Ep 1 | Sonja Klaus - Set Decorator: Gladiator, Prometheus, Robin Hood

Credit: Universal

MikeHello and welcome to Red Carpet Rookies, my name is MikeBattle and I am a Film Production Junior working for studios in London. Each episode I bring you advice and stories from Film, TV and Content Professionals to help demystify and democratise the industries for juniors and fans alike.Thanks for joining me, let’s get started. This week's guest is Hollywood production designer SonjaKlaus, Sonja is a leading film and television designer based in London. First beginning as a set decorator with credits including; Oscar winning epic Gladiator, Prometheus, Tomb Raider, Kingdom of Heaven and X-Men: First Class. She is now a production designer andSonja has held projects such as Ridley Scotts ‘A Good Year’, Tom Hardy, Steven Knight's Taboo  and Tim Miller's Terminator - Dark Fate. Sonja is currently designing a new television series, The Power directed by Reed Morano of The Handmaid’s Tale as well as residing as the president of theBritish Film Designers guild, welcome Sonja - how are we?

Sonja: Hello, how are you?

Mike: Did you like your little bio there?

Sonja: It was very good. You obviously went on IMDB and had a good old look, not that you didn’t know most of it before, having worked for me.

Mike: So for anybody listening I should probably point out that I did work for Sonja for two years, hence some of our similar credits and things so I do know her very well. So it’s going to be interesting to see what it’s like interviewing her because we haven't had some of these conversations before. So I thought, first of all we would start off with something that people often ask us.

Wondering how you got into the film industry because sometimes people wonder where your accent is from and obviously you’re an LA girl so how did an LA girl end up working inEngland rather than an English girl going to Hollywood which you’d think is more traditional?

Sonja: Well the accent is obviously endless topics of discussion for various people because they like to think they can work it out...it’s actually mostly English people trying to work out where I come from.And so I get every place on the planet apart from usually the place where actually come from and partly the accent is due to the fact that my mother wanted my sister and I not to call her ‘Mommy’, but to call her ‘Mummy’. So my Mother went to a very posh school and we left the states when I was eleven and she decided that she wanted to create this English lady. So I had endless elocution lessons and I ended up with this accent. And I do get asked quite of ten if I’m Lloyd Grossman’s sister or one of his children. But I do like to point out that he is actually Canadian and I am not Canadian. When I started, I didn’t really know much about the film industry, when I started I did theatre design at the Wimbledon School of Art. And I was going to carve a life out for myself in Wimbledon. It was actually my father, who is no longer here. He saw my degree show and he used to keep quite close tabs on what I was up to because he was paying for it.So he used to write to me quite a lot from the start dates, and I wrote my thesis on Walt Disney and it was called ‘The man behind the mouse - dirt, death and evil.’ Because a lot of his films that he did, they portray… he was very interested in the Grimms' fairy tales and he loved the sort of going ups and going downs of the emotions of people. I quite enjoyed that and so I wrote my thesis on him, and my father read my thesis because I had worked on it before and he gave me this book and it’s called ‘The Magic of Hollywood’. And inside it my father wrote ‘To dearest Sonja and may she become one of the greats that has made Hollywood what it is’. And he wrote that in a book when I was atCollege and I had no idea about the film industry and I had no idea that my father, because he was very clever at that kind of thing, working out what people’s strengths were, that was his business and he obviously worked out what mine was and I never saw myself where I am, I really didn’t.

Mike: So you went toWimbledon School of Art and as you’ve told me, you went to study Theatre design and it seems that quite a few people that are now successful and in the industry studied Theatre design there. So obviously this podcast is aimed at a lot of new people in the industry and so for people maybe wanting to move into the art department. What do you think it is about that course that's so successful for people? Because I know your husband studied it as well right?And Mike Britton, set decorator.

