We caught up with Director Sophie Kargman to talk about her fantastic short film Query, which has been selected for Tribeca Film Festival.
Co-Writer/Director Sophie Kargman’s Query was selected to world premiere at this year’s recently postponed Oscar-qualifying Tribeca Film Festival, which is due to be shown online in the coming months to select audiences. The film questions how heterosexuality is formed and stars Justice Smith (All the Bright Places), Graham Patrick Martin (Catch-22) and Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name).
Over the course of a day, Jay and Alex, roommates and best friends, spend their time verbally jousting over whether it’s instinct or social norms that drive their heterosexual proclivities. The young men are bro-ey but thoughtful enough to engage one another on the topic. As the day unfolds through PlayStation battles and beers, the barriers slowly fall and the conversation climaxes in a choice that has a profound impact on their evening.
Sophie Kargman is a graduate of Harvard University, where she majored in English, Psychology, and Theatre. As a writer, Sophie sold a true-crime series to eOne Entertainment. Currently, she’s developing a darkly comedic drama series with Akiva Goldsman’s Weed Road Pictures (Mr. & Mrs. Smith). As a director, Sophie debuted with the award-winning Susie Searches, a proof-of-concept for her feature of the same name, which was just green-lit. It’s being produced by 141 Entertainment (Ingrid Goes West), and scheduled to shoot summer 2020. As an actress, she most recently starred in Dev Patel’s directorial debut, Home Shopper.
Query is produced by Sophie Kargman, Nicole Smolen, Ryan Farhoudi, Nick Delli Santi and Ashton Ramsey. The film was co-written by Sophie Kargman and Ryan Farhoudi.
Hi Sophie, how are you doing?
Hi! In spite of this very uncertain time, I’m doing well, thanks! I’ve been reading a lot. Writing. Watching movies. Going on long walks. I’m doing a ton of cooking, trying a bunch of new recipes on NYT Cooking— which is the digital source for the best recipes from the New York Times. (I’m finally putting that recipe subscription to good use!) I’m slowly building up my confidence to bake bread. We’ll see what happens!
Congratulations on your uplifting and moving short film. How did you come up with the story for “Query”?
I had just come off directing my first short film, “Susie Searches”, which is a proof of concept for my feature of the same name. A few companies were interested in financing the short, but I wanted to control the underlying rights (especially since it was going to be a feature), so I ended up investing my savings. You have to take chances on yourself, right?
But “Susie Searches” ended up being a much bigger production than I had anticipated. It was a three-day shoot with multiple locations. In addition to a sizable cast, I needed to secure permits, special effects (shout out to the brilliant Chris Wells who did all the visual effects for Susie!), and even a snake wrangler. You read that right… a snake wrangler. Her professional name is actually ‘The Snake Bitch’. Needless to say, it was an ambitious undertaking for my directorial debut that I was also producing and starring in. Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong on “Susie Searches”, and yet I loved every single minute of the process.
I had caught the directing bug, and was desperate to take another swing at bat. But I didn’t have much money left, so the idea for “Query” essentially sprung from those restrictions. What story can I tell that will require a very small production? It would certainly have to be contained: one location; one day (because I only had enough money to pay crew for one day of shooting). Therefore, it would obviously have to be under ten minutes. Two actors. Maybe just one conversation? Most importantly, the subject matter had to be topical. With those stipulations in mind, I went to Ryan Farhoudi… when I have an idea for something, I usually go to Ryan or my other frequent collaborator, Will Frank, (my co-creator and writer of “Susie Searches”). Ryan and I tossed a few ideas around and essentially cracked the story in one sitting.
It started as a conversation about the beauty of the Gen Z generation, and how they challenge preconceived notions about sexuality more than any prior generation. For many individuals, sexual orientation and desire are far from rigid or constant throughout their lives. We are fortunate to live in a time when people are primed and open to discuss previously censored topics including but not limited to race, gender, identity, and sexuality. And that’s super interesting. Thought-provoking. I love that “Query” reflects of our ever-evolving culture.
You co-wrote it together with Ryan Farhoudi. How did the writing process between you two go?
The creative process evolved so organically, so quickly and effortlessly (as outlandish as that sounds). Ryan spit out a first draft in about twenty minutes; then I spent the next two weeks tinkering with it. But all my favorite parts of “Query” originated from Ryan’s first draft, which is a huge testament to him.
Ryan and I are a great team because he’s very instinctual. And fast. The words explode out of him. And god, he’s funny. He’s truly the funniest human I know. I’m more structured and analytical… and I like to tweak and change and craft…and then tweak some more. We’re very yin and yang in that way, and it’s great. I think the work really benefits from both of our approaches.
“Query” is about the lives of Jay and Alex who are played by the wonderful Justice Smith and Graham Patrick Martin. How did you find the two actors?
They’re friends of ours!
