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Grill and Chill: Dia Sokol and Lauren Veloski of Sorry, Thanks

Welcome to Grill and Chill, a new feature made possible by our friends at Weber*, who gave Flavorpill HQ one of their electric grills for the summer as long as we promised to interview interesting cultural figures and feed them free hot dogs. Read on for an interview with Dia Sokol and Lauren Veloski, the talented filmmakers behind Sorry, Thanks — a quirky film about 20-something relationships that stars Dazed and Confused‘s Wiley Wiggins and mumblecore genius Andrew Bujalski — and if you live in New York, be sure to check out the premiere at BAMcinemaFEST on June 24th.

Flavorpill: I read in an interview on Spout that you guys split up the writing of the main couple in a unique way — Dia, you wrote the character of Kira before you had Lauren come in and write Max?

Dia Sokol: I basically had a version of the script written a year before Lauren came on. I kept trying to write this Max character, and I kind of knew he was the key, but I wasn’t doing a particularly good job. I didn’t get it, really.  So I reached out to Lauren for help. But we didn’t plan — we just sort of took off with this idea that these two characters would be sort of separate, unrelated. She really just kind of creatively went off on her own and wrote that side of the story, and then we figured out where it intersected.

Lauren Veloski: So even though it was kind of incidental, it ended up being perfect. I purposely didn’t read her pages and I didn’t realize, actually, when she asked me to write the Max character that she’d been working on it for so long. So to me, the whole concept felt really new, and I felt like she was very generous and gave me tons of freedom to completely invent this character with basically no information aside from his name and an entry point for the story.

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Wiley Wiggins and Kenya Miles in Sorry, Thanks

FP: Did you ultimately feel a little more protective of Max? Because you had dreamed him up? And Dia, you of Kira?

DS: If we were rewriting — when you’re on set, you’re constantly figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, and you write jokes in your own voice and the actor brings something different to them. Certainly, Lauren was Max’s person, for all the characters that originated in her head.

LV: I think we probably do each have different relationships to Max and Kira. Dia definitely knows Kira in a way I don’t quite. But it was different for Dia all around, because on-set, she had to be the go-to person for everything because she’s dealing with stuff from the director’s vantage. So it wasn’t like, “Don’t tell me what Kira would say here!”

DS: I was like that?

LV: No! No, you weren’t like that. Because on set, no matter how invested she was in the character, she just had to be the director. So, that part was really hard I think. I don’t know how you do like ten different things at once, anyway.

FP: It seems like it was a very interesting back process.

LV: Yeah, I actually think it was really brave of us. To go the anti-chemistry route and approach Max and Kira separately. I think that a lot of scripts, indie or otherwise, fail because they’re going out of their way for the happy ending. They have this really organic story building and they go out of their way to make the characters come together.

DS: Or the coincidences are just so big. I think our coincidence is pretty organic and very small. I think you need to feel like it’s authentic, otherwise it becomes this story where magical forces are at work, intervening…

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Left: Flavorpill’s Brent Van Dyke; Right: Flavorpill’s Justin Carter

FP: The Kira character maintains this emotional consistency throughout the film. Working with a non-professional actor in the role, was that something that scared you as a director?

DS: I think in a traditional Hollywood narrative you have the character who has a lot going on, who’s really internal. I think that might be more challenging for a traditional actor to tone it down and not be overly emotive. I just think that her great skill was to really make things natural.

LV: But Dia’s being really humble. I think anyone — whether you’re a professional or not — when you’re told to act, your instinct is to feel like you’re supposed to “act”. She was able to communicate with non-professionals in a way where they knew they had to be real.

FP: You both live here. Why did you decide to shoot this in San Francisco?

DS: We really wanted to set the movie in San Francisco because it’s vibrant and it’s got a good vibe. But we also thought San Francisco was kind of a mindset within the film — the way that the characters are not the same characters that you find in New York.

LV: They would just fail here. [laughs] They would absolutely fail, because we have a different speed here. They’re not totally unambitious characters, but they’re mellow Californians. And I think it has a lot to do with pacing. There are a lot of silences in their conversations. Which is definitely not the case in New York. In New York, everyone is anxious to fill the space. Like when Dia and I talk: not a lot of silences. [laughs]

FP: How did Wiley Wiggins get hooked up with the project? I can’t remember seeing him in anything since Dazed and Confused.