Sonja: He did, yeah. And Mark Tydlesley who is a production designer and Karen Wakefield who is a supervising Art director and Lucy Serene who was a supervising Art director who is now designing. And quite a few people that meet have been from Wimbledon. I think Wimbledon, it’s been there for quite along time and I actually discovered yesterday that a friend of mine’s father actually went to Wimbledon’s School of Art and he actually did Fine Art there.They didn’t have the Theatre then, but then they built the Theatre when he left and I couldn’t believe it, and then he went to The Slade. And he is an amazing artist and he then became head of Cheltenham Art College. So it obviously has a history of Art, that’s kind of what it has and I think they still try to adhere to that. I do keep tabs now that I’m the chair/ president of the British Film and Designers guild. I like to keep tabs on what’s going on in the Universities and we do get quite a lot of people that come to see us with portfolios that have actually been, weirdly to Wimbledon and quite a lot of them have done courses. I think it’s very important if you are not really sure what you want to do when you leaveUniversity or if you think you might want to go into the Art department on film, I think it is quite important to a course before you come because it sort of kick starts you/ launches you quicker into what you want to do. And also it gets you drawing and understanding three dimensional things and technically you start to learn things and I do think that is really important.

Mike: I see a little bit of a basis. In my research I noticed that you studied your course, and then you began getting a few credits on the board. Not quite the big Ridley Scott films quite yet but I noticed quite an interesting circular thing in that according to you Imdb one of the first things you did is a little tv show called ‘Streetwise’. And that starred a very young Andy Serkis. And obviously in your most recent credit that’s actually come out is your FX and BBC show ‘A Christmas Carol’ which also starred Andy Serkis. So what’s it like when you see him now in that circularity of your careers where you both go ‘Oh my god, you were there all those years ago. What’s it like?

Sonja: We were both really young, he was beginning and I was beginning as an ArtDirector on that series. And we all hung out near Old Street in London and we had product placement with a company called ‘MuddyFox’ who did all of these bikes. And we all used to go around on these bikes, I think it was during the tube strike, so we all had to take bikes so we all had to cycle. I used to cycle back to Battersea and he used to take a bike and cycle off. It is weird seeing him because when we see each other it is just big hugs and ‘darling’ and ‘oh my god how are you?’ and I absolutely love that but I have known this man before he got married, had kids. Before he did Gollum, you know before those things and I have watched him and it has been for me to see someone like that to go from literally being in a children's TV show to suddenly being Andy Serkis directing movies and all the amazing things that he does and how he is and his voice but he is still the same person to me. I see him as, I don’t look at him like he’s this big...I just don’t see him like that. He is like Andy that I used to share a bike with.

Mike: In terms of the difference, obviously you two have come such a long way from those days, maybe in attitudes and obviously in size.Is there a thing that really makes you think there is a big difference between the large scale stuff that you both do now and back when you didn’t really know what you were doing and you were on these small shows?

Sonja: I think that we have evolved a little bit since. When I was doing TV, when I did Streetwise I often would sleep on a mattress, on the floor, on the set in this warehouse. Then I used to wash myself in the morning on a tap which was outside with this freezing cold water and I would throw it all over myself because there was no bathroom really. And that was kind of what it was like you know and there were a lot less people you know because there was weirdly less money. And it now, because of health and safety and all of those things all that has changed. And in a way I am slightly, I don’t know I actually liked that part of it because it was so mad. And everybody pitched in, it didn’t really. Like stars would help you unload a truck or they would come and help you, like if you needed to dress a set they would come and help you move apiece of furniture. But now there seems to be so many people and I worry a little bit about the dilution of these.. You know having to be able to turn your hand at a lot of things, and be practical and do it at speed, I worry that that gets lost a little bit in translation of how it is now.

Mike: I guess what you’re saying is now it is becoming amore specialised industry perhaps in ways whereas back then it was a bit more everyone jumping in.

Sonja: Yeah I think it is and I think people have got more parameters now, I think that’s just how it is and shows are bigger now, they take longer to film, films take longer to film, it’s all quite different and also remember we have so much more content now, you know so many more things get made. So there is a danger that people get pushed up from being an assistant and then suddenly you find they’re a producer on a Monday. And you’re like ‘I remember when you were doing bins.’