There’s also a totally unexpected but great cameo from Armie Hammer. How did he got involved in this movie?
We happened to be hiking with two of our good friends, Nick Delli Santi and Ashton Ramsey the day Ryan and I birthed the idea for “Query”; we were telling them about it, and they suggested we film at their house— they felt it would be a perfect location for the film from the way we described it. They were absolutely right. They became producers on the film shortly thereafter…. And went above and beyond for the production. I still feel so grateful to them for everything they did to make my life easier during that time.
Fast forward to the day of the shoot… Nick and Ashton wanted to stay out of the way while we were setting up, so they went to see Armie (who is a dear friend of all of ours) who had just gotten back from London… when we broke for lunch, Nick called me… he knew that I was planning on this specific shot where we would track the boys as they walk down the middle of the street. For any cinephiles out there, it’s reminiscent of a shot early on in Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” where Kit and Holly walk down the middle of the street, and in the background someone in the neighborhood walks behind them with a bag of groceries. It’s a tiny moment but I loved the texture that the person in the background gave to the moment… like there was a whole life going on outside of the ones we’re following.
Anyway, Nick knew that we were planning to shoot that scene after lunch, so he goes, “Wouldn’t it be fun if that person in the background is Armie?” I started laughing. I thought the idea was hilarious and perfect…. So Nick and Ashton and Armie show up forty-five minutes later— Armie’s already sporting a fabulous track suit— and the rest is history. We did a few takes (the actors are such pros) and that was it.
This is your second movie as a director. Was it easier to make than the first one [“Susie Searches”] because of the thing you’ve learned while making that one?
Oh, “Query” was so much easier. From its inception to shooting to locking picture, it took about a month and a few days! Right after we wrote the script, I sent it to Nicole Smolen, who was actually an associate producer on “Susie Searches”. But for “Query”, I wanted Nicole to be my producing partner. And honestly, she’s a huge reason why “Query” was such an easy shoot. There is no one more on top of it, more responsible, or communicative than she is. She carried so much of the production load, it allowed me to focus solely on directing when filming commenced.
Another reason why ‘Query” went so smoothly was because of my uber talented, thoughtful and patient cinematographer, Irvin Liu. Even within the financial limitations, he was determined to bring my vision to life.
Additionally, I was able to get one day of rehearsal with Justice and Graham (and Irvin) before we shot. That was hugely important, especially because the film is so dialogue-driven. It’s all about the performances. That rehearsal was paramount. It influenced most of my shot choices (mostly one-ers) as well as the edit. I’ll never forget the look Irvin gave me after the boys left rehearsal that day… he goes, “You’re right, all we need to do is point the camera in their direction and this film will be really good.”
Since my longtime editor, Christine Park, was in the middle of editing a feature, we had two weeks to edit the film, so we (she, Irvin and myself) discussed the edit beforehand. This forced me to get very specific with my vision. We essentially knew what the edit would be before we shot the film.
To me, preparation is what separates a good film from a great film. It’s all in the prep. Because we were so prepared, it allowed for happy accidents— like Armie. We basically had the final cut a week into the edit. But that’s also because Christine and I have such a wonderful shorthand at this point. She’s edited everything I’ve done; it almost feels telepathic! Now I know why so many successful directors stay with the same creative team from project to project.
The whole time we were in production for “Query”, from start to finish, I kept thinking that it was too good, too easy…. that something was bound to go wrong. I mean, I’m so used to the artistic pursuit being long and arduous, full of ups and downs. But making this short was just the opposite. It was truly one of the most enjoyable experiences of my career.
“Query” was supposed to screen at the Tribeca Film Festival in April but sadly, the world will have to wait a little bit longer to see this stunning movie. Is there any way people can already watch this movie online, via video on demand or via a streaming service?
We are planning on doing the festival circuit first. But after that, absolutely!
You’re not only a producer, writer or director but you’ve also started in many series and films. Where did your passion for film and filmmaking come from?
I have wanted to work in the TV and film industry since I was 14 years old. Not only did this medium give me a language to articulate my own thoughts and feelings, but it also allowed me to step into the storyteller’s vision, expanding my own, and reminding me that there is something beyond my own experience. It taught me about the human condition.
I’ve acted in many TV shows and independent films. Some of them were good and some of them were not. But very little of that had to do with me as the actor. Which was frustrating. But also enlightening. I realized that if I really want to make an impact, I have to become the creator, myself.
Do you already have other projects you’re working on?
The feature of “Susie Searches” was just green-lit. 141 Entertainment (“Ingrid Goes West”) is producing it. We’re still aiming to shoot this summer in Upstate New York. That is, if this pandemic is over by then. I’m praying it will be. That’s the thing I’m most focused on at the moment.
Other than that, I’m also writing a TV show for Weed Road Pictures as well as developing a thriller in the vein of “Fatal Attraction” with Ryan Farhoudi— inspired by “Query”—