Sophie Black: The Story of “Songbird”‘s Crowdfunding Success

Last week filmmaker Sophie Black‘s crowdfunding campaign smashed through its target. I asked her to share the story of how Songbird, starring X Factor contestant Janet Devlin, raised its funds. And if you’re interested in contributing yourself, the campaign is still running here. Take it away Sophie…

In all honesty, I was dreading the thought of crowdfunding for Songbird. I’ve worked on more fundraising campaigns than I can count (for myself and on behalf of other directors) ever since the early days of the format. Back then, it still seemed unique and exciting, and it was a little easier to reach your goal. Nowadays, everyone and their dog seems to have a funding campaign, raising money for films, inventions, albums… even personal ventures such as holidays and weddings!

The market has become over-saturated, and it’s more likely that your campaign will get a reaction along the lines of ‘not another one!’ rather than the intrigued enthusiasm you’re looking for. I’ve seen a steady decline in the amount of funds I’ve been able to raise over the years; my most recent campaigns, for the films Ashes and Night Owls respectively, were only able to raise between £800 and £2000, and even those amounts came after a hard fight.

However, if you want to get a film made, and you can’t afford to finance it yourself, crowdfunding can be a lifeline. There are very few funding resources for independent films, particularly short ones, and when my traditional funding applications for Songbird all proved unsuccessful, I was left no choice but to face crowdfunding again.


For me, there was one condition to running another campaign; I wanted someone attached with a fanbase. It’s clear by now that the most successful campaigns have someone involved with a good online following – be it the lead actor or even a director with a decent level of buzz around them. Another independent filmmaker I know, Helen Crevel, recently raised over £5000 in a couple of weeks because she had Doctor Who star Colin Baker attached to her film. And I’m sure we all remember how well Zach Braff’s fundraising campaign went, starting a chain of big-name campaigns.

Janet Devlin was a name that came up early on in pre-production for Songbird. Writer Tommy Draper had her in mind during some of the first drafts of the film, and I’d also been a fan of her music for a while, so I was aware of certain similarities between her and the lead character of Songbird, Jennifer. She also has a beautiful singing voice, so we knew that the musical elements of the film would be in safe hands. But, creative reasoning aside, if you had to just look at the casting from a business perspective, Janet has a huge online following across Youtube, Twitter and other social media, and her fans are very vocal and proactive in their support of her work. For all these reasons and more, we are very, very lucky to have Janet on board – and from the moment she announced her involvement in Songbird, the amount of interest in the film doubled – as did the amount of followers on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page!

Even with those initial seeds sewn, myself and my team still launched the crowdfunding campaign with some trepidation. We had an early boost, as we were able to raise over £1000 within the first 24 hours. By the next day, we were on £1500… and then it stayed around that mark for about a week. An early sense of security was immediately replaced by doubt and fear, as well as emails from backers asking what would happen if we didn’t reach our target. There was always a certain amount we needed to raise in order to make the film, and as we’d set up our Indiegogo campaign to give us whatever funds we raised, even if it was too little, we were putting ourselves at risk of a fall.

Between myself and my core team, we had managed to raise a small amount of the budget ourselves before the campaign started (less than £1000) so we were able to drip-feed this into the campaign on and off in small amounts to keep it appearing active when we needed to. But we tried to keep the momentum going in other ways; as well as the standard social media posts morning, noon and night (the ‘bugging’ element of crowdfunding that no one really likes!), producer Laura Cann contacted relevant online magazines who might be interested in the campaign – fans of independent filmmaking as well as fantasy – and we both posted the campaign in relevant Facebook groups and forums.

We also maintained interest in the film by releasing new videos about it every time we hit a certain benchmark in our funding campaign (£500, £1000, £2500 etc). For added intrigue, we kept the title and content of each video secret until the subsequent one had been released. This was a technique director Neil Oseman and I first used during the post-production funding campaigns for Stop/Eject; it worked well then, and gave our followers some nice insights into the production, so I was keen to do it again. But there was one mistake we made back then that I didn’t learn from; once again, I didn’t get all of the videos ready ahead of the funding campaign. I did the first two/three, thinking we’d have plenty of time before the next target was reached. What happened next scuppered that plan…

Although the first surge of donations was unexpected, the people who donated were, to a degree, ‘accounted for’: they were people we knew, people who had supported our campaigns before, or film fans keen to find out more about a new film. These are your target audience for a standard fundraising campaign, and the type of people you usually expect (or rather, hope) will donate.