Mike: So one question talking about you back then and obviously people that have met you, you come across as a very confident person and I’m sure you would say you’re a very confident person. I’d like to know when you were doing those small shows back in the day, were you very different?And were you nervous as a junior? Do you think the industry has changed you I guess?

Sonja: I think I had to learn my confidence, I mean yes I did have times where I had pretty...you know being told off by directors in front of 250 people on set and screamed at a foot away from your face because you happen to be the stand by art director, but someone else in the department has made a mistake, but you’re standing there you have to take it. You know, you do have to take it. It happened a few times and I would take it, obviously I would then turn around leave the set, go into the lavatories and have a good old cry, because I found it shocking. And so I did that, I had to do that and I got told once by an ArtDirector that ‘If it’s bad, and you feel like you want to cry because you can’t cope with it for whatever reason...never do that in front of them. Don’t show that weakness especially being a female. Do not show that weakness. Go away, go round the corner,  go into a telephone box, wherever, do it in your car and do it there. Don’t give them the satisfaction. I learned that, and you know I have to be firm with people, but you learn from that, that it’s actually a really good learning skill because you learn from that you can tell. You have to learn to read people's faces. So part of the confidence building that I had was learning to read people’s faces.And I think that is a really important thing to have as a trait in any business when you’re dealing with others. It is something that I have learned. And I believe and I have made a comment about this to the British film designers guild. I feel that confidence, especially in the art department is something that is lacking. So I have mentioned that I felt it was quite important that they did some courses or something, so people could learn how to be confident because it does help you.

Mike: Definitely. Going on from what you were saying about being confident in the industry and young people coming in. Do you feel that it’s changed largely. You touched on it a little bit with ‘you know how passionate you are by drawing by hand and things’. Do you think it’s changed a lot for being a young person coming into the industry now and particularly as a woman because I know from anecdotal evidence that you had some horror stories.Do you think that it’s a vastly different landscape now?

Sonja: Yeah I do, I think it’s much easier now. I think because of women like me and other women of my age, and ones younger than me. I think we have paved the way for it to be easier for women to come into the art department in particular. I think it has got better, I think with all the conversations that get had about that, which you know is very on point at the moment, I think that’s helped a lot. I think you see it across the board; women producers, women directors you’ll see women cinematographers, it wasn’t like that when I was younger.There was quite a lot of the old school ‘why don’t you go home and feed your kids’ sort of mindset, there was a lot of that, that went on. And it got quite aggressive sometimes and we had to battle through it and Karen Wakefield and she’s a supervising art director, and we did a few shows together. Back in the day she was on Streetwise with me. But it was strange then because onStreetwise it wasn’t like that at all. You seem to get it less on television.It was when I got into bigger films that I seemed to come across it more. You were sort of like this really tiny person in this massive thing and you didn’t feel protected, I think that’s what it was. And I feel that now you are more protected.

Mike: Which is totally fantastic. If you were going to say something to your younger self now, knowing all the stuff you would go through and where you would end up. What do you think you would say?

Sonja: I think that when you get asked ‘what would you tell your younger self’ I think if I was doing it now, if it was me and it was now and I was telling my younger self now I would say probably... ‘Listen, it’s very important to listen and it is very important to learn. You need to ask questions, you need to ask the right questions. And if you get an answer and you don’t necessarily like that answer, it’s alright but you can analyse it more now I think. There wasn’t that chance, now you get more of a chance to analyse what’s happening and I think you get given more of a chance to approach someone and talk to someone to help you. And so I would say to my younger self ‘don’t worry, there is help you can get help.’

Mike: How important would you say for people, any age but particularly younger people, and you know that I am very keen on this sort of thing, of cultivating mentors. Do you think this is an important thing to do in the industry?

