This week we’re thrilled to highlight the work of LA-based female commercial director Sophia Banks. Sophia has directed numerous award-winning commercials for brands such as Pepsi, Chobani, BMW, Target, and Ford, as well as fashion films for Christian Siriano, Pam & Gela, Ralph and Russo, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Anine Bing, and Tome.
A native of Australia, Banks started her career as a fashion stylist and designer, then creative directing. Driven to become a film director she enrolled in film courses at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, UCLA and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and completed three Sundance Co//ab courses for professional directing and screenwriting. A self-professed “tech-geek,’” Sophia has a great love for cameras, shooting on film and has a keen eye for visual effects. For “Unregistered,” her sci-fi short premiering at Tribeca in 2019, she played a key role in developing ground-breaking VR technology to provide audiences as well as her actors with a fully immersive experience. She recently just wrapped on her second short sci-fi film, “Proxy” starring Emma Booth and Erika Christensen.
Sophia is represented by CAA for television and feature films and continues to shoot commercials worldwide. She resides in Los Angeles with her 10-year-old daughter.
How and when did you decide to get into the world of video production?
I come from a background in costume design. Originally, I had gone to film school with the aspirations of becoming a filmmaker. Unfortunately, the scene back then was not what it is today (and we still have some work to do). I was deterred based on being told that I “could not lift heavy equipment” and that I should go into the “female department.”
A little lost, I decided to go that route and did find success. I later became a stylist and fashion designer, having my own store, Satine, and later founding my own fashion line Whitley Kros, touted by celebs and all of that was well and good. I styled for Pryanka Chopra and Shay Mitchell and many other amazing women but honestly, at the end of the day, wasn’t happy.
So I decided to go for it. I went back to school to become a filmmaker after all of that time.
My first short film project was with couture designer, Christian Siriano. Featuring girls wearing couture gowns, ripping through the moody streets of DTLA.
I went on to work on commercials for Target, BMW, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Anine Bing and many more.
I then took on my first larger film project with my short sci-fi film titled “Unregistered” which made its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and has since won over a dozen awards and has shown over 30 festivals worldwide. For that project, I had the honor of working with DP Paul Cameron and it stars Trevor Jackson and Dylan Penn. Happy to share a private link with you.
Since then, I was signed to CAA for both television and film and have been signed to Finch Co. in Australia for commercial as well as Steam Films in Canada.
How would you describe your video directing style?
I think the biggest silver lining for me with my initial switch into costume design and fashion was the 15 years experience that trained my eye to the smaller details of the overall design. As a result, everything that I do is all about the design, the composition, the wardrobe, the way that you feel when you watch it. It’s important to me that the entire project connects you to something bigger. I’m looking to add touches to the project that is very distinct to that style and hopefully creating an emotional response in my viewer. I love things to feel cinematic and have an emotional impact so I feel I am able to elevate material and bring that to it.
What video production project are you most proud of?
“Making it on Time” for Christian Siriano was one of my original pieces and something that was close to my heart. I created this piece and it was inspired by the fact that I felt women could be both beautiful and bold, hence skating the gritty streets of DTLA in couture.
Ezra Productions’ Note: The short film was nominated for 15 awards (for Best Short, Best Director and Best Fashion Film), winning four including Best Commercial at the Oscar-Qualifying Hollywood Shorts Film Festival, Best Fashion Short at Miami Film Festival, Best Microfilm at the Festigious International Film Festival and both Best Commercial and Best Director at the United International Film Festival. Check it out right here:
I brought the idea to him and he jumped on board so am very proud of this one. It was one of the original girls skateboarding pieces and something that inspired many other skateboarding pieces around the world.
Although “Making it on Time” was my first short film, “Unregistered” was my first narrative piece and something that was built from my love of sci-fi and VFX as well as storytelling. It was a long time in development, a lot of blood sweat and tears, so I was proud to have finally put this together. I got to work with some amazing people to pull it off including DP Paul Cameron, who was so instrumental to its success visually as well as the entirely new technology that we developed specifically for this film. We have a great cast: Trevor Jackson and Dylan Penn who brought these important characters to life. Erin Dignam, a true artist and female writer who understood the message I wanted this film to communicate-her execution of the script laid the real foundation. She also jumped on to Produce along with J Luke Watson, Kim and Peter Winther. To finish it off, our post production team tied the visuals together with VFX Supervisor Ivy Agregan at the helm, working alongside her was an incredible experience. There were so many people that came together to help pull this one off that I was grateful to work with.
What is it like being a woman in the video production world?
There is, in my experience, still a stigma to being a female in this industry today but it is nowhere near where it was 15 years ago. In another 15 it will hopefully be a thing of the past–that this is still a field primarily dominated by men. But there is something to say on that as well: we need all people in this industry to share their diverse stories. That very much includes men, women, people of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.
I absolutely want to support other women in the industry – I recently went on Instagram Live with female cinematographer Emily Skye (@shewolffilms) to discuss with both of our followers ways to collaborate, including promoting each others work on your social platforms – it’s free and a great way to get female-made content further into the world.
What do you think makes a video production impactful?
Everything is becoming more and more digital — people are connecting in ways that were never before imaginable through technology. A video production is what makes that ongoing increase in communication and connection globally, possible. Being on set is my favorite part of the entire process, especially knowing I will have a finished product that will go out in the world and be appreciated.
What kinds of video production agencies do you like working with?
In an ideal world, I would love to be able to execute my creative vision from start to finish, but I know that in working with brands and companies that have such established voices, it is not always possible to do that to large extents. I love working with agencies that work with me and the client to find that perfect balance so that I can get my job done and create the vision and desired effect on the audience. I also get to work with some of the top in the production world who I could really not do that without including Finch Company in Australia and Steam Films in Canada.
Who are some of your dream clients?
I have been fortunate to work for some of my dream clients already which I am so grateful for, including Target, Pepsi Co, Chobani and fashion brands like Christian Siriano, Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Anine Bing. I have worked with BMW and I would love to work for more car companies. I love high-paced and high-action shoots so am working on some projects in this area. I also love world-building which is what I got to do in “Unregistered,” where I created a future dystopian world. Recently, I got to create worlds for an ice cream brand, Froneri, which I shot in the Ukraine. Anything where I can design and create worlds, I am in heaven.
Where do you see the commercial video production industry moving?
As we are experiencing major shifts in the world today, and the limitations of travel, crowds and large crews, I see an increasing need for digital content and content that can be created right from the comfort of our own spaces and studios. We need to be thinking with creative ways for continued content.
Do you have any advice for other women filmmakers?
For those that are looking to become a filmmaker and happen to identify as female, remember that you can accomplish what you set out to accomplish and that someone else’s opinion is just that. Don’t let it deter you, like I let it deter me.
For current female filmmakers, just keep doing what you are doing. We need your voice and your stories out there in the world. Get out there and shoot your story, make connections, network and support each other because that is the only way we will eventually create a new narrative.
We hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Sophia. As a woman-owned branded content studio and creative agency, Ezra Productions is committed to working with women and marginalized communities to enable them to excel in the production industry. If you’re looking for a commercial video production company in Los Angeles or New York, contact us to get started on your project today.