Dear Einstein – Now Available to Watch at Home
4th December 2023
The actors centre themselves in front of the lens just so, a myriad of projections on the screen behind them. The scene plays out. Laptops whir. Cameras repositioned; go again.
We could be talking about imitating the dog here, but instead it’s Sodium Films, our creative partners in crime on several projects and productions.
It’s not always straightforward to find collaborators who are able to immerse themselves so readily and smoothly into the ITD process but with independent Leeds-based film agency Sodium there’s an easy fluidity in bringing our perspectives together – whether that’s recordings of live performances, live camerawork or creating trailers and video diaries.
Sodium started back in 2011 as a couple of photographers who wanted to start using their increasingly versatile cameras to film stuff. This started with music, filming gigs and videos for local artists, before growing into work with more established bands and international brands like Adidas. Their real passion though is in the arts, working with organisations including UK City of Culture, Manchester International Festival, Opera North and, of course, imitating the dog.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Sodium’s team of 6 full time (and quite extraordinary) creatives for a number of years now. Recently, while working together again, we grabbed Sodium Director Phil Barber for a quick chat about how these creative paths crossed and how the relationship has developed along the way.
ITD: Phil, how did you first come to work with imitating the dog?
Phil: I first met Simon Wainwright [co-artistic director of ITD] when I was asked to photograph his band Hope & Social for their first gig at their studio The Crypt in South Leeds back in 2010-ish. After hitting it off, Simon asked me to do some work on ITD’s theatre production 6 Degrees Below the Horizon, which included filming a French sailor scene – which we shot in Lancaster – to be projected onto the set screens during the show. Then when the show played at Leeds Playhouse, Sodium filmed the show for, at the time, archive purposes – a fairly basic shoot which, looking back, was one of the simpler shoots compared to the more complex stuff we’ve worked on with ITD since.
We followed this up pretty quickly by filming The Zero Hour, which was the same year. At the time, we’d film anything ITD wanted!
Can you tell us a bit more about what the process of working on and filming an ITD production is like for you and the Sodium team?
Once we got to Nocturnes, the relationship developed, and Sodium were asked into the process more. The green screen, keying, mapping and other video technology is where Sodium’s interest lies, so rather than just capturing the show, Nocturnes, like we did with 6 Degrees… and The Zero Hour, we also made a process documentary. Something new for ITD, something new for Sodium. At the time, Sodium were getting interested in making behind-the-scenes films so it worked as an experiment for us too. A great learning experience for both companies.
This process has become more collaborative as time has gone on. There’s not always an agenda, and there are no egos – everyone just wants to make ‘cool and interesting stuff’, so it’s always a pleasure to be with these people. So, ITD know that Sodium only wants to help them look good, and ITD understand Sodium’s own process. [You’re] right in the middle of the ITD creative process, putting a camera in your face as you are trying to create the work, so [it requires] a lot of trust.
Which showed through when it came time for us to work together on Dracula: The Untold Story.
Dracula was the biggest step in the relationship. We wanted an opportunity to push ourselves to make more content for theatre – trailers, documentary work and, importantly, a video on demand, which ITD wanted. This meant, unlike a simple capture as we had made before, we treated the making of this more like making a film, with some scenes re-blocked and characters speaking to camera, for example. We had bags of creative input with all the production’s additional strands, while the process documentary, which was filmed at The Lowry, wrapped up the whole of the Dracula project.
Then, of course, working together on the Cinema Inferno show for Maison Margiela – three of the Sodium camera-people were actually IN the show! [Cinema Inferno was presented by Maison Margiela, based on an original concept by their creative director John Galliano, and staged by imitating the dog international for Haute Couture week 2022.] Plus, we had the added layers of documenting what was a unique process for both companies and making the livestream for the collection. We all became one company.
Speaking of that unity, there’s a sort of harmonious nature in the creativity and technical wizardry in both Sodium and ITD’s work. How do you see the styles and approaches coming together? Is there anything radically different that makes it a challenge?
From a technical point of view, the software and kit we use complement each other. That helps both of us occupy that crossover space between theatre and film worlds.
Otherwise, there’s a synergy between the people – mutual respect and trust. It’s a giving relationship. Everyone is on the same page of wanting the end result to be the best it can be.
Exactly, that mutual respect, as you say, and the belief in each other’s work is essential and often leads to more exciting and dynamic work too, I feel. There must be a few nerves when filming a live performance though. It strikes me as a kind of camera choreography. What’s it like being in that moment?
In relation to something like Cinema Inferno, where we were capturing the show live and streaming it, and there was only one opportunity to get it right – very nerve-wracking. Technical issues can happen at any time.
As ITD know themselves!
With Inferno, we had rehearsed the capture for 6 weeks – every move was choreographed to the second, so we were as prepared as we could have been. Still, those two minutes before we went live in Paris were hugely nerve-wracking. So much could go wrong…but it didn’t!
We all rely on each other and have confidence in each other.
And we enjoy seeing what each other is doing as well. That camaraderie is so important to the process. Regarding the work itself, how do you know when you’ve got it? What’s the ‘eureka’ moment where you think, ah, here’s what we’ve been working towards?
We’re never 100% happy with everything at the time. I think in the moment we always strive for perfection and it’s never quite how we imagined it in our heads at the beginning of a process. But hindsight is wonderful – looking back on our projects after being away from them for a while, we can see that, yes, we’re really proud of them and achieved what we wanted. A delayed eureka moment if you like!
Better late than never! There’s a lot for you and the teamto be proud of. So with that being said, and all the exciting things you’ve done so far, what’s next for Sodium?
We’re just finishing a 20-minute documentary for Leeds 2023 about what culture means to a northern city like Leeds. We also made the documentary of See Monster for the Unboxed Festival in Weston-Super-Mare. We’ve made a piece for Rhodes Pianos to launch their new app, asking people to compose the music for the poetry which went with the film. And we are now poised for the next big thing to get our teeth into. We’d like to make some documentaries and work more in theatre, where we can get under the skin of a production.
We can’t wait to see it.
4th December 2023