Sonja: There are very few people that I would consider and that I have met in life that are special and amazing. Roger Hall was one of those. And John King who still works is so amazing. And I suppose John for me is very special because of what he did for me. My first job that I ever did was on a show called ‘All Change’. My first paid job, it was on television and I went straight in as an art director. I didn’t have to go in as a junior becauseI had already been… I did a lot of drawing and I was drawing in the theatre world. As an assistant you have to do all of the technical drawing. So I had already been doing a lot of that. So I went in as an art director and I carried on directing for quite a while and I got a break designing. I wanted to be a designer, I knew I wanted to be a designer. Because I wanted to be a theatre designer and I already had designed theatre so I knew I wanted to do that and so I did. And I started, I did a couple of movies, I did one in Hong Kong and Idid one here with some quite good actors and I was on my way to being a production designer. And I was working very closely with a construction manager called Hamish Darlington and I absolutely loved Hamish and he was my mate and I had met him up at the Edinburgh festival, when I left College I went up thereto go and do some stuff just to get a summer job. And he got a virus that attacked his heart, and he died five weeks later. And I found it quite horrific, I think about him all the time. I kept seeing him a lot for years. I thought I saw him in Oxford Street, you know I kept seeing him and I kept running because I couldn’t believe he had gone and it was so shocking for me.And it really affected me, affected my confidence, affected my career,  I just fell apart really for quite a longtime, for a few years. And it was John King actually, he was an art director that I had met, lovely John King and he called me up and said ‘What you up to kiddo?’  And I said ‘Well, I have been doing this and that’. And he was like ‘Why don’t you come in, we are doing this show. Why don’t you come in and they’re looking for an assistant set decorator.’

And I was like ‘What is that? I mean I know what a set decorator does because you know in television you dress sets and do all that stuff’... anyway I went in and I met the set decorator Karen Brooke, she sadly passed away. And Roger Hall was the designer, and he’s affectionately known as‘Dad’. And there was this man that looked like Brian Ferry and he was so beautifully spoken and he was gorgeous and was wearing all of these lovely clothes and he said ‘Hello darling I am Roger Hall, would you like a cup of tea and a KitKat? And that was it really, I went on as an assistant set decorator and the next thing I know as I am walking on a set and I am set decorating onGladiator.

Mike: Your career was changed drastically when you got an invitation to work on Gladiator with Ridley Scott of course. And I wanted to ask, how did that come about and how does that even happen back in 99 was it.Did you get a bit of Ridley parchment through the post or something?

Sonja: I was in a pub up in Notting Hill with my mate Lawrence, we are in there and my phone goes, and so I got this voice and it was the set decorator that had been asked to do some of it and to work on it and to pull it off, because they sadly...that position had been with someone else but it hadn’t worked out so they were looking to replace that department. And I got this call and it was ChristianShellac and he went ‘Hello, Malta or England?’ Like that and I went ‘What, what?’ …’Do you want to go to Malta or England?’ And I just went, well erm…Malta.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about then he went ‘Fine fine, someone will call you’ and then just hung up. And I walked back in and Lawrence was like ‘what was that?’ And I went ‘I don’t know, totally weird I think I am going to Malta. And he went ‘Oh when are you going?’ And I said ‘I don’t know apparently someone is going to ring me.’ And then about ten minutes later the production manager calls me ‘Oh hi Sonja, just booking you a ticket. Can you pack your bags and get on a flight on Sunday to go to Malta.’ And I just went‘Sorry can I just ask you...what is it?’ And he went ‘Oh Sorry, didn’t you know? It’s Gladiator and it’s a film that Ridley Scott is directing. And I was literally like...I mean my mouth opened and I went ‘ahh’. The thing is, I knew who he was obviously. You know, Blade Runner and all that but it was like it wasn’t real. It was like it was not real. And then literally I fly out, pack my bag and I get taken on to this building site that was the colosseum and the palace was putting up scaffolding and we were standing there with all these diggers going around, there’s dirt everywhere and they go ‘Yeah so we are going to be here in about six weeks. And I am looking around and I’m going ‘Wow, SixWeeks’. And Christian turns around to me and he goes ‘You’re allowed to be a little frightened!’ Like that because it was football pitches, is all i can say it was just football pitch after football pitch after football pitch. I mean it was so big that I used to joke that you could see it from space.

