Production Designer - Wimbledon College of Art, Theatre Design, 1982
One of the world’s foremost production designers and four-time Oscar nominee, Sarah has created the silver screen worlds inhabited in Pride and Prejudice, Hanna, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, Starter For Ten, The Soloist, Atonement and the blockbuster Sherlock Holmes films
Sarah has been awarded a BAFTA, Art Directors Guild Award, an Evening Standard British Film Award and a Royal Television Society Award.
Fresh from a trip to the depths of the Arctic Circle for the filming of "Anna Karenina", Sarah talks to UAL about her passions, projects and inspirations.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished Joe Wright’s latest film, a Tom Stoppard adaptation of Anna Karenina. We have been in Northern Russia 100km south of the Arctic circle in -35c. Amazing! I've just arrived back and am planning to take a few months off to get a life. Being freelance you have to take the work as it comes to a greater extent.
Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
I always knew from a young age that whatever I was going to do it would be involved with the arts, it was always what interested me. I suppose the real flash of inspiration was after completing my art foundation course and floundering about quite what direction to choose next, I saw a poster advertising the BA Theatre Design course at Wimbledon School of Art and it was like a light bulb coming on. It had never occurred to me that you could ‘learn’ theatre design, it encompassed all my interests and my magpie approach to the arts, and had the appealing end game of possible work and pay at the end of it.
What are you most passionate about?
My family, my dogs, my home, none of which I have enough of. But in a professional sense I am most passionate about the project I am working on at ‘that’ moment. I love the evolving interest in whatever subject the film is based on. One can start a project having no like for a certain period or character, but then it becomes an obsession, you begin to see it everywhere.
Which piece of art/design/performance/communication/fashion do you wish you had created?
There are so many! Although I'll qualify that to film and painting. I've just been around the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. The Russian Art of the late nineteenth century, the rebel group of 14 led by Repin is so startlingly different to our British and European work of that time . Seeing it for ‘real’ was just astonishing, so it made me want to paint. As far as a specific piece in film I have always loved the look of the early Bonds (particularly Thunderball with the sharks!) later understanding who was responsible for how the look was achieved: the most brilliant and inspiring Production Designer, Ken Adams.
Where is your favourite London haunt?
I love the parks, walking the dogs. Brockwell in the summer where they don't cut the grass, Battersea has that tired London feel, with the remains of the Festival of Britain, which is completely surreal. Hyde Park as it is always incredible to be in the middle of the country and on the horizon London is buzzing away.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Name a favourite book, song or film.
I love around November when the screeners for Academy and BAFTA start to drop through the door. By Christmas you can have as many as 100 yet-to-be-released films to watch. Heaven, the anticipation is enormous. And they call this work!
What is your signature dish?
I used to be quite a good cook but now with life being a bit squeezed I am ashamed to say my signature dish is probably M&S, that and spaghetti bolognese.
What’s next for you?
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
Absolutely, art and design is such an important aspect of life in the UK, not only culturally but possibly, more importantly, economically. Though it’s sometimes difficult to quantify what we do, as we are a very chameleon lot, constantly changing and evolving what we do. But that is one of the greatest things our time at UAL has taught us, adapting to demand.
What advice would you give to the University’s aspiring creatives?
Be passionate and persistent.