am going to pour everything I can into its creation. It's already feeling like a culmination of all my work that's come before, as well as the films I want to make in the future.

[Above: The photos from my time shadowing on the set of 'Sanctuary: A Witch's Tale' were recently released online]

So the NFTS Prime Video Directors Workshop is my juggernaut career news (it's one of the highlights of my career to date), but I still have a few more updates to share: back in May, around the time my short film Night Owls celebrated its 10th anniversary, I became a member of Cinesisters! They are an organisation I've admired from a far for a long time, always wanting to be a part of their collective, and it's such an honour to now see my name listed among so many directors I admire. Also in May, the article I wrote for Directors UK, about my time on their Inspire Programme, was released online - which meant I could finally share more about how incredible it was to shadow Justin Molotnikov (above) on the set of Sanctuary: A Witch's Tale in 2022. Sanctuary was released on AMC+ in January, and I'm going to be shadowing another director this August (I'll share more about that when I can), which I'm already really looking forward to.

And my previous short films continue to make me proud. After a wonderful festival run, Good Grief (which I co-produced) found its final home on YouTube, and A Different Place is still screening at festivals across the UK and further afield. At the end of June, we screened at The Short Cinema film festival, making its triumphant return post-Covid, and our fabulous lead actor Michelle Darkin Price did us proud by taking home yet another 'Best Performance' award! Next, A Different Place will have its North American Premiere at The Festival of Cinema NYC (who have kindly supported numerous films of mine in the past), and soon the film's producers and I will discuss our plans for the final release and distribution. Watch this space.

[Above: 'A Different Place' continued its festival run. Left: The team at Beeston Film Festival in April. Right: At The Short Cinema in June, where Michelle took home a trophy!]

Overall, the first half of this year has been filled with adventure and joy, and I am so grateful for the way things have taken shape. But it hasn't all been smooth sailing - far from it. As I alluded to at the start of this blog post, the financial crisis is really taking its toll, and as the owner of a production company, I have just completed my most challenging trading year since the pandemic. But I worked hard and managed to stay afloat, and I know that there are people out there who are struggling more than I am. This country isn't as respectful of arts-based businesses as it should be, and I see this reflected in everything my clients and collaborators are going through right now. The wonderful Derby Festé announced a hiatus; Towersey Festival have revealed that, after an amazing 60 years, this summer's event will be their last - and many more UK festivals have had to make similar difficult choices; even Derby QUAD, a local cultural hub for many of us, have released this statement about their struggles. It means a lot when clients continue to work with me when their businesses go through times of uncertainty and change (shout out to artist Sabrina Ward Harrison for commissioning me to edit this very personal and brave film), and I am starting to see things pick up now, with some exciting new client work booked for the second half of the year. Furthermore, the UK has just elected a brand new Government; time will tell how well our new Prime Minister will deliver on his promises, but I am cautiously optimistic. Whatever happens next, change is here.

[Above: Filming a conference for Beat SCAD, directly in-between my June block of training at NFTS (hence why I look a bit tired and disheveled!). Photo by Ian Cudmore of I C Things.]

It's been an equally difficult time to get narrative projects funded, but as always I've been using all my free time, usually at weekends, to apply for any opportunities that come around. My production company, Triskelle Pictures, and Jo Lewis' company, Hipster Films, have two animated films - Contamination and Branwen - and one VR project in collaborative development, and I'm also currently attached to produce Leanne Davis' next short film A Thousand Tiny Cuts, as well as continuing to pursue my long-term passion projects as a writer-director, Night Owls & Early Birds, Tokos, and The Barn. That's a lot of plates to have spinning in the air at once, and hopefully one of them will land soon. In the meantime, I am so grateful to have my NFTS & Prime Video short to focus on, even if it means taking a chance on my career and investing my time on it during a risky economic landscape. I already know it's going to be worth it.

I'll leave things there for now, before this blog post gets any longer. By the end of the year, I should have more news to share regarding my NFTS & Prime Video Short, my next shadowing gig, new client work, and lots of other bits. I'm also still actively looking for representation, so I'm going to keep searching for that in the coming months. But for now, it's time for me to get back to work, juggling client edits with the next script draft for NFTS. To whoever is reading this, wherever you are, I hope this unstable year is starting to get a little brighter for you - and that the unpredictable summer weather will continue to do the same!

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