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A Chat with Kate Cox, Creator of VERT

What is the true identity that hides behind the face we show the world? That’s one of the questions that filmmaker Kate Cox explores in the indie sci-fi short film VERT, about a couple, Jeff and Emelia, who are gifted a virtual reality set that shows one’s “ideal self” for their wedding anniversary. Using their VR gift, they discover a secret that could shift their relationship indelibly. The film uses a sci-fi lens to examine what it means to accept others as they truly are, and the power of that acceptance in intimate relationships.

Recently, Kate Cox chatted with Recursor about the film and her interests in sci-fi filmmaking. (If you haven’t seen the film, you might want to watch VERT on Recursor.TV before reading the interview!)

RECURSOR: How did you become interested in science fiction? What do you enjoy about the sci-fi genre?

KATE COX: Sci-fi is a big genre, and I think it provides an interesting entry to characters’ psyche. That’s what captivates me about it.

Kate Cox, director of VERT

Tell us about your development as a filmmaker.

I studied fine art, thinking I was going to be a painter, but I ended up making films for my final piece. I went onto to work in the art department and in photography before having the confidence to direct my own stories.

Who/what are some of your artistic influences?

I love the simplicity of early Japanese cinema! Films like Onibaba and Woman in the Dunes have stayed firm favorites since university. 

I’m really excited about talented female directors at the moment: Alma Harral, Coralie Fargeat, Isabella Eklöf, Julia Ducornau and Rose Glass — to name but a few!

Where did the story idea for VERT come from? What influenced you to write it?

I met Nick Frost and was struck by his presence. I wanted to explore what might lie behind such a presence. 

Editor’s Note: Nick Frost plays Jeff in VERT.

What was it like to cast the film? Was it a slow process casting – or did you find the right people right away?

I sent the first draft to Nick, and he replied to my email with “I’m in!” So it snowballed from there.

You wrote and directed the film. Did you prefer one of those activities over the other? Or do you like both equally?

I enjoy the whole process. Writing longer scripts can be sticky, but VERT didn’t have too many drafts. 

Making indie films has its challenges. What particular challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?

Money was the biggest challenge. Everyone worked pro bono. I don’t think that will happen again! 

Luckily, I had excellent producers who believed in the script, and so that trickled down to everyone being in it for the love of the craft. 

Indie short film budgets are typically small. What was it like to film on the budget you had?

It was a £6.5k budget, and I had to cut the script down to fit it into the one shoot day because we couldn’t afford two. I think it’s a stronger film for that. 

Every department did such an amazing job on the tiny budgets they had, and I am forever grateful to the whole cast and crew for believing in VERT.

How did you approach creating a sci-fi visual feel and VFX for the film?

There’s no VFX — it’s all in camera. I worked with DOP (director of photography) Aaron Reid to create the right look and feeling. 

VERT was a part of Prime Video’s SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection. How did that come about, and what has it been like to see your film recognized in such a way?

 Unfortunately, SXSW was the first festival to have to cancel due to Covid-19, so perhaps Amazon Prime became involved to help it reach more viewers. 

It’s great to have been on Prime and featured in the NY Times. Being interviewed on IG live by director and Free The Works founder, Alma Harral, was the highlight of my journey with VERT so far.

What projects are you working on right now?

Another short and my feature. Both are dramas, no sci-fi angle this time.

Kate Cox graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a First Class Hons in Fine Art and went on to work as Assistant Art Director in film and TV, before moving to London to hone her photographic eye by assisting editorial and portrait photographers. In 2017, Kate began directing her own scripts. Kate’s films tackle the complex, current and distinctly human subject matters that are too often underrepresented on screen. Being drawn to ideas of gender, the female experience and sexuality, Kate’s storytelling is both tender and bold, refusing to shy from the emotionally knotty and sensitive themes at its core. Her first short, VERT (2019) starring Nikki Amuka-Bird, Nick Frost and Olivia Vinall, won the SXSW Vimeo Staff Pick award and went on to be featured on Amazon Prime. Kate is currently in pre-production for her second short TORR and has her feature script BAMBINA in the early stages of development.