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An Interview with Sara-Jane Charles

Sara-Jane Charles is a photographer, director and actor and has worked on productions such as, Mindhorn, Space Island One, Wild Target, Britain in a Day, Cinderella, Big Nothing, Sons & Lovers, and One Small Camera. I spoke with Sara-Jane about her preferred role in the industry, her experience working on Mindhorn and Wild Target, and her words of advice for anyone pursuing a career in the industry.

You've worked across the board as an actor, stills photographer and assistant director. What was your first experience in the industry, and which is your preferred role? My very first experience in the entertainment industry was performing in a ballet when I was very young in a production staged at a Liverpool theatre, and it was wonderful.

As an actor I was first chosen to be centre screen in the TV drama 'Sons and Lovers'. It was set in an art gallery and the director said he loved my improvised reactions to the main character in the scene.

I fell in love with photography from a very young age and learned my craft, and was fortunate enough to work as an assistant with many great photographers. Then early on in my career my portfolio was chosen by the director of the TV show 'Space Island One', and I worked as a Stills photographer on set for a number of episodes.

As a director, I’d created a lot of my own work from the start with my footage chosen for Sir Ridley Scott’s documentary 'Britain in a Day' archive, and then my own successful documentary 'One Small Camera' which focuses on the riders of the TT Races on the Isle of Man. This was exhilarating to film and a joy to edit.

Each part of my creative work enhances the other, so I'd have to say that my preferred role is probably the role I’m immersed in at the time.

Is there anyone in the industry who has really inspired you?

Watching the greats in the industry work at their craft is a true inspiration, with wonderful moments I'll never forget. Seeing Sir Peter Ustinov embody a character on film was such a privilege, as was watching Kathleen Turner own a scene and the moment with such elegance. Also seeing Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Everett and Rupert Grint interplay and act with one another to perfection was a joy to witness. Then there's the whole crew, the directors and the photographers who work together creating their best work to film that is a constant source of inspiration. You're always learning in this industry and that's what keeps it fresh and makes it so exciting.

In my photography I'm always inspired by all avenues of my creative work, and by the beauty of nature, form, sculpture, all life; I love Vernacular and Fine Art photography.

What is your day to day schedule like when working on a film such as Wild Target ? What is the workflow like?

The day to day schedule, when working on a film such as 'Wild Target' is hectic while being interspersed with moments of pregnant pause... where you’re avidly waiting for the next moment to dive into action for a scene. This was another major all-star cast production, with a lot of the scenes I was involved with being inside, meaning we weren't dependent on weather. I recall one scene in particular that we filmed inside a tiny cramped car, a mini! I was driving it down narrow, winding country roads, while the cameraman sat squashed in the backseat filming with the camera lens right next to the side of my head, begging me to drive carefully!

We were shooting a lot of the scenes I was involved with in someone’s home, as well as conducting press and PR interviews from there, and so needed to be extra careful of how we carried out the production in the property which is standard practice. Everyone on a set like that is necessary and each has a very specific job to do. We’re a close knit team and there’s an interplay of how we work together as each of our work is dependent on the other. Getting along with people is a must, as is being professional. Workflow is constant, precise and orchestrated by the director; with adaptability being an asset. It's also a very creative environment where you feel privileged to be working with the best.

You worked as an assistant director on Mindhorn. Can you tell me more about this experience?

I joined the all-star cast of 'Mindhorn' as an Assistant Director midway through the production, to assist with filming on the Isle of Man. We were filming the majority of the scenes outside, and so needed to work quickly and efficiently as everything was dependent on weather and light for the final scenes. I’m used to working with many film productions and so quickly connected with the team from the start, and creating what they wanted on screen was a joy.

We started the day very early in the morning and would be down on the beach blocking out a scene, setting up lighting and sound and making sure the principle actors and director were happy before filming commenced.

For the scene I directed, which made the final edit shown in cinemas, I had to direct the supporting cast who were to emerge looking down over a cliff edge on to the principle cast on the beach below, who were acting out a complex scene with the director. I had to precisely time the supporting cast emerging into shot, by listening to the lead actor on the beach via walkie-talkie, then in a quick moment direct the supporting cast to move into shot. This was with the added pressure of stringently watching out for health and safety as I was acutely aware that we were all stood at the edge of an unguarded cliff top which had a tremendous drop! The director also required different reactions from the supporting cast, so it was necessary to coach them a little to get the right expression at the right time for the camera. All footage was then reviewed by the director, assistant directors and some crew to make sure we'd got exactly the right shot that we needed that day.

It was wonderful to see my scene on the big screen at the night of the Premiere, as up until then I still wasn't sure if it had made the cut!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had, and would you give this piece of advice yourself to someone pursuing this line of work?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever had is be kind and decent with those you work with, and to work hard.

It really is important to be decent to ALL those around you as this is a people industry. We work in close knit environments which are high paced and stressful, and people need to know they can work with you, often for very long hours and for months at a time. Treat others how you’d like to be treated.

All of the industries I work in require hard work, there’s no magic formula. If you work hard you achieve the results, gaining the necessary valuable experience that’ll set you in good stead forever. There is no better advice I could give than that, adding that I wish anyone who wants to pursue a career in the industry the very best and hopefully we’ll work together in the future... you never know.

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