Questions & Answers with Sassy Mohen

Sassy Mohen filming
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We are told that dreams come true if you believe. Today I am speaking to a very talented and beautiful writer, producer and director Sassy Mohen. She is living her dream and making a name for herself in the film industry. She talks about what it means to be a woman in a man dominated business. Read on as she reveals her journey in the entertainment industry.

Sassy Mohen, Photo by Paula Kayne

David:

Hello Sassy, thank you for taking the time out to speak with me. Tell me what came first, becoming a writer, producer or director?

Sassy:

Hi David, thank you for having me! Well, all three roles kind of came at the same time. I’d always wanted to be a director since I was about 7 or 8 years old and was lucky enough to start doing TV production classes at a young age and then started directing plays in middle/high school. However, in high school when I was taking more intense TV production classes, you could either run around trying to find someone to write a script for you, or just write one yourself. So I just started writing my own scripts, the same goes for producing. If you’re working on a limited budget and limited resources, you have to work with what you have. From there I just kept learning and trying new things until I got to my first feature film and realized, ‘Well, okay, I guess I’m a writer/director/producer now.’  I never really went into this intending to write, produce, or edit for that matter, but now I wouldn’t give up any of those roles. They’re so valuable in helping you as a director and as a filmmaker in general. 

David:

Do you have a different approach creatively when you write, produce or direct?

Sassy:

Not really, I have worked on a few things as just a writer/producer, or producer/editor, but one thing people have told me is that they like working with me because I can execute all of those roles so confidently. Since my first feature film in 2007, I sort of accepted that these roles would forever be part of my process and embraced them wholeheartedly. When I started, I would write really structured and concise scripts because I knew I was going to direct them, so I thought, why should I bother fluffing this up to make it read better if I know what I want? (Which is a mistake I see a lot of beginning filmmakers make.)  I would get a lot of questions from actors or crew members being like, ‘what does she do while she walks there?’ or ‘How is this line supposed to be delivered?’ And I realized something that seems obvious now, that even if you’re going to direct something, you should write a script that anyone who picks it up can read and visualize the world you’re imagining immediately and vividly. 

I also learned the hard way that I shouldn’t write completely unattainable scenarios, because when it comes to actually producing a film or show, you quite literally have to produce it. So, if you don’t have the budget, resources or capabilities, something you really want isn’t going to magically make itself into reality just because you think it would work perfectly for your story. So I started writing scripts that I know I could make. This isn’t to say that I don’t challenge myself in each go around. For instance, in my latest digital series ‘How to Have Birth Control,’ over 60% of that series is all GFX. We have an entire game show sequence we did with three actors, a few props and a green screen stage  and then ended up building this beautiful full out game show studio setting with an audience. Now, that was very much a challenge, but I knew I could do it based on my experience and the production/post-production team I was working with. But, when I wrote it, I also wrote it understanding the limitations of what I was working with and of course did the same when I was directing. That’s what I mean when I say all of those roles kind of feed into each other. I also, under no circumstance, would have done that setup if I wasn’t editing it as well. The entire process was so painstaking, detail oriented and involved so much technical post-production work, to be honest, if I was sitting in the back seat and trying to articulate my vision to someone else, it wouldn’t have worked as well or maybe at all, especially if you’re not working with a multi-million dollar budget. 

David:

If you have to number which creative outlet in writing, producing or directing  you feel

you are better at what would come first? 

Sassy:

That is a tough question because I haven’t really done one without the other on any big project I’ve worked on. If you told me though that I could only do one of those jobs for the rest of my life, I would choose directing hands down…. But only if I got to edit the work too 😉 

David:

Whose work do you admire in the entertainment industry?