But behind the scenes, Janet’s fans had been slowly sharing the campaign page on social media, and the amount of ‘tweets’ and ‘mentions’ had grown steadily. Tommy helped aid this by making a list of people he noticed regularly shared Janet-related news, and he encouraged them by contacting them and thanking them, or by asking them directly to contribute. Janet and her team had also been working hard, not just behind-the-scenes but in effective public posts; as well as sharing her fans’ tweets, Janet posted a photo of herself writing the songs for Songbird, with a link to the campaign in the comments below. This gained more attention than any repetitive sharing of the campaign page alone would do.


Eight days into the Songbird campaign, we were stuck at around the £1500 mark still. I was producing a corporate shoot in the middle of a field that day, with minimal signal, so I didn’t pay much attention to my phone or the campaign. It didn’t seem overly active at the time. By the time I got signal again, we had nearly reached our target. We had suddenly had a surge of big donations – some in the £100s, as we had received on day one, but even a couple of £1000s. Two days later, we had not only reached our goal, but we had surpassed it by £2000. As I write this, the current total is just over £10,000. We asked for £7,500.

Getting more than you ask for isn’t all fun and games; it means that the cut Indiegogo (or whichever hosting site you use) will be much bigger, so you need to prepare yourself for that. Also, unless you double your budget, your new funds won’t be enough to boost every department of production, so you need to be clever about how you spend it. It can be good to think about things you didn’t have before, that you can now afford (most people forget to budget for post-production and festival entry fees in their initial budget. Going over target can enable you to think about that properly for the first time) rather than upgrading elements you already had. The other, final downside is that you need to be careful about where you put the money once it’s ready to be transferred; you can’t have amounts as big as £10,000 moving around your bank account without making sure its accounted for down the line!

But, these minor inconvenient truths aside, my team and I are of course ecstatic about having smashed our goal. We’re beyond-words grateful for all the support we have received so far. We went from being rejected for funding to raising 134% of our budget within a fortnight. And, with the unpredictable nature of crowdfunding, all I can say in conclusion is that it’s down to three things: 1) having a popular name in the lead role, 2) my core crew working damn hard every day, and 3) a good old dollop of flukey good luck on the end. Having Janet’s fan base behind us is a privilege, but I like to think that personally keeping a good online presence and supporting other independent filmmakers over the years might have given us a boost too, even if it was on a smaller scale. Because the first person who donates to your campaign – be them your friend, your colleague or even your Mum – is just as important as the person who takes you over your target.

Sophie Black: The Story of “Songbird”‘s Crowdfunding Success

Designing Amelia’s Letter

Amy Nicholson
Amy Nicholson. Photo: Colin Smith

Production designer Amy Nicholson is no stranger to period settings and low budgets. I spent all of last September in France lighting her impressive work, so when I came to crew up Amelia’s Letter, she was the only person I considered to create the script’s four distinct periods. I’ve asked her to share her experiences of the design process on this demanding short film. 

I met Neil as a DOP on The First Musketeer, a rather intense but wonderful project. He instantly won my respect and acclaim with consistently superb lighting, a real appreciation for prop details and generally being a nice guy to work with. [Neil quietly slips Amy a tenner.] So when he approached me about designing Amelia’s Letter which he would be directing, I couldn’t help but say yes, despite a recent promise to myself not to take on any more freebies.    

Amelia (Georgia Winters) in 1903
The eponymous Amelia (Georgia Winters) and her equally eponymous letter, in 1903

The script filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. On the one hand it was my dream job with four different time periods (including my favourite, 1930s) and a gothic style, but on the other hand the level of art required to do this project was massive.

The original budget set by the production wouldn’t cover the acquisition of the named props let alone any effective dressing. Luckily for me they listened to my cause and agreed to increase the figure to a point my most optimistic budget might stretch to. This was fantastic but of course still set me up on my biggest challenge ever! 

