Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coley Sohn on “Sassy Pants”

What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Sassy Pants?

COLEY: I used to act so I've been on many sets, and I minored in film in college, but aside from that, I've had no formal training as a filmmaker.  I made a short film called Boutonniere a few years back that Sassy Pants is based on and that was very much my maiden voyage in terms of directing.

What was the genesis of the project and what was your process for writing the script?

COLEY: We were fortunate enough to have Boutonniere accepted into Sundance back in 2009.  When it got in, a filmmaker friend advised me to have a feature script ready for when I'd be asked what was next.  At that time I thought the short was what it was, pretty self contained, and that there wasn't a full length feature there. 

But when I sat down to write something else, I kept harkening back to these characters, the Pruitt family, and all their dysfunction.  I realized there was a lot more there than the 10 minute short and when I sat down to write it, the initial draft sort of poured out.  I know, kinda sick.  And believe me, it rarely comes that easily for me.  But I think because I got to know the character so well from making the short film, they were able to just sort of jump off the page.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

COLEY: Well I did what everyone advises you not to do and put up the seed money.  We hired a line producer to break down the budget and a casting director to start attaching talent.  My producer Adam got the rest through family and friends.  Also, our post house Cinelicious took a big gamble and donated much of their services in kind.  They won't get paid until we do. 

As far as recouping the $, we are thrilled to have teamed with distributor Phase 4 who will be releasing Sassy Pants in late October.  There's gonna be a small theatrical release, probably New York and LA, that will coincide with a big VOD push on Netflix, Itunes, etc.  We've gotten some tremendous press thus far so fingers crossed, we will all get our money back!

What were your plans when you went into casting?

COLEY: We were extremely fortunate to have worked with the uber talented Eyde Belasco who completely got the tone of the movie, what we were going for, etc.  And everyone in this town really respects and loves her so a lot of doors were opened for us that may not normally have been. 

That said, our shooting schedule was a bit gruesome - a very tight 18 days over the holidays, straddling Christmas and New Years.  Not only was it difficult to find actors willing to sacrifice their holidays to be with us, but Eyde was also working well into the 11th hour, casting some roles on Christmas Eve and Christmas.  It was very much by the seat of our pants and needless to say, extremely stressful at times, but we somehow ended up scoring a stellar cast and I'm beyond grateful.

How does your background in acting help you as a director (and, for that matter, as a writer)?

COLEY: It's definitely given me tons of respect for actors and their processes.  Every actor works differently and I totally get and support that.  It's also helped in how I communicate with actors.  There's a fine line between not giving them enough direction and giving them too much.  I like to let actors play and bring their own stuff to the table, but at the same time, if it's not coinciding with the big picture vision, you have to do a bit of guiding. 

In terms of acting helping my writing, I'm not so sure.  Maybe it's helped me find just the right balance in terms of how much description to put on the page and how much to leave to the actor.  I will say that when I write, I sometimes feel like I'm just hearing it and transcribing.  And sometimes the delivery comes out way different on set, not at all what I imagined but so much better.  I think my improv background has helped a lot in that sense.  It's taught me let go and accept that that's the scene.  Which I feel is crucial in indie filmmaking.

What camera did you use and what did you love and hate about it?

COLEY: We were awarded Panavision's New Filmmakers Grant and they gave us an Arriflex SR3 super 16mm camera.  It was fortuitous because our DP Denis Maloney actually had his own super 16mm camera too, an Aaton LTR, which we used as a B camera, allowing us to get extra shots on our tight schedule. 

Denis loved working with super 16mm and found both cameras to be quick and easy to use.  While I'm glad we shot Sassy Pants on film, I'm definitely open to digital next time.  There are so many options these days and I'm all about keeping the costs down.

Did the movie change much in the editing process, and if so, how?

COLEY: Definitely.  It's funny because Boutonniere, the short that it's based on, was its script to a T.  Every line, every moment ended up in there. 

But the feature turned out significantly different.  Much tighter I think.  What works on the page doesn't always translate to the screen.  There's an expression - there's the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and the movie you edit - and it couldn't have been more true in this case.  There were scenes that I thought would be trailer moments, but then as we were cutting and they just weren't working or felt like overkill, I'd say get rid of it.

One of my producers worried that I wasn't going to be able to let go of stuff, but I was actually the opposite.  I wanted the movie to be fast and lean, so I'd be like "Take it!"  On the other hand, there were scenes that when we shot didn't necessarily feel like they were working, but our editors magically transformed into these fabulous moments. 

Bottom line, it's such a collaborative process and you never know exactly what you're gonna get.  It clearly takes a village.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

COLEY: Hmmm, I think it was my producer Adam and I bringing on our other producer Pavlina Hatoupis to complete the triumvirate.  She's simply amazing.  The things she can do with very small amounts of money... 

As far as the dumbest, I don't think I'd shoot over the holidays again.  Weather aside, which we obviously had no control over, the schedule and timing added some unnecessary stress. 

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects

COLEY: I almost feel like Sassy Pants was my film school.  My guinea pig if you will.  It taught me to choose my battles.  That sometimes you do have to stick to your guns and sometimes you gotta be flexible and bend. 

It taught me to surround myself with incredible people who share the same vision. 

It taught me that no matter how much you prepare, unforeseen shit will go down and you just gotta ride it out.  I believe everything happens for a reason, so some of that unexpected caca can actually turn out to be very beneficial.

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