‘A-Z’ dir. Sally Arthur (2008)

Mrs. P gets lost in London so we don’t have to.

Year: 2007
Country: UK
Director: Sally Arthur
Writer: Sally Arthur
Producer: Katie Daniels
Key Cast: Voice of Mrs. P - Emily Watson, voice of neighbour -  Edward de Souza

Animation by Helene Friren, Music composition Ollie Davis/WeWrieMusic, Sound Design + foley – Alex Ellerington at Boom.

Winner, Best Documentary, 2008

Presented in association with Rushes Soho Shorts Film Festival 2012

5 Questions for Sally Arthur


C8: What gave you the idea to make a book and short film about Mrs. P the mapmaker?

SA: A pal – Dan Saul – told me about a talk he’d been to at the British Library by Sarah Hartley - the author of ‘Mrs P’s Journey’ . It really grabbed my attention as I was cycling around Clerkenwell and catching trains and buses in central London and constantly wondering about the city’s evolution and absorbing the richness of the streets. It felt like a very modern and determined kind of mission for a woman in the 1930’s.  I also was interested in typography and maybe saw the visual possibilities of a tiny woman collecting a huge mass of words. All without the aid of a computer. Inconceivable.

C8: Where does A-Z sit in your career, what had you done before it?

SA: A-Z was the 2nd film I had directed for a Channel4 commission. I had made ‘Perfect’ previously – a 3 minute animated short using rotoscoped live-action and hand drawings about a couple’s relationship crumbling along with their wedding gifts. That won a prize at Resfest and won me a great Crumpler bag which I am still using. It was an interesting learning experience directing a proper film for myself (the first one I had done since leaving the Royal College of Art Animation course). A-Z feels like my most creative moment to date in that I took time to make it and was able to get some distance on it because I had the luxury of having a great editor, and animator and I just had to write it and design and direct.  That team working really suited that project and I think helped me retain enthusiasm for it over a long development production period. It got into a few more festivals and won a couple of nice prizes too which is most gratifying.

C8: It’s short and sweet, but there’s a hell of a lot of animation in there, how many people did you have working on the production, and how long did it take?

SA: I can’t remember exactly how long it took from start to finish but I reckon it might well have been from initial idea to finished film 2-3 years!! That is a year for each minute on screen! Clearly I wasn’t nose to wacom tablet the whole of that time – much was script writing, researching, waiting for next stage of funding via Channel4 AIR scheme (this had a couple of stages and then the final one was to spend 3 months in Bradford Museum of Photography and Film as a living museum piece whilst trying to develop it into a film – surreal indeed but fun.) 

As for people – I had an amazing producer Katie Daniels who kept everyone (from commissioners to runners) sweet and happy and sorted contracts and she was helped by the inspiring Claire Jennings in an executive producer/mentor type role so I felt very well looked after. Like I said I also had Helene Friren animating for me – she is so talented and I think if I made the film again she’d be too busy to help as she is doing her own stuff. She was incredible. Amy Meyer was my editor and she was pregnant during the production too – it took so long I think 3 of the crew had babies during it’s lifespan! I was a Director at ArthurCox at the time so Sarah Cox supported the film too and offered her opinions on it’s progress. Soundwise Ollie Davis and Alex were amazing and they used a team of musicians and voice artists to create the rich chorus feel. I feel so lucky that we had such a diamond team in fact.

C8: How did you go about casting for the voices?

SA: I had a couple of ideas in my head for Mrs P but Emily was my Number 1 – she was amazing – and she was super heroic – turning up for the voice record with a steaming cold – saying that she knew if we didn’t get it done that day her schedule would have been too busy. She was so professional and precise about her takes it was a real joy although getting her to do retakes of that big list of names whilst she had flu felt really cruel. Edward de Sousa was also great – quite a crackers voice record as I recall – he voiced the old Mr Kiplings ads – he has a super-rich voice and was able to bring out the slightly furtive fascinated side of his character.

C8: What’s next on the horizon for you as a filmmaker?

SA: Since A-Z such a lot has happened – I had a baby when A-Z was just mastered I think and then returned to ArthurCox to produce Emma Lazenby’s ‘Mother of Many’.  This won the Best Short Animation BAFTA which arrived at the same time as my second baby boy. So I have taken a career break for now to focus on my family and spend the first few years of their lives playing, swimming, scooting and exploring with them and it would seem, doing a lot of cooking pasta and talking about poo. 

I have been doing some design commissions and am developing some ideas for children’s books. For now filmmaking is on the backburner but it may return in some shape or form in the future.