Siblings Sophie and Walker Cole grew up on film sets. Born in Manhattan into a filmmaking family, they spent their days off from school helping to make commercials. But rather than take in their father’s footsteps as directors, Sophie began working as a costume designer and Walker worked as an art dealer in LA. Eventually they couldn’t stay away from the directing life, though, and began helming films of their own as The Coles in 2016.
They’ve gone on to make films such as Tommee Tippee’s ‘Everywhere You Look’, and most recently expanded their reel with short film ‘Present Day Athens’, which follows a local sheriff and his unique approach to his duties in the dusty, forgotten town of Athens, Texas.
As they sign to Spindle for UK representation, we caught up with Sophie and Walker.
Q> Why did you decide to make the move to Spindle for UK representation?
Walker> Spindle felt like a good fit to us for a number of reasons, but I think the main one would have to be their unbridled enthusiasm and energy, coupled with their knowledge of the industry and, what we feel is a solid grasp on the currently changing landscape of things. At the end of the day they believe in making good quality, creatively driven work above all, and as filmmakers we couldn’t really ask for anything more.
Q> What is it about the team there that clicks for you?
Sophie> We both feel like they really understood us as directors and artists and support us in our vision of who we are, and where we want to go. So often in our initial calls with the team, they would say things that we had said back and forth to one another in private, and it felt like kismet to hear it coming from someone else. We feel truly in sync with their beliefs, and feel that they not only understand our goals, but have the concrete plans and strategies in place to actually bring them into fruition.
Q> How did you first get into the industry?
Walker> Very quickly - Sophie was following her interests in art history and fashion, working as a costume designer, and I was working as an art dealer, hustling people for expensive wall hangings, when we had the shared epiphany that everything we cared about and wanted to communicate in this life all really came together in the medium of film. And that was that. We shot four spec commercials that we funded with our combined savings and signed with a production company eight months later. It was a true whirlwind experience. After that our first job was a campaign for RealSuite – a digital service from Realtor.com.
Q> Where did you learn your craft?
Sophie> Our father is a commercial director, so we both grew up working on his sets since we were kids, learning the ropes of various departments (we’ve PA’d, art departmented, wardrobed, food styled, etc.), and watching him work. Neither of us wanted to be directors, or even really work in film until we started shooting our own stuff a few years ago, so we weren’t exactly sitting around taking notes, but just by being there, immersed in the process, there was an inevitable education through osmosis sort of thing that definitely shaped us and taught us the craft from the inside out. So I’d say it’s a combination of being self-taught / applying our own general life experiences and learning the protocols and etiquettes from being on set from a young age. Our path all seems so clear and obvious now, but it really wasn’t at the time. We had to discover our love for the industry, the craft, and the medium on our own.
Q> Can you talk a bit more about your lives before directing?
Walker> Sophie worked in the fashion world, and then as a costume designer after leaving University, while I bummed around for a bit as a PA, then worked in the fine art world as a dealer, before having an existential crisis that found me moving to Paris to learn the restaurant business at Le Cordon Bleu before returning to NYC to help open a restaurant, and then ultimately joining forces with Sophie to get into film.
Q> And which creative talents in your field have inspired you in your own career?
Sophie> God – there are so many to pick from, but the names we most often reference and return to are probably Wong kar Wai, Paul Thomas Anderson, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen. Jaws is a huge one for us. We both really love the work of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, and Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski. Pedro Almodovar. Robert Altman is a god. Michelangelo Antonioni. I mean, all the greats. We aren’t saying anything new. But I think we are drawn to films that have a very strong sense of vision, and capture things in a highly specific, considered, and often unusual way. The Graduate is probably our favourite movie of all time - we adore Mike Nichols.
Q> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?
Walker> Our first creative milestone was probably the spot we did for Tommee Tippee – we shot it in Bulgaria with a great team from McCann NY. We had almost no money, our schedule consisted of one VERY tight day, and we had to deal with directing a baby... given the challenges of it all, we were super happy with how it turned out, and the agency and client were ecstatic. It was a great experience for us.
Q> And what recent projects are you proudest of and why?
Sophie> To be honest, we are pretty pleased with the most recent campaign we just wrapped up for Bank of America. We shot six 30-second films in four days, plus unique scripts for social, which was challenging, but exciting. It’s fun when you can be under the gun, deliver the goods, AND create some really nice work.
Walker> On a personal project front, we are really proud of the short we recently made ‘Present Day Athens’. It took so much time and energy to pull that one together, which made it all the more rewarding in the end. We had a really clear vision of what we wanted to achieve and create, right down to the choreography, and we can confidently say that we nailed it. It was a gnarly one day shoot, and we called in every favor we hand, but we had an excellent crew that busted their ass for us and made it all happen. It’s so much fun to see what people’s blood sweat and tears can bring into reality. There’s really nothing like the magic and energy of a well-oiled crew working towards the same goal.
Q> Do you have any personal or side projects on the go?
Sophie> We always have personal projects in the works – but we aren’t at the talking about them stage just yet. As filmmakers we can’t really sit still, so we are always writing, and concepting and creating. Hopefully another two minute-ish short thing will come out soon but we don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Q> What really drives you creatively?
Walker> Showing the human condition through our specific and considered lens. We want to show people that real human emotion can be generated and communicated in unexpected places, and that genres like comedy can still be subtle and nuanced, and touch on real and relatable experiences. People are quick to dismiss humour as antithetical to “serious filmmaking” and we just couldn’t disagree more.
Sophie> Our work is really inspired and informed by the real people we meet and see every day. People will say to us, “this character is too much”, but we will say, “we literally know this person! They are real!” There are so many eccentric, and wonderful characters out there in the world just begging for some screen time. We absolutely love working with non-actors when we can. They bring and authenticity you just can’t fake.
Q> What are the aspects of your work that you really obsess over?
Sophie> Everything. From the performance to the curtains, it is all of paramount importance to us. One bad apple can spoil the bunch. The wrong bit of dialogue, or twitch of the face, or out-of-place alarm clock can ruin the shot. Everything for us has to be considered. And then we like to sort of forget it all and let the nuanced, real, and wonderfully charming and imperfect moments bubble to the top. But for us it all starts with a carefully crafted base.
Walker> Our casting. It all starts there. Casting is make or break.
Q> How would you describe your approach to your work?
Walker> Prep. Prep. Prep. For us we feel that about 85% of our job occurs during our prep. From the moment we get our boards, we are visualising everything. Our tone, our locations, our camera movements etc. Because there are two of us, we have the bandwidth to do some serious due diligence in all of our departments in advance- that way we can know what we want and be super specific with our crew, which helps save on costs, time, and mental energy. We don’t need a million options for things. We know what we want before we get to a fitting, or a tech scout, or whatever. This keeps us free to focus on performances on the day and make sure we are getting what we need, as well as what we want.
Q> When it comes to enjoying the creativity of others, what sort of thing excites and inspires you?
Sophie> So much. Art, photography, fashion, food. Books, architecture, a particular song but we are definitely referencing other mediums and art forms to each other on a regular basis. That’s the beauty of film. It really just encompasses everything, so you are free to find inspiration in the wildest places.