Sarah Cox
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Sarah Cox

BAFTA-winning Mother of Many, Emma Lazenby, produced by Arthur Cox

BAFTA-winning Mother of Many, Emma Lazenby, produced by Arthur Cox

Sarah Cox, of ArthurCox, produced this year’s BAFTA winning animated short, Mother of Many.

Congratulations on the BAFTA…

Thank you very much. Though technically it’s not my BAFTA – I haven’t got the best man! It’s an ArthurCox Film but Sally (Arthur) produced it and Emma Lazenby directed it. So it’s theirs.

But ArthurCox being my company – it’s a BAFTA, yes! It felt brilliant. I had a sneaking suspicion that we had a chance because we were up against Gruffalo which everyone was kind of going, “Oh yeah– Gruffalo’s going to get it.” But I kind of thought we might just because there’s something uniquely genuine in Emma’s film.

And it’s an animation for adults…

Yes that’s true. And I think it won because – well, I still watch it and it makes me cry. It’s something to do with the soundtrack – real people talking about having real babies – there’s something that you just can’t get across in any other way there.

When did you set up Arthur Cox?

December 2002.

Well I was a director at Picasso Pictures doing commercials, and I’d been doing a film for Channel 4 called Plain Pleasures. I wanted it to look like a Edward Hopper painting and so I did some Photoshop images of what I wanted it to look like and then realised I couldn’t technically do that because I didn’t know how to use After Effects or anything. Someone put me in touch with Sally because she knew how to use After Effects, and we worked really well together on that.

And then Channel 4 asked us to work on a project called Wilde Stories – they wanted a very similar technique, so Sally and I teamed officially. It wasn’t that we’d dreamt of running our own animation company – it just kind of happened.

How did you find the shift to doing more producing?

Well, I suppose that happened, but we didn’t really call it producing because we were just doing jobs that got commissioned and we just did them without a producer. We were producing but we didn’t really know what producers did when we started. So we just did everything.

Looking back, might having a producer have made a difference?

It would have, but really honestly, we couldn’t find one that fitted in! I think that’s probably our fault because we were both complete control freaks and quite bossy and difficult to work with!

You’re in Bristol – does it matter not being in London anymore?

For about a year after we moved out I think we had a real dip in profits – so much so that somebody from the tax office had enquired about it – they thought we’d stopped trading or something. But actually, Sally was finishing her film Perfect, and we weren’t really doing any commercials. It took a while to adapt, but I’d been at college with Luis Cook from Aardman. We didn’t really approach Aardman but we went in to see Luis a few times and then they asked if  they could represent us as a company – almost as a commercial director except we were a company. So they kind of took us on as a brand really, as a directing team. And that saw us through quite well. We’re still doing that now and often it’s jobs that are too little for them to be able to do.

While you’ve been developing your own roster of directors independently?

Yes, so we’ve taken quite a few people from UWE and Newport – quite local animation courses – like Matthew Walker and Felix Massie, both from Newport, and Thomas Malins from UWE. They’ve come as trainees and then become directors in their own right.

Arthur Cox has done a wide range of stuff – commercials, campaign films and then you and your directors do personal projects. How has that worked?

It’s worked in different ways, depending on how tight the funding is and how structured. When I did Heavy Pockets for S4C there was a vague deadline but not an enforced one. And so I worked on commercials – one for Dasani that we worked nearly a year on – shooting live action in Paris and a huge production. Then Sally was doing a film for Digital Shorts which by then had tightened up the delivery requirements, so she focused on that and I ran commercials.

There’s a lot of give and take in a partnership – and that must follow through into how you work with your directors?

I think we’ve been very lucky – choosing people who have been very loyal and working for us quite a long time on very low budget things. Then what we do in return is push their films to festivals. So Arthur Cox is kind of a cumulative brand, there’s a sense it’s a place where talent may be.

How is your portfolio of work changing?

Mother of Many, the film that we just produced for Emma, is very much our established style. But Sally now has left the company to have a second baby so I’ve been doing more proper producing, and working on longer format, more conceptual pieces. I’ve been working on archive footage projects and the Tate Movie, which is a big year-long project. So more big scale projects –  thinking more about the audience and the concept and less about the technique and the design.

But still doing commercials?

Yes, but phasing that out – only because the big projects have taken over all my time. We’ve got a new director, George Sanders Jackson, who is doing things for the Soil Association and Sustain. So they’re kind of commercials but even that’s getting to be more like web branding, branded content.

So you’re becoming an ethical brand as well.

I think all the people that we work are ethical! And we’ve got two things going on – comedy with Matt and Felix, and to some extent me and Emma. And then a kind of ethical thing – that’s Emma and George and to some extent me. So we’ve got comedy and ethics going on at the moment!

