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Sara Coppola-Nicholson on How Creating a Vampire Helped the Film Industry

No matter what the situation or who you are, change can be difficult. Honestly, most people would prefer to avoid it unless absolutely necessary. Even the artists who exist in a world of creation often default to the methodology with which they’ve grown accustomed. The Sony F65 was seen as a large, slow and cumbersome workhorse of a camera platform, generating extremely high quality images, but also very large files at the same time and thus creating resistance among many industry professionals working on small-medium productions. Films including: Ted2, Tomorrowland, Oblivion, Lucy, White House Down, and Ex Machina had used the F65 but it wasn’t becoming prevalent within the community. The solution was to create a film that would showcase the camera’s outstanding features, under the same constraints faced by most medium-low budget projects (small crew and limited timeframe), film it at Sony’s Digital Motion Picture Centre Europe (DMPCE) located in the iconic Pinewood Studios UK, and place producer Sara Coppola-Nicholson at the helm.

The goal of this project was to demonstrate the camera and post workflow as workable for not only big productions but for almost any scenario in the film world. Because of this, substantial restrictions were placed upon Alex the Vampire and those in charge of manifesting it. The schedule was less than a week, the budget was extremely tight and the Sony F65 a fairly new camera platform that very few industry professionals had experience on. But possibly the most significant challenge was the audience: the film had to appeal to industry insiders and professionals who would be highly speculative about the results. By placing Sara Coppola-Nicholson and director Christopher Nicholson (recipient of a personal commendation from His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales) in charge, the Sony DMPCE wanted to prove that the artist would be the key factor in getting the most out of this cutting-edge technology in any situation. As a producer, Sara’s first challenge was to select a crew of professionals experienced enough to deliver, but yet willing to take on such a high-risk project for their reputation. She admits to using her own excitement about the camera system and workflow to lure the crew as she relates, “I got in touch with professionals I regularly work with. I simply talked about the pros of this venture, making sure everyone would see the advantages of this innovative production: beautiful imagery, fantastic colour space, incredibly high quality picture, smooth workflow, high production values and wonderful location... Once they were completely in, I’d say there is almost no money and we have only five days to go from script to screen. We start on Monday! By that time they were enthusiastic and already fully committed.” From pre-light on Monday afternoon to the final master completed by Friday lunchtime, Sara produced and delivered this movie in less than one week. Notable figures like cast member Dan Starkey (known for this role in Dr Who) and many of London’s elite contribute their talents primarily because they trusted Sara’s ability to deliver even the most challenging projects and shared her commitment to constantly push the boundaries to move the medium of film forward.

While Sony’s latest tools were the focus of the project, it’s worth noting that the set held its own allure. Alex the Vampire was filmed at the legendary Pinewood Studios UK. Since the 1930’s this location has been the home to world famous films from Star Wars to 007, Eyes Wide Shut, The Hobbit, to name a few. BAFTA and the Oscar winners are the norm at Pinewood Studios London; an ideal setting for Alex the Vampire and its potential to alter the future of film.

For almost any producer presented with a production with so many potential pitfalls, the natural response would have been to politely pass. Sara Coppola-Nicholson openly scoffs at the idea of such a reply. She professes, “I had no reservations about taking on this production. I knew it was challenging but I had no doubt I could pull it off. Some projects are difficult; others are beyond my reach. My approach is simply to work harder for the first and find a way to overcome my limitations for the second. Producing for me is about seeing the bigger picture, understanding the greater result of a creative idea that goes beyond delivering something that just simply works. This is why I like challenging projects, because I approach every single production focusing on that unique tract that is going to surprise the audience and make them say, ‘I’ve never seen something like that!’ and if I do my job right, ‘I’ve never felt like that before.’ In the end, delivering is my responsibility…and I always do.”

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