Sassy:

I really admire Ava Duvernay, Celine Sciamma and Chloe Zhao, (especially if you want to talk about writer/director/producer/editors.) Chloe Zhao rightfully kicked ass at the academy awards last year which was super inspirational to me because not only did she write, direct, produce and edit her own work and get awarded for it, she owned that red carpet in a designer dress and some badass kicks, which is exactly the style that I want to emulate in my work and attitude. She’s driven and unapologetically her own person. There’s been a stigma around women forever, especially minority women, that if we are ‘too good,’ or ‘too ambitious,’ and/or, not ‘feminine enough,’ that is somehow a bad thing. I really admire all of those women because they’re continuing to pave the way for other women in the field and other careers in general by saying, ‘I’m good at what I do, I know I’m good at what I do, and I’m not going to try and fit into some societal construct of what a woman “should” act or look like to make you feel more comfortable with that.’ Men don’t have to do that, so why should we? 

David:

Who is someone you would like to work with creatively? 

Sassy:

Oh man, I can’t tell you how many shows and films I watch where I turn to my fiancé

and go, “I would love to work with him or her.” I recently saw this under-the-radar indie rom-com musical from 2005 called ‘Romance and Cigarettes,’ starring James Gandolfini (RIP) and Kate Winslet and let me just say, I would love to work with every single person in that cast. The fact that all of those insanely talented and respected actors would get down and dirty in this low budget indie film and looked like they were having so much fun doing it made me admire their acting capabilities even more. Now, I’m not saying that film was mind-blowing or anything, there’s a reason it’s under-the-radar, but any talented actor who doesn’t come with an ego is someone I would truly appreciate a working experience with. 

David:

What have you learned about yourself when reflecting on your profession? 

Sassy:

That is a great question. I’ve learned how much I love doing this and also how special that is. Like I said, I’ve known I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little kid and because of that, I kind of always assumed that everyone else had their career goals figured out too. As I got older and learned that having a steadfast knowledge of what you want out of life isn’t something that everyone has, especially women, many of which aren’t even given the opportunity to explore what that even means, I really began to appreciate it and never take it for granted. I don’t think I’ve ever once sat around and expected anything to come to me, because it won’t. You have to work and you have to work hard. I’ve also learned to own my mistakes. You can take as many directing classes or read hundreds of books, that really doesn’t come close to preparing you for walking out into a field of people who have put aside their personal time and energy to dedicate it to you. You’re the commander of the ship and that comes with a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. When I was younger, I wasn’t that great about seeing things from other people’s perspective. Which to be honest, as a director, you don’t really have to be. If you’re hired to command the ship, people have to listen to you or the thing’s going to sink. But if you want to make a good product and get good, quality work out of people, you have to really value their time and their talent. I’m not saying let people walk all over you, but trust and value go both ways. 

David:

What has been your biggest regret? 

Sassy:

In my career, I think my biggest regret was how guilty I used to feel about choosing this path. That goes on both a personal and also abstract level. Abstractly, not to make this all about gender/sex ….but as a female in the film industry…. It’s impossible not to, but we look at women directors now and go, well, duh, of course there are women directors. When I was younger, especially when I was first getting started, that was not the case. I was constantly put down, taken advantage of, overlooked, even propositioned by people while I was simply trying to make a career happen for me, and like a lot of women, I used to think that was somehow my fault. Like, well of course that would happen, I’m a woman in man’s business, it’s my fault that during this pitch meeting the producer stared at my boobs the whole time, or of course they wouldn’t want to pick up this show, it’s about a female character so they’re going to think it’s unmarketable, as a woman, we are unmarketable. I wish that I had realized much earlier none of that was my fault and those people were just sh*theads, and that description goes to both men and women who behave(d) that way. Also, in my dating life, I was constantly put down by romantic partners who made it seem like my priority to put my career first was somehow a problem. I honestly used to think that I would never find a guy who would want to be with me because of how much I cared about my career, (which is so ridiculous now to think about!) And because I thought I was getting in the way of my own ultimate happiness, I felt guilty and blamed myself. Of course, that is also not true and as soon as I embraced that wanting to be successful wasn’t a flaw and was just who I was …I met the man I’m about to marry! I’m not saying I’m perfect or anything, far from it, I just wished I had fully embraced who I am, warts and all much earlier. At the very least it would have made my earlier work a lot less constrained and I could have spent my 20s a lot happier haha. 

Sassy Mohen , Photo: Paula Kayne

David:

What is the most rewarding part of your profession?

