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Orangeville resident Sophie Vertigan nominated for an Emmy

September 9, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield 

“We work crazy hours when we’re working, so, I’m happy to have a break,” said Emmy-nominated Sophie Vertigan, now winding down from finishing Season Three of The Umbrella Academy.

Ms. Vertigan is nominated for an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode – 2021.”

The nomination list extends to nine names.

She gave us the specifics: “Vanya was in the FBI building where she is being electrocuted to stop her [from] trying to get down the hallway.”

Ms. Vertigan and her team created the special effects.

Stepping back a moment to her childhood in the U.K., she told the Citizen, “My mom was a prop buyer – anything that person picks up. My dad was an art director for commercials and my mom did feature films and television.

“I did a degree in fine arts, in sculpture.”

All told, an artistic family. 

Sometime after coming to live in Canada, talking about her start in film, Ms. Vertigan said, “I made soft props, which are built in special effects. I did that for a long time and then, I got bored and I start going into films, making special effects.”

Sophie Vertigan opined, “Women are very organized. I started off as a technician; I started running the floor; I was the onset key for the action unit for Suicide Squad. And then, I was promoted to set-super on Umbrella Academy.”

Darcy Callahan [“Mr. Darcy,” Ms. Vertigan calls him] with Laird Effects, have been supportive of her. Mr. Callahan told her he couldn’t do Season Three. He was the coordinator in Season Two.

“He told me I was coordinating Season Three. It’s a very big show and I had only done it [coordinating] for a small show. I said I would only do it if I could have the best team in Toronto and he said yes – so I did,” said Vertigan.

Her beginnings in the film industry started in 1997, a long time ago, so she says. Vertigan came to Canada in 1993 and as a hobby, she does one-day eventing, an equestrian sport and noted that the season wraps up in October.

“Special effects have changed over the years because of visual effects,” she informed us. “Both departments melded together into one award. We get the scripts and it is up to myself to read the story and come up with what physical effects would be pertinent to help tell the story. We assist and integrate with visual effects, very much team work between the two departments.”

It is Sophie Vertigan’s job to come up with the ideas with the director and then they construct and build the effects and then put them into action. On “Umbrella,” they do all of the visual effects and they [the studio] like to do visual effects, as they are better, cheaper and better for the actors.

“We do a lot for this,” she said. “They love to do visual effects.”

Adding, “it definitely keeps us on our toes. Every day mundane things – so much of the things we do, we have to make it up. And… we come up with the right effect and that’s what’s fun about it [making the mundane less so.]”

She relayed a team favourite story: “There is a scene where Ben [a ghost], he’s in the police station and he picks up a sandwich and throws it against the wall about 14 feet. They weren’t going to have that as a special effect but one of our guys said ‘let me have a go at it’ and he took two pieces of bread, two pieces of string because it had to go up and across. It worked perfectly and it cost us $53 for the string. Everybody just thought it was the best thing ever. It shows the ingenuity of the tech. You have to come with ideas and that’s what I love about the job.”

As a childhood note, her parents broke up when she was six and, somehow, she became the man in the house, changing plugs.

“Mom set fire to the nuts when she was roasting them.” she reminisced, “and I had to put the fires out. I also do oil paintings, one in particular, called Nature or Nurture- which is the bigger influence on what a person becomes? I’ve always liked making things and I’m a very practical person.”

Her introduction to Canada was a trip with her dad and his friends one year and she loved Canada. Later, she returned as a nanny and “I just ended up staying,” she said. “I think I felt as though I could do anything in Canada, that there were so many opportunities.”

She told the Citizen that England was very sexist in those days, admitting, even so, when she started in special effects here in Canada, it was difficult.

“Once, I was taken out back and told I belonged in the kitchen,” and she chuckled at the eventuality. “It’s been a tough journey being a woman in a man’s world but, then, we were doing the scene where we blew up the kitchen and I thought ‘Here I am in the kitchen and I’m blowing it up.’”

Women are good at organizing and talking to people, Ms. Vertigan believes, making the example, “I coordinate with all the other departments. You need to be able to talk to people and deal with conflict and I think women are good at that.” 

Affirming, “This location is the possibility for other, younger women; in previous times, it was rejected as a possibility of women coming into special effects. Now, they’re saying, ‘It’s because of you.’ I had difficulties, but it’s like dripping water on a rock and eventually, they see you know what you’re doing.”

She wanted to be clear: “I got to where I’ve got with the pull of really good men in my work who stood by me. It takes an entire team to make special effects and some of my onsite team are females – a couple of ladies on the crew.”

About the Emmy nomination coming to her, she says, “If I came to work and was the only one to show up, there wouldn’t be many special effects done.”

How they cope was illustrated, “The last episode in Season Two, they were doing the scene in November in a farmer’s field and everything was green until a snow storm came up and everything was white. So, they re-wrote the story and then, it rained and everything was green again and we had to make it snow. In the meantime, we were blowing things up.

“We got it done.”

There is another person within the whole process: “The Show Runner for Umbrella – his name is Steve Blackman. He oversees the entire show, every element. He is a force to be reckoned with, always positive, incredible energy. He helps write the scripts; just brilliant to work with someone like the that.”

Moreover, “He’s really interested in what the crew has to say, absolutely listens. A show like this, he’s gotta be edgy and he allows all the ideas, budget, writing, every prop, costumes – oversees it all.”

The Umbrella Academy was number one on Netflix as a Netflix Original. For the Emmys, they are sending a car for Sophie Vertigan to the airport, flying her in. The awards are held in Los Angeles and are not virtual this year. There are three nights of the Emmy Awards with Sunday (Sept. 19) for the technical arts. Everybody gets tested for Covid.

“Umbrella has done very well,” Ms. Vertigan was happy to say, with nominations also for costume designer, director of photography and sound effects.

Considering the tremendous talent, the availability of studio space, and the tax considerations, the film industry in Toronto and Hamilton is booming. As pay back, the film industry “spreads money all over the place.” Ms. Vertigan was being tested for Covid five times week in 2020 and there was a cleaning crew cleaning all day; they wore face masks and shields all day.

“I think we had 12 cases and none of them spread to anyone else because we were so protected.”

She said, “Someday, I would like to do action films, like Bond or Mission: Impossible.”

The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will air live on Sunday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m.

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