Barbara (Tina Harris) in 1939
Barbara (Tina Harris) in 1939

I was part of early conversations and visits to locations, and with Neil agreed what could work best.  This collaboration between a director and production designer is fantastic and really builds the strength and vision of a piece. The chosen location was a little semi derelict cottage at Newstead Abbey. The architecture was stunning and although the worn state and small size of the building would present big challenges, the opportunity to do whatever we wanted and really transform the main room for each time period was incredible. 

Charles (Francis Adams) in 1969
Charles (Francis Adams) in 1969

The main focus of the design and plot revolved around a period desk. Therefore it was important to get this piece right and plan all other design factors around this key item. I spent days searching for the right one, regularly sending images back and forth to Neil for an opinion. I wouldn’t normally bug a director in this way but the desk really had to support the action and shots effectively, so was crucial. I was pleased to learn that Neil was of the opinion that in this case the look of something was more important than the true accuracy of period, so this gave me a little flexibility. I eventually found the perfect piece, a 1909 roll top desk. The age and style was ever so slightly too modern but the detail and quality of wood far outweighed the five years of inaccuracy. Unfortunately the desk was 150 miles away and featured quite a bit of damage. So a road trip to collect the desk and some renovations by my dad ensued. Dad also constructed a bespoke locking drawer needed for the action. This proved a great deal of effort but worth it to get the right piece. 

There were a few other items I had to buy, including a 1930s radio, but on the whole I was able to source everything else from my personal prop store and generally doing a bit of beg, steal and borrow from friends, family and the crew. I also befriended a local antique shop and was able to hire many dressing items really cheaply. Having many sources in this way really makes a budget stretch but always involves a lot of time spent collecting, sorting and returning.

Choosing paint colours should have been quite easy but the best colours are always the most expensive and with four colours required in just three days it took careful consideration. Neil and I agreed a pallet of colours which would look good on camera and distinguish each period. He requested that the colours get bolder throughout to suit the narrative, but on a practical front this also ensured only a single coat was needed on the walls, saving time and money. I bought patterned rollers to achieve an easy wallpaper effect for both 1903 and 1969. This was a new toy for me and proved a fantastic effect that I will certainly be using again. 

Some of the present day set dressing
Some of the present day set dressing

On set I had a superb team to support with all the redressing. It was like 60-minute makeover each time we transformed to a new period and I was so impressed and grateful that all the crew got involved at some point to help us out. Once each transformation was complete the cast and crew consistently let out a genuine ‘wow’ making the art team feel very proud. 

I was truly pleased with each of the sets and it was really special seeing them combined with some effective costume design by Sophie Black, impressive lighting by Alex Nevill and intense actor performances. I can’t wait to see the finished film, as I’m confident it will be something of beauty!

Visit Amy’s website at

For the latest updates on Amelia’s Letter, like the Facebook page. The film is produced by Sophia Ramcharan of Stella Vision Productions.

Designing Amelia’s Letter

The Making of Henry

Guest blogger Katie Lake tells the story of how Henry Otto, the marionette star of The One That Got Away, came into this world. Click here to watch the film and please tweet about it to help us make the competition shortlist.

1. The head
1. The head

It started as a whim, a crazy idea. I have wanted to do a puppet film with Neil for a while. But if I couldn’t make a puppet, there would be no puppet film. No pressure.

I started with his head. I wound newspaper around metal wire that would become his controls, then covered the newspaper ball with a layer of air-drying clay, shaping his head, and face. I did a test with lights to see if I liked the shape I got (1). 

2. Body, hands, arms and legs
2. Body, hands, arms and legs

I then made his body. This started out as a toilet roll tube, covered in papier-mâché, and his arms and legs were rolled up newspaper “beads”. I then painted them beige, and sculpted hands using more clay over wire. I fit the legs and arms with wire, and before I put him together this was how he was looking (2). I liked the big head, spindly legs and long arms. So together he went. 

I made the start of a neck, and then painted his face. He now had an expression, a look, a character. I (hesitantly) fell in love with Henry when I first sculpted his head and face, but was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to do him justice with paint. Thankfully I was pleased with the results. And this is when I knew the name swirling around in my head, was the name he was going to be. There is something about him that reminds me of my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, so Henry is sort of an homage.