Sassy:

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing an image or idea you’ve come up with in your head manifest in real life. I remember the first day of set on my first film Happy Holidays, looking around the room and seeing the actors in their costumes on this set that I had built and all the crew in their positions ready to shoot and being awestruck. I couldn’t believe this little script idea I had come up with in my dorm room a year earlier was literally in front of my face so close that I could reach out and physically touch it. I was so awestruck in fact that I forgot to call action on the first take! I still remember the lead actor at the piano waiting, and then he went “…. can I get an action?” hahah. Now, I thought that was crazy, that is nothing compared to then seeing it on the big screen. That still doesn’t get old. 

Then of course, there’s the bigger reward of getting a message out to people in a way that makes them see the world from a different perspective, if only for an hour. That’s the real power of making movies. Every single one of my films, down to the no budget web-series I’ve done, has been made with the overarching message of telling people, largely women, that it is okay to be yourself and it is okay to want to find your own kind of happiness. With ‘How to Hack Birth Control,’ on the surface it’s a film educating women on different types of birth control and how to get it, but if that’s all you walk away from the film with, well, one, great! Go get protected! But two, you’ve missed the main part of the message …which so far anyway, people haven’t. The film is about women empowerment, telling women that it’s okay to declare to the world that you have hopes, dreams, feelings and guess what, you’re equal to everyone else! You deserve to live your life how you want, are rightfully owed the same safety that men have to do just that and tough sh*t for anyone who doesn’t agree. That doesn’t make you angry or unfeminine, and in fact you don’t have to go about acting like either of those ways to achieve this, (although if you want to, mazel tov.) Doing and wanting this security in your individuality just makes you human. What is immensely rewarding is that after every screening of the series so far, that discussion in some form always begins afterwards and if that can translate to help other women out there in their own lives, that’s the most rewarding thing of all. 

David:

What advice do you have for women trying to make it in the entertainment industry?

Sassy:

Be Smart!  The cards are already stacked against you, so do your research and always be learning. Absorb everything around you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try things, you should absolutely take risks, take HUGE risks! But while doing so, be smart and always be learning. You’re going to f*ck up, and that’s okay. Just admit your mistake and do your best to never ever do it again. Also, don’t let other people talk down to you. If you find someone doing that, you don’t have to snap their head off or even call them out on it. Just simply don’t work with them. Even recently, I’ve met with people who are very successful in the industry and could probably do huge things for my career, but to be frank, they’re a**holes and they talk to me like I’m a no good piece of garbage and even more then no good, because I’m a woman trying to do this, how dare I! Some people say, well that’s Hollywood! …Maybe… but I’ve found that those people never actually help you in the long run because they’re only going to attract others like themselves and/or people with no self value who think it’s okay to be treated like that. If you own your own talent and self, are kind to others, and treat them how you want to be treated, you’re going to get much further than doing it the other way. 

Filming

David:

If you could change one thing in the entertainment industry what would it be?

Sassy:

We need more open-minded and kind people in the industry. You can still be driven, quick and smart, but that doesn’t mean you need to also be a jerk. 

David:

What are future projects you are working on?

Sassy:

Well, I am so glad you asked! I’m currently in the midst of developing a post-apocalyptic thriller series based on a short I did a few years back. I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but it deals with our own mortality and hubris as humans and how that has translated to AI & technology. Kind of think (the good parts of) LOST meets Westworld meets Godless. I dream of writing a “WE HAVE TO GO BACK!” OMG moment like in LOST without all the terrible character stories that happen after it. …Which now that I’ve said out loud I’m now on the hook for. To quote my least favorite director M. Night Shyamalan, “Never make mediocre movies.” If I’m ever short on an idea of what to do next, I just think what would he do? And then I do the opposite of that. 

Sassy Mohen, photo by Paula Kayne

David: 

Thank you for your time. Any words of wisdom to all the readers?

Sassy:

Be bold, lively, full of spirit and a little bit cheeky!  And make sure you’re registered to vote, now and 60 days before the next election in your state. 

Photos: Courtesy of Sassy Mohen

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