Mike: This is the Colosseum you’re talking about?

Sonja: Yeah the Colosseum and the Palace and all the stuff that we built, there was quite a lot of building. And there were already existing walls, huge walls built up by Napoleon, there were these big places I mean it was a fort. But we were building inside this massive place, and I just remember Ridley turned up and said ‘Hello, I’m Ridley’. And I went ‘Hi, I’mSonja’. And he couldn’t remember my name for ages so he called me ‘County’ because I reminded him of those girls that you see in the Country Life Magazines.    

Mike: It’s actually good to hear that you had trepidations going onto those sets, because I think sometimes and particularly in the FilmIndustry on the high level where there’s big names around and it’s a lot of money, sometime people who are a lot younger can look at these older ones and think they are these infallible people commanding multi million budgets but it’s good to hear that you’re still going ‘Jesus Christ, this is as big as a football pitch!’ and ‘What on earth am I going to do!’

Sonja: Yeah there was a fair amount of that. I think it really sunk in when I got told you have got six weeks. And I think it really sunk in when I went in the prop room and there wasn’t a lot in there that sunk in. And it all sunk in really. And that was for me the first really big film I could say probably that I had worked on. And it was a big film. And I don’t think at the time you know you’re so busy, you know you’re really busy and you don’t think when you’re doing something that it is going to be the success that it is because you just kind of almost so wrapped up in what you are trying to get through, throughout the day, and then the next day, and the next day. You know and then when it came out you see it with all the music and knowing Ridley because he had Alien and Blade Runner was so amazing, of course you are like ‘this is going to be amazing’. But you don’t realise and to this day I would have to say and I think I said once to my husband and I said ‘If I never do another film again I don’t care because I did Gladiator’.  

Mike: That’s absolutely fair enough, I mean who wouldn’t want to be on that. It’s unbelievable. Obviously that led on to your very large scale career, first in set decoration and then ultimately on big movies, and smaller things as well as designer. When you’re flicking between things likePrometheus and Gladiator and Christmas Carol which is a different period and all this type of thing. Have you developed some kind of a philosophy on set decoration and set design that carries through all of those, or do you have to adapt it to every project?

Sonja: Every project is different when you work on it, and the designing part…,I mean I can’t comment for everyone just for myself, the designing part of it comes very quickly. When you’re reading the script it just sort of comes to you. You just can’t help it’s a thing that happens and you know that processing starts and you hope that the processing that you’re doing and the imagery that is coming to you is also perhaps on par with the director.That they’re thinking that way. You lead them and you guide them, because that’s what your job is and I would say that...I mean I got told once by a line producer, I mean he’s a big producer now but he said to me ‘it’s interesting looking at your work’ especially the work I did with Ridley. He said ‘I can see that when you’re with him and when you weren’t with him.’ And I think there’s a thread, if you look at ‘Taboo’ and ‘Christmas Carol’ and then you look at‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and then you look at ‘Gladiator’ then look at ‘Robin Hood’ and you look at a ‘Goodyear’. I think you can see there is a sort of style in there. And I can’t really tell you what that is, people tell me that...I don’t know. I looked at ‘Terminator’ and that was a whole different thing. And I don’t really know if it came out you know Sonja Klaus. I mean I’m not TimBurton but I like to think there is something about the design I give. I mean I can see that with Nigel Phelps, I can feel… I just know when Nigel Phelps has done something. I can watch it and just know it’s Nigel. Other designers I can look at it and I know like set decorators I just know. Nancy Hayes, I just knowNancy has done it, I can’t explain that to you why, I just know and then the credits come up and I’m like yeah that’s Nancy. Because I feel their work, andI like to think there is something like that in my work. I don’t know if there is but I like to think that there is.  

