SXSW 09 Interview: "Sorry, Thanks" Director Dia Sokol

By David Cornelius
Posted 03/10/09 03:08:32

The South by Southwest rundown on “Sorry, Thanks”: Upon visiting her ex's to collect her belongings, Kira returns anxiously to dating and immediately collides with the disheveled Max. Disaster looms when Max (already taken) decides to dabble in two new pursuits: an obsessive-tending interest in Kira, and the mystery of whether he may in fact be an ass. Kira, meanwhile, fights to win a job she's far too smart for, then sabotages her only meaningful romantic prospect when a friend lays it on the line. Shot in San Francisco's Mission District, featuring the comic duo of Wiley Wiggins & Andrew Bujalski (who plays the best friend on the frontlines of Max's emotional shortcomings), and introducing newcomers Kenya Miles & Ia Hernandez. "Sorry, Thanks" charts turmoil, deep fallibility and the wreckage of self-delusion. In a laughy kind of way.

Just what is "Sorry, Thanks"?

The film is an un-romantic comedy, set in San Francisco's Mission District, about Kira (newly single and feeling pretty crappy about ending her last relationship) and Max (in a long term relationship yet pursuing Kira). It stars Wiley Wiggins, Andrew Bujalski, Kenya Miles, Ia Hernandez as well as numerous SF locals. Oh, and two cats, Napkin and Milo.

Describe your writing process. How did the story come about?

I had the Kira script kicking around for nearly a year and I knew that the script was about cheating. Try as I might, I hadn't been able to figure out the character of Max, and I thought maybe that the script needed another voice, and that the reason that I couldn't figure it out was that they really occupied different but overlapping spheres. I called up Lauren (Veloski, who co-wrote and produced) and asked her to take a crack at it, using just the minimum about what I knew about Max: he had a serious girlfriend and he hooked up with Kira. Lauren and I were determined to write a script that we could make on a small budget, so we knew that there probably wouldn't be any explosions or car chases, and we went from there. She created the world of Max and then we put our heads together and worked and re-worked the story until we felt that we had the film that we wanted to make.

Your website describes the movie as "a new brand of indie ensemble comedy." What about indie ensemble comedies deserves a "new brand"?

I tried to make every character (no matter how small) feel like a fully developed person, and to avoid "quirk" or caricatures.

Aside from a couple notables, your cast mainly consists of non-professional actors. What did having so many amateur performers bring to the film that you couldn't get from a "professional" cast?

We were shooting in San Francisco on a limited budget, so casting locally was a great creative as well as practical decision. Our local cast also provided an authenticity that I really wanted which (I hope) captures the energy of the city.

You filmed entirely on location in San Francisco, which seems just the sort of place where Wiley Wiggins would get recognized. Did his appearance bring out any bizarre fans, or did they keep quiet?

No bizarre Wiley fans surfaced. But we were in San Francisco, so you have to take into consideration the fact that everyone is already a little bizarre. Actually, people were incredibly wonderful to our production - opening their homes, businesses and restaurants to us to help get the movie made.

What got you started making movies?

I started in documentaries because I loved the idea of a film being the search for the truth. Over the years, I tried to keep that intention and love of things that feel real and relatable as I made the transition to fiction.

You've worked with Errol Morris on several projects. Did working on his documentaries prepare you for working in fiction, or would you say they're too separate?

I'm a firm believer that whatever you do parlays itself into tools for your next job, no matter what it is. Certainly my documentary background informs my films & my aesthetic. Working with Errol Morris definitely taught me the value of approaching a story without wanting to editorialize, and he certainly reinforced in me a deep skepticism about the human condition.

Any lessons learned while making this movie?

Too many to go in to them all! First of all, cats are really quite hard to direct, so I might recommend to another director not choose a location that is home to three incredibly huge, growling, hairy dogs to shoot all of your scenes that involve cats. But if you do, I should also advise you that catnip really doesn't work in that situation.

Are you nervous about coming to South by Southwest?

Mostly I'm just thrilled to show the movie. After working on the film nonstop for years, it's a tremendous relief to finally be able to unveil it (and I'm sure I speak for my co-writer & producer Lauren Veloski, and our wonderful editor Jennifer Lilly, who are probably just as excited as I am!)

What's next for you?

Lauren and I are working on another script, which I'm super enthused about. And I have a day job running a TV series for MTV which I fear I've been neglecting, so I'm excited to focus on that. And now that the film is done, I am considering sleeping for more than four hours a night.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd probably be...

Monica Lewinsky. I wanted to be a lawyer and tried to be a White House intern, but my communist background kept me out.

Rock, paper, or scissors?

Paper, please. (C'mon, that one's easy for a writer!)

In ten words or less, convince the average moviegoer to watch your film.

Free for two hours? I hear there's a funny movie playing.

“Sorry, Thanks” has its world premiere as part of the SXSW Emerging Visions series. It screens 11:30 AM March 14, 7:30 PM March 15, and 9:00 PM March 19.

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