The blind ambition needed to succeed in Hollywood
The blind ambition needed to succeed in Hollywood
Aussie filmmaker Sophia Banks, who made the award-winning short, Girls Skate (2017) and critically acclaimed, Unregistered, chats to MiNDFOOD about her journey from Sydney’s northern beaches to the competitive grind of Hollywood.
You started out as a stylist. How did you make that leap to filmmaker?
I’ve wanted to be a director since I was 10, so I studied acting all through school as well as film school. I also did photography but I was told by people to go into the ‘female department’ of filmmaking (laughs). So, I went into costume design. And when I moved to the U.S., in order to get a visa I opened a store (Satine), studied costume design and got into the Costume Designers Guild. The styling was great money and good access.
Who did you work with as a stylist?
I did one movie with Amber Heard called Syrup, and that led me to working on sets of a bunch of TV commercials. I also worked with Priyanka Chopra, Kylie and Kendall Jenner and Shay Mitchell. During that time I went to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and UCLA at night. I studied at visual effects school, and the Global Cinematography Institute. Then I had the idea of doing a film about skateboarding [Making it On Time] so I did a short film with Christian Siriano.
Did anyone mentor you through this process, whether it was another Australian or just an established filmmaker?
Yeah. Recently Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Clear and Present Danger, Salt) has been mentoring me. He helped me with the final cut and edit of Unregistered (2018). Now he is fully helping me.
It’s good timing that you’re coming up in Hollywood at the same time as the #metoo Time’s Up movements are changing the face of the industry.
Definitely! Had I seen more females directing when I was 15 or 16, then I would have done it sooner. It’s taken forever to push in, but I am very fortunate about those movements right now. I am definitely feeling the advantage of that.
Did you feel there was a noticeable shift pre and post Weinstein scandal?
One hundred percent. Because the area I wanted to be in, visual effects/sci-fi/action, is totally considered ‘man’s territory,’ and I’ve noticed now, even in commercials, people are at least giving women a chance. You may not have as much work as the men, but people are really feeling like they need to give you a shot. As a woman in this area and having had to fight harder I feel like it prepared me. And so now even when I shoot commercials people are like, ‘Yes! Great.’ It’s made me tough and has given me a big work ethic.
What was the main obstacle in moving to LA?
The visa (laughs) and not knowing anyone. The thing about where I grew up, the idea of being a film director was like being a magical fairy. It was so far and unconnected from anything I knew, growing up on the North Shore. But I have always stuck to my philosophy which is if you just work hard and keep putting out good products and at least getting people to see them, it eventually pays off. So I have that internal conversation with myself, totally. I don’t care about the parties, I don’t care about any of that stuff, just work on the work. I stay in, write, and keep going which I think has been my secret. I have a ten-year-old daughter, so that meant putting her to bed and staying up late and working.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been shooting some commercials and now I am in prep on a couple of movies that I’ll be able to announce soon. I’m also developing Unregistered into a TV series. I’m working with an Australian writer because I want to bring more projects to Australia and shoot there. I just love my home country.
What advice would you give the next Australian at home who’d like to give filmmaking a try?
Pick up a camera or an iPhone and start shooting. And learn how to edit and keep doing it, because it is a process. And also, when I moved here, I wasn’t afraid to reach out to people. For every 100 people I reached out to, 20 basically said to F off, (laughs) so you have to get a thick skin and not care, because out of 100, 5 people would be like, ‘Yeah. You can come watch me on set or you can come talk with me.’ I am totally happy if people reach out to me. I want to work with Australians and encourage Australians, because I think we are doing really great things in the film industry.
I’m surprised you had that many people say yes.
Well, I should probably say one or two. I think it’s just not being afraid to reach out and ask people because one thing that is awesome about the movie business that someone gave them their break, because it’s an industry where everyone was given a break at some point. But as I say, you have to have a thick skin, because I’ve had so many people tell me to go away or to stop annoying them. (laughs)
Have fellow Australians been more receptive to you in Hollywood?
I think so. I get really good work in Australia and I love Australians, even my best friends in America are Australian. And I feel like we have the Australian mafia in LA and it’s great. I love it.
Were you ever interested in acting?
I tried. I did that because I felt like I couldn’t direct otherwise. And so I studied at the Actor’s Centre in Surrey Hill. I feel like I can talk to actors, so I just feel like it’s a very special thing that they do and I love and have admiration for that but I don’t feel like I can do it the way they do. I am very happy being behind the camera.