Olly interviews Sarah Doyle
Somethingyousaid.com’s Oliver Heath talks to LA-based Australian writer/director Sarah Doyle:
You’re in Sydney with your play Anaconda that premiered to accolades in LA. It was based upon a ritualised sexual assault at a boys’ school perpetrated by other students. I was struck by the way you focused on the students as adults and how they were processing the experience in later life. Where did the idea come to set the play years later with adults dealing with an adolescent experience?
Because in my interviews with former students of the school, hearing about where the boys are now and how their immediate community responds to their sordid past made me see the potential to explore the issue through the tormenting guise of hindsight. Looking back and facing truths long buried, searching for redemption and understanding into why we acted how we did when we were younger I felt was an intriguing point to lift-off dramatically.
The play has some more universal moments of adolescent manhood, particularly the bits about wanking, how’d you research this? Ha! that’s not meant to sound pervy – the dialogue in these bits was particularly strong and you’re a chick that would never have been privy to such events, secret men’s business and all!
I steal like I always do from real life. I have talked to straight guys about early sexual experiences, and the not-too-uncommon one of masturbating in the presence of another dude to me is a fascinating sexual exploit that isn’t as common amongst straight teenage girls. I used my imagination to come up with what might be a really honest dialogue about how two guys may read the same situation very very differently. That sort of thing is totally something I understand though, I can apply that to many awkward moments in my own life when I have really thought that there was something meaningful going on, but the guy has another opinion entirely!
You’re about to release a short film and you have a feature in the works. The cinema/DVD model is broken and what’s left of it is stacked against smaller films, indie festivals are now another kind of studio release. Where do you think your next opportunities are?
My next opportunities remain to be seen, but my fingers are crossed for my short YOU ME & HER to be warmly received on the festival circuit and at its screening at Directors Guild of America in May 2014. We are all well-aware of this golden age of television and to be in a writer’s room at HBO or in a director’s chair at Bad Robot would be the sort of opportunity I would gently throttle.
Having explored a very male story in the play, I’m wondering if you consider gender issues a lot. What are the specific hurdles for women approaching your career? Have you shifted away from acting to directing because of some of them?
Indeed! As an actor I felt I had no power to shift the male-driven paradigm. As a writer and director I am able to subvert the traditional gender stereotypes by writing characters that come from my own unique perspective of the world, a perspective that happens to abhor the severe lack of representation of fully-formed female-centric kick-arse stories in film and television. Having said that, Anaconda is a very male story and I do not intend to only focus on women’s stories merely because I am a woman.
Specific hurdles are pre-conceptions about weaknesses in women that are nurtured in the boys club that reign in big-budget filmmaking and television directing. These sort of sentiments also dwell within us women – the “I’m not good enough” is a prevailing nuisance to many a woman’s ambitions.
Is asking the previous question a kind of sexism?
Nup. Sometimes it’s weird though talking about what it’s like to be a woman in entertainment because 1) I’ve never known anything different and 2) my unique voice is predominantly a human one.
I admire your ambition in moving from Sydney and pursuing your career in the USA . You’ve made shorts films, music videos, been accepted into the American Film Institute’s prestigious Directing Workshop and now you’re internationally showing an award winning play. I’ve noticed other creative adventurers either fall apart due to poverty or get stuck working on other’s projects. What has been key to keeping your career on track so far? Was supporting yourself working outside of the industry part to it?
Yes absolutely. For a decade I made fancy cocktails for rich people from Sydney to New York to Los Angeles. I loved the freedom and good money and good friends I got out of hospitality but this last year and a half I’ve hung up the tip bucket and focused fully on film & theatre. Now I just make fancy cocktails for my husband and any guests over to see that gorgeous LA sunset (huge upside to pollution).
How do you stay focused?
Oh man, I don’t… No, I do. Once I settle into something, I get into it. Sometimes though my brain is in overdrive and I am many days extremely hyperactive, I turn into a bit of a tazzie devil and can’t sit still for more than 15 minutes without getting up to make another coffee or faff about.
When I’m having troubles getting into a work, I try and focus on achieving one thing – say like I’ll break the work into a structure and try and knock off two scenes, and just tell myself to not judge it and leave the edits to another day when the story has formed more in my head. It’s the starting point that’s the hardest. When I have a skeleton and I feel like I know my characters, I can defo get rolling.
I’ve always found Californians to be very positive people. You’ve had some great opportunities there, yet you still have trouble getting funding for things here. Is it worth making a comparison? Do the differences in opportunities in Australia and abroad reflect different tastes, market size, or levels of cray?
Ha ha! there are defo different levels of cray, and being in Australia for a solid two months has made California look like an insane asylum a little, with all that positive thinking and visualising to manifest, but then once I’m back there I’ll suddenly find myself gluing images from a magazine onto a vision board. Way too impressionable, I am.
I have never gotten funded in the states, but there are certainly programs set up amongst studios and conservatories such as American Film Institute that are dedicated to helping emerging and marginalised artists break into the professional world. There’s a bigger market and more production companies and studios so yep defo more opportunities, but lets not forget there’s a lot more competition too!
I’d like to think that if I’d stayed in Sydney that the Australia Council would have given me a prize at some point, but the truth is I’d prefer to be writing new work than writing grant proposals. Some artists are great at that, up until this point I’ve been more into DIY.
You’ve now lived in LA, NY, and Sydney as an adult. Where feels like home?
I still call Australia home. LA is home too. But I can’t imagine growing old there. NYC is like the passionate lover that I just can’t live with, but demand an annual fling to keep the desire at bay.
And to finish, here are a few quick answers from Sarah:
I am… an artist, predominantly focused on writing, and directing what I write.
LA is… a warm bubble of smog, smiles and savviness coated in a cold plasma of desperation.
I write about… sex and love and fate and death and taboo stuff too.
I procrastinate by… telling myself that absolutely everything is research and then acting on whatever whim that cheeky little voice taunts me with.
In the future… we are gonna hate the Baby Boomers so much more than we do now.
Filmmaking is…. the most expensive passion I’ve found yet.
Interview by Oliver Heath.