Mike: I’m sure there is something, particularly if you’re in the art department you are going to be more perceptive of those changes and it will come out in the work. I was going to ask you, was there a moment when you thought ‘Wow, I am on a big film set!’ In the same way that I had my first big job on Fantastic Beasts and there was a road bigger than the road that I live on, they were filming on that which they built. But you kind of answered that with the football pitches/ Colosseum thing. So I was going to ask if you could tell possibly one of the most Hollywood film stories I have heard which is theHelicopter School story. I feel like that’s probably one of the most Hollywood moments for you.

Sonja: I was working on a film called ‘X-Men: First Class’ as the set decorator. I did enjoy myself because I really liked working with Mathew Vaughn. And I enjoyed it because he liked what I was doing. It was hectic pace, and Mathew used to ask for me quite a lot on set. And one day my son was actually at a prep school, not that far away from my mother. And I had completely forgotten thatConrad had needed picking up, my husband was abroad filming. So I rang up TerryWood who was my prop master and I went ‘Terry oh my god, I have forgotten aboutConrad! What are we going to do?’ And this was the Thursday and Conrad needed to be picked up on the Friday. And he went ‘ahh well Mummy is not there, she can’t go. She lives only down the road. And I don’t know why she couldn’t go. I can’t remember why, there was a problem. Anyway he said ‘We will have to sendJoseph, his brother with one of the Lorries like that because it was literally that bad. Couldn’t get a driver so Terry said ‘I am going to phone up my mate’.So he rang me back and he was like ‘it’s alight, we got a helicopter’. And I went ‘Oh we have got a helicopter, thank god.’ Thinking Helicopter, Car, Lorry,Motorbike. You know I didn’t really care. So the helicopter comes, and Terry and I get in the helicopter, and so we go and we land at the playing field at the designated time, and there is a music concert going on. And there is this child trying to play the trumpet. You know and there are parents watching probably going ‘Oh my darling’ and you can just hear ‘*helicopter noises’. So of course that ruined that, and then this little face popped out of the door...there was no one around and this little face popped out of the door.This child that was about six years old looked out of the corner of the door and went ‘they're here.’ The next thing I know is that this door opens and all these children spill out and my sons amongst them like this. And they're all just staring and I went ‘Hurry up, hurry up we have got to go there is a storm front coming in. And then my mother turns up with her two dogs. My mother told me she couldn’t go and get Conrad, and she went ‘oh sorry I had a hair appointment.’  

Mike: So now I would like to ask you quickly about what your opinion is on the future of the industry and where we are going.It is something that I would like to discuss on this podcast. And I was wondering if there is anything that you feel like you could change about the industry, what would it be?

Sonja: I think moving forward in the industry for me, as the chairperson of theBritish Film Designers Guild we have a lot of questions about diversity. And I am very, very aware of it and have been very aware of it. And not just diversity but women working in senior positions and I myself feel like I can safely discuss that because I have had to come from the bottom to the top and it ha snot been an easy ride. We talk a lot about the diversity aspects in the Guild because we get questions from people saying ‘Why don’t you have more black people in your arts department?’ To be honest they don’t come with their portfolios and they don’t come and you go into art College and really it needs to go back. It’s no good looking at us going ‘why don’t you get them?’ I mean I would take anybody, if someone comes and shows me their portfolio and it’s great or I meet them they will get the job. So we want to do some work, we have linked up with several charities and other organisations who are now targeting lower down so; 12,13,14 year olds at school. Because that’s where when you are making your decisions about what GCSE’s you take and then maybe if you do A Levels or you don’t about where you want to be and who you want to be.

Mike: Letting people know it’s an option I guess.