3. Strung up, with trousers
3. Strung up, with trousers

He then needed some clothes. Despite, or maybe because of my costume background, deciding what clothes to make for him was by far the hardest bit. In the end we decided jeans were a good place to start. I drafted a pattern in cloth, then altered it, and cut them out of an old charity shop skirt. I also gave him some hand stitched details around the waist. I temporarily strung him up, and tested out what we could get him to do. This was also his first camera test (3).

4. Hat
4. Hat and sweater

It was now that we realised he needed lateral head controls (one on either side of his head so we could make him look left and right). Oops. I attached lateral controls to the outside of his head as I didn’t want to risk drilling, so he now needed a hat or wisps of hair to hide the wire. He also needed a top, and boots.

4. Boots
5. Boots

Enter Jo Henshaw, who kindly offered to come and help out. She helped finalize costume design decisions, and made him his cute beanie (out of an old sleeve) and started his sweater (out of an old sweater) (4).

I made boots (out of more toilet roll tubes cut and bent, glued into shape and then papier-mâchéd, and then painted black) (5). I should also mention stop-motion animator Emily Currie, another helpful volunteer, who used her expertise to ensure the lateral controls stayed put.

6. The finished puppet
6. The finished puppet

Henry’s sweater was then sewn onto him, covering the multiple pieces. I kept the arms separate for greater movement. I finished him off with braces made out of old shoe laces, made buttons out of clay which I painted brown, sewed a patch onto his arm from an old scrap and aged his costume with some brown and black paint.

Lastly I strung him up using extra strong navy thread. The T bar I made using a piece of flat doweling, some screw eyes (upcycled from old curtain rings) and nails to make the cross bars removable. And Henry was ready for his debut (6).

You can visit Katie’s blog at To find out what Henry’s up to, why not befriend him on Facebook?

Tomorrow I’ll look at the camera and lighting techniques used to shoot the film.

The Making of Henry

Sophie Black’s Guide to the Cannes Short Film Corner: Part 2

The Short Film Corner at Cannes
The Short Film Corner at Cannes

In part one of this guide, filmmaker Sophie Black explained exactly what you get when you pay your 95 Euros to submit your short to Le Court Métrage at the Cannes Film Festival. Today she takes us through what happens in practice and what you can do to promote your film while attending the festival. Over to you, Sophie…

From the start, as soon as your submission goes through successfully, you are part of the SFC [Short Film Corner] mailing list, and the regular emails not only give you lists of lectures and contact details for the short film buyers, but give you temporary access to Cinando (an online database/catalogue where you can contact many industry professionals who will be useful to your career) along with other tips for a successful Cannes, so use all of these to your advantage if you can. Cannes will also share your details with other related parties, many of whom have clearly paid them to do so, which will result in a little spam.

Amongst this spam are emails from various PR companies wanting to promote your film. But it is a costly £400+ for these services, many of which just involve promoting the film through social networks, and emailing people to tell them to go and watch your film, which you can easily do yourself (although it may sound better coming from a PR firm).

Sophie's Ashes poster (top right) has a brief stint on the SFC banner.
Sophie’s Ashes poster (top right) has a brief stint on the SFC banner.

Due to PR costs, the majority of SFC applicants ignore said emails and choose a DIY approach to marketing their films. This way, however much or little you do is up to you – the minimum being just putting up a poster and hoping people will be inspired to go and watch your film (if your poster is still up and not covered by other peoples’ by the second day). It also means that every time you go to the Corner, you are met by a flurry of bright-eyed young things, all of whom think their film is great and who want you to go and see it. 

The real challenge is to branch out into other areas of the festival, and persuade people with money and power to leave their ritzy pavilion (and free drinks all-day-round, for bearers of certain passes) and come and queue in a hot room underground to view your film. But if you impress them enough, and network well, it can happen, and the results of this will be much more helpful to you in the long run.

It’s also important to think outside the box to get you and your film noticed at Cannes. I hammer on about this all the time, but you really can’t go with the flow. During the much-treasured Jane Campion lecture at the SFC, she encouraged us all to write down a question for her on pieces of paper, and put these into a hat. One clever girl wrote her question on the back of a postcard-sized poster of her film, and handed this in. Cue Jane Campion noticing the poster amongst all the blank white paper, and taking the time to study it. This small gesture is one of the cleverest things I saw at Cannes this year, and it left me with the irritating feeling of “I wish I’d thought of that!”