I’ve never thought of your own films as being comedies?

No, you’re right.

Don't Let It All Unravel, Sarah Cox

Don't Let It All Unravel, Sarah Cox

You’ve consistently made your own work, since leaving the RCA, and I wonder what you’d say your abiding themes and interests are?

I ask myself this. I think it’s – I think Don’t Let it All Unravel summed up something, in that the concept and the technique and the format – everything was all of one thought. And how it had to be knitted wool to explain that concept, because it was about unravelling. It’s about concepts more than technique.

You’ve used lots of different techniques…

But I think the concept has been the driving force.

Another thing I was thinking is how through your experience working in the industry you seem to have got acquainted with all kinds of new techniques and software and stuff that you then apply in your own work that that makes it look not commercial…

Somehow I manage to make everything look home made!

But yes, at the moment, with the archive project I’m doing, I’m using an iPhone application which is something I’ve no idea actually how to programme, but which I’ve had to design. I thought they’d just do all of that and they didn’t! They kind of went, “Well, when are you going to send us the design.”  So I was like “Oh don’t you do that?  I have to do that?”

And I’ve designed the website – the first time I’ve designed a website – and that was traumatic enough and then I had to design the iPhone application too!

What’s the project?

It’s called A Time Traveller’s Guide to Bristol. Taking six specific locations in the centre of Bristol and finding all the archive film and photographs ever that I can get hold of, shot in that area and putting them on a timeline. So people will be able to go to the harbour and then be able to see Bristol Harbour in 1910, Bristol Harbour in 1930, and then even go into the future because there’s time travel. We did workshops with young people in Bristol – we showed them archive footage of the past, and asked them to go out taking photographs and shoot film of the present in each location.  And then asked them to come up with plans of what they’d like, or what they thought the future would be like. Using those drawings, a company called Pre-Construct are doing architectural visualisations to take these drawings and making a version of what these teenagers think Bristol should be like.

When will the App be out?

We’re doing the trial thing in May so if that goes well then it’ll probably be properly launched on the App Store in early July.

It’s interesting that you’re working with archives, because so much of your work has been reflective – on personal history’s and the past.

I’m not sure. Heavy Pockets, was based on the environment that I grew up in. And so the kids are quite horrible – it’s quite hard to express any kind of difference in that kind of white working class environment, and kids just beat the shit out – hammer out any difference – in you, and you have to be quite a brave person to take that on. So that was vaguely a personal theme and a personal history but it was more about the atmosphere of growing up than any specific event.

Dear Nelson and 3 Ways to Go. They’re intimate stories and about internal lives, aren’t they…

Yes, they are. Though 3 Ways to Go is more about my view of death and how people cope with that whilst not being in any way religious. How do you cope with that kind of inevitability and what are your thoughts – and playing with those ideas visually. So again that wasn’t about personal experience – more about a personal philosophy I suppose.

It’s more wide than deep; more like people think rather than what a particular person thinks.

And is that the same with the archive – you’re looking at people from another time who are suddenly recognisable as people but from somewhere else.

Yes. I really just love looking at archive footage. I can sit and watch it for hours and hours.

There’s an inherent sadness I think, because those people are dead.

But that’s not an aspect I really dwell on. Especially with the project I’m doing now, there’s all the future thing, and the fact that it’s on an iPhone is trying very much to use archive in a non nostalgic way – to and try and use it in a forward thinking, progressive way. You look at how a city was – it’s amazing that there’re no cars and all the bikes everyone has. And the streets are wider and everything looks amazing because people are cycling everywhere. And you show that to young people living in Bristol and they can see, “Oh it used to be like that, maybe it could be in the future.”

Having been an animator and creating images all these years, what’s it like working with images that you haven’t had to create?

Well, I’m still manipulating images that are there. I haven’t had to make them but I can do what I want pretty much – copyright permitting. But I’m also working in live action now, and working with actors is something that I’m quite nervous about I think. And working in such big teams – you don’t have complete and utter control over your image. I think I only really worked in animation because I wanted to control so much about the image and it wasn’t a love of animation particularly.  It was a way to make film that you could control all aspects of. And I think possibly being a woman, and not from a filmmaking background or environment, animation felt like a natural and easy way into filmmaking.

I still sometimes like animating but I just think it takes too long now and I’ve got too many ideas!  And not enough time to do them all! I’m still very much supporting animation, but I get other people to do the animation and I can just edit.

Does editing become much more important?

Editing and pre production – coming up with the concepts. I am doing two big animation projects at the moment that I won’t actually be animating myself. Because there are people that can do it much better and I’m much better employed thinking of the ideas than I am trying to do all the animation.

Well, you’ve earned your stripes.

And rest!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | Tagged with , , , ,

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