Women and Hollywood: Sassy Pants is an expansion of a short you made. Talk about how you got the idea for the initial story and how you expanded the script to be a full length feature.
Coley Sohn: Sassy Pants is based on Boutonniere, a short film I that premiered at Sundance in 2009. I'd never directed before and wanted to take a shot so I applied to AFI's Directing Workshop for Women. You have to submit a script and a filmmaker friend advised me to keep it short and make it funny. I took this sketch I had about a homeschool prom centered around this pretty two dimensional family and a brother and sister slow dancing together in the living room as their parents bark out orders. What resulted became way less about the jokey reveal at the end and way more about this f-ed up dysfunctional family and what makes them tick. I didn't get into that program, but the same filmmaker pal encouraged me to make the movie anyway. And I'm so glad I did!
The feature came about later, after the short got into Sundance. I was advised to have a full length script ready because people would be asking me what's next. I started to work on something else - thinking Boutonniere was just this self-contained 10 minute story and there wasn't any more to it. But the characters kept calling back to me, probably because I did know them so well at that point. So I switched gears and started to write it and it's one of those disgusting stories where it all sort of poured out.
WaH: You started in acting, how did you become interested in directing?
CS: I'd been acting since I was a kid. I grew up in DC and did a lot of musical theater there and even a short stint on Broadway. After college I came out to LA to pursue acting, but I realized I wasn't very good at it. It was always just enough to tease me, and sort of keep me going like a dangling carrot. I then got into improv which I still love and that parlayed into writing. But I was always writing stuff as a potential vehicle for myself. It wasn't until I took a stab at directing with Boutonniere that I finally broke the need to be on stage or in front of the camera. It's really the perfect fit for me and I'm kind of surprised I didn't find it sooner. As a kid I was always writing and directing plays in my basement with my neighborhood cronies. But please don't get me wrong, I have zero regrets when it comes to the acting stuff. I think it's made me a better director.
WaH: You write and direct. That's common for women so that they can get their stories made. Do you prefer one of the other? Would you be interested in directing scripts written by other people?
CS: That's a great question... I definitely prefer directing, hands down. I'm a lazy writer and it wasn't until I got into directing that I now have a real impetus when I'm sitting at my computer. Now that I know what it's like to get to bring characters and their stories to fruition, I'm addicted. I'm a junkie. I want more.
So yeah, I would be interested in directing other people's stuff, but I think it would obviously have to strike some sort of chord. I recently read a friend's script and was instantly wowed, and for the first time felt I had to direct material that wasn't mine. It's a very cool kismet-y resonating thing and I hope that continues to happen.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CS: Oh man, there were way too many. Money... Time... I guess our schedule was probably the toughest hurdle. We shot the entire movie over a very tight 18 days and if that wasn't bad enough, we straddled the holidays - Christmas and New Year’s, with literally those days off and not much more. Also, we shot for summer and this was a particularly freezing and rainy period. I remember we were up in Santa Clarita at this tract house shooting a big party scene and the poor actors were outside at night in 35 degree temps in short sleeves. Smoke was coming out of their mouths from the cold and we just played it off as cigarettes!
WaH: Talk a bit about how you got the title Sassy Pants.
CS: I like the irony of it and the lead character initially could and should be described as anything but. So when her overbearing mom dubs her that in a throw away quip, I thought there's the title. That pretty much encapsulates our whole tone and story. I think it's kind of catchy too.
WaH: What do you want people to walk out of the theatre thinking about?
CS: For me, the movie is a fun ride with a lot of heart to it too. While there is a definite heightened sense of reality to a lot of the characters, and a good dose of campiness too, I think there's also a lot of truth to the movie. I find mother/daughter relationships extremely complex and they're very different from generation to generation. I hope audiences get a whiff of that, and of what makes us all tick. We all have our shit and it really takes its toll, making us who we are now, how we affect others, etc. But ultimately, we're all just doing the best we can. And with Bethany, our protagonist, it's like a fresh start. A clean slate. Rooting for her, we also get to break free from fears and family influence and other societal B.S. and follow our hearts and our callings.
WaH: What are you working on next?
CS: I have several projects in the works including a two TV shows but the one that's nearest and dearest is a gay marriage comedy, very much of the same tone as Sassy Pants, called Dodie and Cheryl Get Hitched. We're just starting to set that up now.
WaH: What advice could you offer to other women directors?
CS: Take no shit on set!!! Or anywhere else really! It's almost like we have to assert ourselves more and fight harder. It's funny because I never used to be conscious of being a chick. I mean, of course I know I am one, but I never really thought of it as being part of a minority or something else to have to surmount. But I'm realizing that it is an issue, sadly enough. But you know, we make up half of the audiences out there. We buy tickets and download movies too. So I think if we just keep telling our stories and staying true to ourselves, we're going to be okay.
Sassy Pants opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.