Although I did promote my film Ashes, and inspired a few people to go and watch it, my main reason for going down to the Corner was to meet with the people who might actually want to distribute it. I learnt something from all of these meetings although they ranged from genuine interest to an actual no-show. (Rule number one about arranging meetings: make sure you actually make contact with the person you’re meeting beforehand, even via email, and not just with their assistant – who isn’t even in Cannes this year!)

The Buyers Corner
The Buyers Corner

The designated meeting rooms looked a bit like the lobby in an accountant’s office, complete with random film-noir blinds, and the blank walls everywhere left room for your creativity to shine if you let it. During my meetings I not only had mini Ashes posters left, but also a set of promotional stills in my press kit, so I laid all these out before one distributor had arrived, and it gave him a full presentation of the film straight away. I definitely recommend doing this for your meetings if you’re left waiting for any length of time beforehand; what’s even more important is to make sure you have a copy of the film and trailer on you – if you don’t have a tablet or laptop, you should at least have it on your phone! Basically, these people are buyers, and you need to prove that you have a product to sell, and that you’re not just “all talk”.

With my mind clearly fixed on meetings and networking, I chose not to book out the screening room, although I did attend a good screening and recommend you do the same (if nothing else, you get to see what the screening rooms look like, and see if it’s somewhere you’d like to have your films played). The on-demand service gives your film more chances to actually be seen. You also get daily statistics emails saying how many times your film has been watched – along with contact details for who watched them, so you can chase these up for feedback and to create potential collaborations/work. Although, with thousands of other films out there, even having your film played 20 times on the system is not as good as having one screening and shoving 30 people in there (although I suppose it does depend on the viewer).

Also, a big thing to remember whilst you’re soaking in the sights and the sun, is that you’re not just representing yourself out there. Photos and souvenir mementos aren’t just things to make your parents proud – with your film you carry the name of everyone who worked on it with you, and you can’t help but think how much a screening of the film at Cannes would mean to your cast and crew. But, at the same time, a successful distribution deal or further festival acceptances will probably mean a great deal more. In the end, you have to do what is best for your own film, and plan your Cannes strategy around personalised rules, using everyone else’s experiences as your guidelines.

Find out more about Sophie and her work on her blog at and her website

Sophie Black’s Guide to the Cannes Short Film Corner: Part 2

Sophie Black’s Guide to the Cannes Short Film Corner: Part 1

Sophie Black with AD Chris Newman (left) and myself at the Ashes premiere
Sophie Black with AD Chris Newman (left) and myself at the Ashes premiere in London

Last month filmmaker Sophie Black, producer of my short Stop/Eject and director of the brilliant, dark fantasy-drama Ashes, attended the Cannes Film Festival and market for the first time. (Watch our vlogs from the festival here.) She entered Ashes into the Short Film Corner, an area of the festival which many filmmakers don’t fully understand until they’ve attended it themselves. So, if you’re making a short and aiming for the Corner next year or further down the line, let Sophie explain exactly what it is.

Let me start with an uncomfortable fact. You may have made an absolutely stunning short film – you may have rented the best camera your budget can afford, and even got a named actor in a small or voice role. But it is still near-impossible to get your film into the Cannes Film Festival.

There were no British films “in Competition”, “out of Competition” or in the “Un Certain Regard” category this year – although two British films made it into the “Director’s Fortnight” section of the festival – and there was a similar absence of Brits in the official short film selections as well. Taking into account the amount of people who undoubtedly submitted their short films from this country, many of which I’m sure were wonderful, you can see how difficult it is to get your film into Cannes.

The Short Film Corner
The Short Film Corner

But, for the thousands of short film makers who receive the dreaded rejection email, Cannes offers a lifeline – the Court Metrage (or Short Film Corner), a “meeting place dedicated to short film professionals”.