Sonja: Yeah and there is definitely a big gap there where that is not being dealt with so we want to encourage that. I mean it’s very difficult for the guild because none of us are actually paid to go and do these things. It’s an unpaid role.But we can voice our opinions and help with forums and advise people. The academy does it, they are very much involved in it. I think BAFTA are doing it.But it would be great if companies like Warner Brothers or Amazon or evenNetflix and I’m sure they have outreached and have programmes they run, but I think there is in this country a quite clear shortage of that kind of input at that age. And so I myself have signed up to go and do some work in various schools to 16 year olds to talk about the film industry. It’s up to them whether they want to come into it or not, they might not want to. They might want to go and do music or be a scientist. Some people may not want to have a big career at all. That’s their choice and I wouldn’t ever push it on anybody.I enjoy obviously working in lots of different countries and the job I’m doing at the moment is currently in South Africa. And I love being in different cultures. I think it is a really important thing, and as a designer it brings to the table something different that you get when you have someone, because they bring their culture with them and that’s rather a marvellous thing. And that is the sort of thing that I would like to change for there to be more of that.

Mike: That’s absolutely brilliant to hear and I love the sound of the grass roots stuff that BFTG are running there. Finally before we move on to my little quick fire questionnaire. Obviously as COVID hits the world and there is a lot of uncertainty, certainly in the Film and TV industry.There are lots of people that haven't been working, and funds and this and that/ Furloughs. What’s something that still keeps you positive about where the industry is going, because actually the statistics are that more content is being made than ever. Is there something that keeps you positive about working in the industries even in the wake of COVID?

Sonja: Covid has been such a huge problem around the world. And there was a lot of, I myself included, there was a lot of sort of panic or kind of not understanding of what is this? What am I going to do? Am I ever going to work again? And Idid go through the phase of during the big lockdown period thinking...because there were some people saying it was going to go on for five years and I was like ‘do i need to do something else, do I need to change my career, is there going to be a future in the film industry?’ And I know that for quite sometime, the camera department was having all of these conversations about how will this work? What if I touch a piece of equipment? And I think that now people have calmed down a bit because they thought there is life after COVID and it is going to go on, and it will go on. And this may happen, not COVID but we may have something in the future that happens, and actually maybe this is a good dress rehearsal into how to tackle these things and how to carryon.  I think it is important to be positive, there have been a lot of...I have had quite a few emails throughout covid lockdown from people. Some have been fine and some people have not been fine.And I think it is very important that productions should offer pastoral care to people, I think that is seriously lacking. As a head of department I think it is very important for me to be there for people or for them to feel like they can talk to me about whatever it might be because COVID has had a huge impact on people. And they’re still worried about it. I get calls. I mean we haven't gone back, hopefully we will and we know the show is going to happen but they get very anxious. Even if they don’t have money coming in for one week they get anxious. So you have to address that and try to be positive.  

Quick Fire

Mike: What is your favourite piece of advice you have ever been given?

Sonja: Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.

Mike: What gives you a reason to get out of bed everyday or get to an early set? 

Sonja: Because I still enjoy my job. 

Mike: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 

Sonja: I wanted to be a Marine Biologist.

Mike: Which job in the industry would you do if it wasn’t your own?  

Sonja: I’d like to be a director. 

Mike: Which general profession in life would you never like to do?  

Sonja: Cleaning out the bins on a film set.  

Mike: If you could work with one person living or dead, who would it be? 

Sonja: The Coen Brothers. 

Mike: What is a book that everyone you think should read? 

Sonja: The Night Circus.  

Mike: If you ever won an Oscar, who would you thank? 

Sonja: I would have to thank my father, because it was my father. He was the one all those years ago that wrote that line in my book. And it was my father that realised that I had some sort of talent and that I would probably go into the film industry even though I probably didn’t know that yet. 

Mike: Do you have anything to say about promoting the British Film Designers Guild for any art department juniors that are listening.

Sonja: If anybody is listening who is an art department junior, or indeed if you are in the third year at University or if you would be classed as an affiliate, if you have an affiliates grade that you can join then I thoroughly recommend that you join it because the British Film Designers Guild is for excellence and as I always say, all those people who are at University now or who are going to goto University. All the people that want to join but may not want to go toUniversity but want to get into the film industry, they are the future. In 10/12 years they will be me and I always feel it is very important to nurture those people because they are the future of the film Industry. I’m now, I’m working now but I would have done my time. And I’m not about the future I am about harnessing the future, and introducing the future and making it a great future.