Monique Sorgen’s short film Sorry, Not Sorry is a dark comedy about a couple. This film has been screening at Oscar qualifying film festivals Cleveland International Film Festival and Florida Film Festival. We had a chance to talk to Monique about her film and where it all began.
Please see the trailer of Sorry, Not Sorry below.
Congratulations on your amazing new short film Sorry, Not Sorry. You directed Sorry, Not Sorry and also wrote it. Where did the idea come from?
The idea for this movie was inspired by the William Carlos Williams poem “This is Just to Say.” I first learned of the poem when I was 18, in my freshman year English literature class at UCLA. It’s been my favorite poem ever since. Then more recently, over the holidays I was reading back through my college journal to find out if I was still the same person as I was back then, and I came across a page where I had written the poem down and next to it I had written, “This would make a great short film!” At the time I had never made a short film in my life. But now that I’ve made several and know more about the form, the story plot and structure came to me in a flash of inspiration and I wrote the first rough draft in an hour.
How difficult is it, when you’re making a short film, to tell a full story in such a small amount of time?
I think it’s hard when you’re used to writing features to keep the story simple enough. With short films you can’t have a lot of subplots. You need to pick one thing and dive into it 100%. I think that’s one of the harder things in short films because when you are developing a story you get so many great ideas and offshoots of your idea that you want to incorporate and you just have to remember to be judicious and pointed with what gets to stay in the movie. Ironically this film does have a subplot, which is the father and his needs, but I only added that storyline to service the main plot. I think the easiest way to write a short film is to just write everything down and then go back later with a sharp knife and cut, cut, cut, until you’re down to only the essentials.
Was there a reason why you went for “plums” and not bananas or apples or something like that?
I went for plums because the poem that inspired the story is about plums. It’s very short it basically goes, “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me they were delicious, so sweet and so cold.” That’s the whole poem. That’s why I love it, because it’s so short and succinct and it says so much and has so much subtext. Funny enough there was a moment when I was considering other juicy red fruits and vegetables, like strawberries or tomatoes, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to acquire the rights to the poem and I had fallen in love with my story already, so just in case, I had a back-up plan to use a different fruit or vegetable that looks like blood when you eat it.
There’s almost no dialogue in this film so during the casting, human expressions were probably the most important thing you were looking for? How did the cast come together?
Any great actor can tell you that “acting is reacting,” so when I cast, my main goal was to cast amazing actors who looked right for the parts. The cast I ended up with are all so talented, they can do anything. To cast the film, I mostly went to people I had connections to. My Cinematographer new Wallace Langham. My niece was in school with one of Jessica Oyelowo’s children, so my sister was able to put me in touch with her. I basically cast each of them through people I knew. Casting the father was more difficult, but eventually I got in touch with M. Emmet Walsh’s manager, and because I already had Wallace Langham on board (and he is a big television star), it legitimized the project for her and she offered to let me work with M. Emmet Walsh.
The film is screening at Cleveland International Film Festival and will be screening at Florida Film Festival. Are there any other festivals you will head to with this film?
Yes, and we’re just starting art Festival circuit so the list is getting longer every day. Right after Florida the movie screening at the Hollywood Comedy Shorts Festival at the Chinese theater. Then in Santa Monica at the Artemis Women in Action Festival. Then in Boston at the Women in Comedy Festival. And then we will be going to the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at Cannes competition in May. I also have been accepted to the Vero Beach Film and Wine Festival which is in June on the beach in Florida. And I’m waiting to hear from many many more Festival still.
Where did your passion for film come from?
This is a deep question, and if I were to psychoanalyze myself I would say that I have a deep-seated need to be heard. I think partly because I’m a woman and partly because I was raised as a latchkey kid, and had a very independent upbringing, I didn’t always feel like people were listening to me when I spoke. At the same time I was raised to believe that it’s my responsibility to change and improve the world, and open people’s eyes to the various sides of life they’re not seeing (or maybe not paying attention to). I think that’s why I have always been driven to be a storyteller. I don’t remember ever having wanted to do anything else.
Which films and directors have inspired you the most so far?
When I was young I was inspired by films that took me into another world and made me fantasize about how fun my life might be, if I could find a way to optimize my life experience. I’m talking about films by Spielberg and John Hughes, like ET and Sixteen Candles. As I’ve gotten older and realized that my passion was to tell stories about the ironies of being human through the lens of comedy, I’ve found myself very inspired by Judd Apatow and films written by Tina Fey and Aline Brosh McKenna. On another note, one film that’s really stuck with me through the years is Dead Poets Society, because I’ve always related to the feeling of standing up for yourself and rising up against authority when authority is misguided— that’s a theme that gets me going, and something I think movies can really inspire people to do for themselves.
Do you have any advice for people out there who wants to get a foot in the door of the film industry?
Well, you definitely have to just start doing it. You’re not going to get good at it until you try and fall on your face a few times so you can learn from your mistakes. Write some script give them to your friends and take their feedback seriously. Ask them to be hard on you. Then take your phone and try shooting some stuff and editing some stuff and show those to your friends, and ask them to be hard on you. Remember your first few scripts and films don’t need to be seen by the public at large. They can just be learning experiences. It’s just a skill that takes a lot of practice so the sooner you start practicing the sooner you’ll get really, really good.
One last question: Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?
I’m working on getting my first feature film made. I have a couple of films that seem to be getting really close to happening. One is actually something I’m developing with Jessica Oyelowo through her production company Yoruba Saxon. It’s called “Bad BFF” and it’s a dark comedy about a girl who pretends she’s getting married in order to get her best friend to pay attention to her. It deals with the strong bonds that female friendships can hold, and how tight women become emotionally. Female friendships feel almost like a romantic relationship without the sex, and when they breakup, it’s really painful and unexpected. The film also explores a female lead who isn’t interested in the institution of marriage which I think is getting to be a more common thing and needs to be legitimized through film. The other project is based on my novel “How Long You Should Wait to Have Sex.” That story is about the very female dating issue of how soon you should have sex with a new partner that you’re interested in forming a relationship with. In the story the main character Samantha finds the perfect guy and she goes off and sleeps with him right away. Then he never calls her again and she worries that it’s because she had sex with him too soon. She wishes she hadn’t and her wish comes true, and then in a “Groundhog day”-like manner she gets several more chances to go back in time and wait longer and longer so she can find out how long she needs to wait to make him fall in love with her.