When Ashes (then still a work-in-progress) didn’t make it into the official selection, I took this lifeline without fully researching what the SFC actually is, basically wanting any way to get the Cannes logo on my film’s poster (which is the biggest appeal of the SFC, although the logo you’re allowed to use from there is simple, blocky and sadly laurel-free). The submission process for SFC is decidedly easier than the Official Selection – you upload your film to them rather than sending off a DVD copy, and as long as it plays well and you pay the (somewhat pricey) entry fee, you get a confirmation email pretty much straight away. Which causes a bit of a “jump for joy” moment, I can tell you – particularly if you don’t have Java script and have to spend an evening or two installing it to make the online submission system work first!

Le Palais des Festivals. Photo: Sophie Black
Le Palais des Festivals. Photo: Sophie Black

The SFC website doesn’t exactly spell out what it is; it is worded with strong adjectives to make it sound like a professional, esteemed experience when all you really want is bullet points and dumb language to tell you exactly what you get for your money. So here is what you get:

  • Your film will be available on the Cannes SFC database and is viewable on selected computers, all of which are in booths at the Short Film Corner, in the basement of the Palais des Festivals. Sort of like a Vimeo service, but not open to the public. But there are always big queues to this section, so if you want to find a computer which is free, come first thing in the morning (when everyone else is still hungover from the parties).
  • There is a public area leading up to the booths where you can stick up the film’s poster, as well as racks for flyers and postcards, to attract passers-by to come into the booths. But, as I discussed in my recent blog post, it can be quite difficult to get your poster in there – and even more difficult to get it to stay there!
  • There are “three screening rooms available to you” – which is how the website phrases it without further explanation. Basically there are three enclosed cubicles (of varied size, with varied numbers of chairs, none of which fit more than about forty people at a squeeze) all of which are painted black inside with a personal cinema-sized screen, and a projector linked up to a laptop with the Cannes SFC database (the Vimeo service again) on it. These rooms are shared between every filmmaker with an entry in the SFC, and you need to book it if you want to screen your film there. You can book on the day rather than planning it in advance, but this leaves you less time to persuade people to come. Also, these cubicles get ridiculously stuffy, prompting anyone in there to want to leave before your (optional) post-film Q&A even starts.
  • There is a bar in the public area, with free strong espresso in the morning – the brand depends on who is sponsoring the festival that year – and a happy hour with free alcohol around teatime. Ask at the information desk about different types of happy hour because there was a Mexican-themed one on an evening we missed (although it was only the drinks which were themed, not the attire). Coming to the SFC during happy hour is a good time to meet people and network because it’s always packed, with people from other areas of the festival coming along for the free drinks, although it can get hot and difficult to move. And the beer always goes first.
  • There are certain lectures held only in the SFC area. As members, you are emailed a list of these in advance, including ones which you have to book for because places are limited (such as pitching sessions to industry professionals for feedback, and lectures on funding). But with some talks, you just have to queue up and arrive early to make sure you get a seat – including a talk with one of my favourite directors, Jane Campion, which we learnt about two hours in advance due to word-of-mouth in a queue for a stuffy cubicle screening.
  • Most importantly, there is a separate area next to the screening booths called the Buyers Corner, where people who genuinely buy short films come and meet with you. You will have to book meetings well in advance (although we did try leaving notes for some buyers we couldn’t get hold of in advance), but again, you will be given a list of buyers and contact details via email when your submission goes through. If you are attending Cannes for business rather than pleasure, as I was, then this is your most important asset. But if you are a first-timer, or if you have not dealt with these people before, expect to be treated somewhat differently than those they greet with a “hello again, you!” and a hug. Those people will be given coffee while they wait; you will be lucky to be offered water. And sometimes, you may just get stood up.
  • Finally, as with any submission to the Cannes festival, you are given a free festival pass, which you wear everywhere to access the rest of the festival (although priority access is given to those with gold strips on their passes, whereas yours is silver). This is worth submitting for – even if you don’t visit the SFC at all, you get to see screenings (if you can get in) and network in the pavilions and marketplace. In fact, if you want a cheap way to get into Cannes, submit a film to the SFC – which, as I said, has a minimal selection process – and get a pass for around £70 rather than £250! [Note: you can get a free festival pass if you apply early enough and can prove you are active in the film industry. – Neil] You also get a souvenir Cannes shoulder bag and a load of booklets, brochures and magazines with your submission – although some of these are in French and it all soon gets heavy as you cart everything round from place to place.

