David McCarty

A Story of Discovery

We’ve seen it before in “Pleasantville,” “Edward Scissor Hands,” and maybe even the “Cat in the Hat”: a colorful character shows up and paints the town red, much to the chagrin of the residents. However, in “Sophie: A Story of Discovery,” a not-so colorful character gets her entire life painted yellow in the award winning short film. Artistic director, David McCarty, created the film for the Somerset Collection in Detroit, and won over the judges at the 2016 La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival, taking home the award for Best Art Direction.

While the film’s protagonist, Sophie, spent most of her life in a “world without color, a world without flaws,” it sounds like McCarty grew up in the opposite atmosphere. Raised in a conservative, Evangelical Christian home, McCarty quickly moved to Columbia after graduating from a pacifist Mennonite school. Moving around a lot when he was younger, he learned to read, draw, and paint to entertain himself. With his unconventional, transient upbringing, McCarty developed many hobbies and interests, eventually leading him to add artistic direction to his career. McCarty now lives with his wife “in the boonies,” tending to his six chickens and entertaining his five grandkids. How appropriate that his film ended up being as Seussical as it did.[1]

According to McCarty, “Sophie: A Story of Discovery” started as something quite simple, and evolved into a whimsical short film about much more than just fashion. “I’d like to say I had it all planned out from the start, but that’s not actually how I work,” claims the artist. “I found the location, which is a studio in NYC that is almost completely white on white. I thought it would be interesting to do a story about color. To slowly introduce the idea of color into an all white world.” McCarty then became determined about certain elements for the film. “This led to the idea of using a black model, as we’d been planning to do. There’s not nearly enough diversity in the fashion world. I really pushed hard to get Ajak, the model we ended up using.” Aesthetically, Ajak could not be more perfect for the role. Her flawless skin, doll-like features, and immaculate teeth hidden behind sumptuous lips beg to be draped in the colors of the rainbow, yet fit seamlessly into the pristine, white-on-white studio in which she lives.

The narrative came to McCarty organically, and was another bi-product of the location. “Finally we came to the story, which was roughly outlined, but didn’t really present itself until we had determined the talent, location, and wardrobe,” McCarty reports in the official backstory and film synopsis. “As I was writing it, it came to me in rhyming couplets. It was like a fairy tale.” Sophie wears preppy outfits with quirky accessories, provided by Kate Spade and Tory Burch, that seem to work in both her clean, spotless life as well as her new, color-enhanced life. It’s interesting that such a simple palette and wardrobe could contribute to what ended up becoming a story about “change, diversity, and allowing new ideas into your world.” The relevance of these ideas cannot be missed, and like children learning through playing, we understand this message more deeply because we are so thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

McCarty takes a very practical approach to his work, explaining that he thinks in commercial terms to serve the client. “I want to make the best art I can while serving the clients’ needs. I look for ways to set them apart from their competitors.” McCarty is hardly a yes-man, though. “My goal is to do consistently good work. To challenge myself to evolve and do better,” he clarifies. “It sounds like a bad hallmark card, but you really do have to stay true to your own vision, perfect your craft, and good work will find you.” Striving to present his best has led McCarty to some humorous encounters, and to sometimes break industry norms. While working on Sophie, for example, McCarty confronted an unexpected challenge and a quirky personality – Steve the Cat. “I wanted something living to be in [the picture], and a cat seemed perfect.” However, Steve the Cat was not as compliant an actor as his human counterpart. “I thought we were getting a trained cat, but really it was just a pretty white cat that liked to hide under the bed as soon as possible,” relays McCarty. “We gave it milk, or maybe tuna water, and it cooperated for about three and a half minutes. They say never work with kids or animals, but I seem to break that rule all the time.”

After “Sophie: A Story of Discovery,” McCarty doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. He is eager to divulge details of his upcoming film, which will be his first, true narrative short film, for which he wrote the screenplay. He will be working with some of the crew from Sophie, and a Tony Award-winning actor. This film, titled “The King’s Judgement,” is a serious departure from Sophie, but we imagine it will be vivid and impactful, just as his entire repertoire has been so far.

Text by Leah Tassinari