DS: I met him when I was at  South by Southwest back in 2005, and we’ve been friends ever since. I was producing a film in Austin, and I was walking down the street thinking about who could play the character of Max. Suddenly I realized, “Wiley Wiggins is Max!”

LV: I didn’t really know who he was, so I wound up being shocked by how uncannily well-suited he was for the part.

DS: But then we had to convince Wiley to do it. He had a life down in Austin. He’s been a few friend’s projects over the past few years, but nothing major. And maybe I wasn’t clear when I said to him, “Oh I’m making this movie in San Francisco; you should come be in it.” He said sure, but when I called him to schedule things, he was like “Whoa, wait, rehearsals?” I think he must have read the first scene and that was it. I was like, “You’re the star.” He was surprised, but he was totally on board.

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Left: Dia Sokol; Right: Lauren Veloski

FP: Do either of you give credence to the idea that women write in a different way than men do?

LV: No!

FP: Do you think that the audience would ever guess that there are two females behind this film?

DS: Honestly, no. I mean there are subtle things. I think that we might have a different perspective. For example: There’s a kind of alternative buddy movie in this film that may or may not be attributed to Lauren being a female writer. But in a more traditional script, the friend would intervene. Here, he just watches his friend self destruct.

LV: But that’s just good writing. [laughs] I think it doesn’t necessarily behoove us as writers or filmmakers to talk about “women writers” as a single, uniform group. I think it’s really limiting. But the stuff that we do that’s unique is judged more harshly because there are so few of us. I’m really proud of the fact that we very contentiously made a story that plays equally well for men and women. I don’t like stuff that get’s called chick flicks. I think it sucks. Here, you have the humor and you have emotions — but it’s not a sappy story.

FP: Was it hard not to make it sappy?

LV: Not for me because I had just gone through a really tumultuous time and I was just hating the world. [laughs]

DS: No, I think aesthetically we’re not that sappy. Neither of us were looking to make a film that neatly tied up everything. We were looking to make something with the rhythm of a comedy until things got more serious in the script.

FP: Was it a challenge for you to break into the film industry?

LV: Comedy is seen as a man’s form. It’s assumed that women make social issue documentaries. I think that’s changing, with women like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, getting huge deals and making a lot of money — and of course they have men in their audiences like crazy. But if you look at who’s on top on the roster specifically at comedy agencies and management firms, it’s like 99 percent male. So it’s really difficult.

FP: So do you feel like pioneers?

LV: I feel like a pioneer everyday! [laughs] It’s sad but true. But I hope that it’s changing. Humpday has done well — really well. It was warmly received at Sundance. It got a standing ovation. And [Lynn Shelton's] very much the force behind that film. So I really hope it’s changing because I hate talking about it in this way that sounds so frustrated and victim-y. But really if you’re a male writer and you’re 22 years old, it doesn’t matter. You are taken seriously instantly. It’s much easier to get an agent and find jobs. So I think the approach needs to be: you have to be positive. You have to take yourself seriously. You cannot afford to take yourself less seriously or get bitter because you’re not part of the boy’s club because then you will get locked out.

FP: Is there the same boy’s club in indie film?

DS: Yes. Part of my motivation for making this film was that I felt like I’ve raising money for projects by men — many of whom I love, and I really enjoy working with, and want to work with again, but still…

We won the Adrienne Shelly Director’s Grant a year and a half ago. At the beginning of the night, they had this quote from Adrienne about how when she first started her career, all she wanted to do was talk about how challenging it was to be a female director. And then supposedly she didn’t want to talk about it anymore. After about ten years, she wanted to talk about it again because she saw it was a real problem. It wasn’t just bullshit. You are up against different challenges.

LV: I think she both embraced that female filmmaker label and kind of hated it. But it’s important. You have to be able to say, yes, it has been a struggle; yes we need to change this. Because, let’s face it, regardless of your gender, making any movie is war. It’s really like war. [laughs]

Images courtesy of Alan Parker, a New York-based photographer and stylist.

* Stay tuned for details on how to enter to win a Weber Q 140 for your apartment.