That’s what you get included in your submission price, but your Cannes experience is what you make of it, and the possibilities are endless.

In part two we’ll hear about those possibilities and how everything above works in practice once you get off the plane at Nice. Find out more about Sophie and her work on her blog at and her website


Sophie Black’s Guide to the Cannes Short Film Corner: Part 1

Retro Librarian

Katie on The Dark Side of the Earth
Katie on The Dark Side of the Earth

Today we have a special guest blog from Stop/Eject‘s costume designer, Katie Lake. She’s going to explain how the costume vision for Alice, a.k.a. The Shopkeeper, has changed since we originally geared up for shooting last October.

The shopkeeper for Stop/Eject has changed pretty drastically since the first draft. Originally an old man, the character is now being played by a woman. To get across the idea of her being old, Neil (the director) originally liked the idea of Victorian costumes after the actress wore Victorian-esc clothes to the auditions. It probably also had to do with the fact we filmed a pilot set in the Victorian era and hashed through enough costume options together to have the Victorian era etched permanently into our brains. But having a little extra time to mull over the character and how to portray Neil’s imagining of the character through costume, I became fixated on the idea of a 40s/50s librarian look.

Tiles in the shop location that we wanted Alice's costume to match with
Tiles in the shop location that we wanted Alice’s costume to match with

Neil wanted her to look like a shop keeper for a charity (thrift) shop, and so many of the women who volunteer at them seem to be themselves stuck in the 40s and 50s clothing wise. I also felt it fit better with the overall retro theme, and didn’t give too much away about the shopkeepers background (no spoilers so I’ll leave it at that!). After discussing it with Neil, we decided to go for the idea, and came up with a color palette as well. Neil was eager to have the costumes fit into the color scheme we’ve already picked for the film, as well as with these beautiful art nouveau tiles that line the shop we’re using as a set. Which were mustard yellow and olivey green. I knew I wanted to add browns, cream, tan, and maybe a splash of maroon to the palette. To get the 40s/50s look I knew I wanted wool plaid skirts, blouses and cardigans, short pearls, rounded-toe 1-2″ heels, and retro glasses would be a bonus.

Alice's watch and glasses
Alice’s watch and glasses

After gathering some reference photos on pinterest, I headed out to charity shops looking to see what I could find. After a few different searching days, I’d come up with a couple skirts, a pair of 40s looking trousers, a couple blouses and cardigans, a broach, some pearls, and a coat. After every shopping trip I’d lay the pieces out on the floor and mix and match them. The more things I found, the more the outfits would come together until there were just a few pieces missing. At that point I was able to figure out exactly what I was looking for to finish off the 4 looks. When you have specific items on your list, it’s much harder to find what you are looking for than when you had a general idea and color palette. Instead of looking for any wool skirt size 12 or larger (as long as it can be taken in) in greens, golden yellows, brown, tan or cream, I was now looking for a tan or light-medium brown colored wool skirt in a solid or subtle pattern. I was also getting pretty desperate for shoes. After realizing I am the same size as the actress (shoe sizes are different in the US and UK) and looking through my collection I found a suitable maroon pair, leaving me with only a saddle tan or navy pair to find. After searching numerous charity shops while paying a visit to the actress for fittings, we found the last skirt and navy shoes. A couple days later my ebay finds arrived- a nurses watch and retro glasses- finishing off my list.

Here are the photos from the fitting – the skirts have been pinned so I know where to shorten them too, and each has to be pulled in (that’s why they are looking a bit bulky)- so the look will be more streamlined once the alterations are done. I’ll also add the details, like nude stockings, the nurses watch, glasses hanging around her neck, and HMU will do wondrous things with her hair.

Next up I’ll do the alterations, organizing/cleaning/iron or steaming the costumes, and breaking down the costumes on paper (in an xls file) so I (or the actress) don’t have to remember what goes with what on the day (and in case I get sick or injured someone else will be able to fill in).

I’m also still working on the male lead’s costumes- as all but 3 of his costume pieces were returned last year, and with the additional costs of all the shopkeepers outfits, I now have to dress him with half the budget. Did I mention he was a hard-to-find size as well?

Visit Katie’s costume blog at www.katiedidonline/costumes for more on Stop/Eject and other projects.

Retro Librarian