Today on the show we have writer, actor and director Sonja O’Hara. You might recognize here from my feature film On the Corner of Ego and Desire where she played an insane director at Sundance.
Sonja O’Hara is an Emmy-nominated queer writer, director and actor represented by WME and Management 360. She was chosen as one of the “10 Filmmakers To Watch” by Independent Magazine, selected by a jury from MovieMaker Magazine, the Sundance Institute and Austin Film Festival. (Past recipients include Barry Jenkins of MOONLIGHT.)
Sonja just directed two back to back features which are currently completing post-production: MID-CENTURY, a provocative thriller starring Stephan Lang (DON’T BREATHE) and two time Academy Award® nominee Bruce Dern, produced by Jeremy Walton (THE INVENTOR with Marion Cotillard), and ROOT LETTER, an adaptation of the popular Japanese PlayStation game, written by Tribeca Film Festival Narrative Prize winner David Ebeltoft and starring Danny Ramirez of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER.
Sonja also created and directed the Webby award winning series DOOMSDAY which was nominated for the 2021 Daytime Emmy Awards. For DOOMSDAY, she was awarded the “Best Director” prize out of 4000 submissions at The New York Television Festival. Sonja sold her original series ASTRAL to Adaptive Studios.
I wanted to have her on the show to discuss not only her directing career but also wanted to discuss her remarkable story on how she financed DOOMSDAY…she sold her eggs! This is easily the most unique film financing method I’d ever heard of. She made a film about her experience called Ovum.
An offbeat young actress who will do anything for a part, ends up giving up a part of herself when her method acting exercise goes too far and she ends up selling her eggs.
Enjoy my conversation with the remarkable filmmaker Sonja O’Hara.
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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Sonja O'Hara, how're you doing Sonja?
Sonja O'Hara 0:15
I'm good, thank you so much for having me Alex. I'm excited to be here.
Alex Ferrari 0:18
Oh my god, I'm so excited to have you on the show people, people from the tribe might recognize you, as the star of my last feature film on the corner of ego and desire we have. I mean, you've you've, I'm not gonna say you've turned into Julia. Because a little bit because you're not directing a whole hell of a lot. But, but you're definitely not the crazy direct that you played in the show.
Sonja O'Hara 0:49
An extreme version of like, you know, the worst way that I could ever become, but
Alex Ferrari 0:53
No, no it was. So let's talk a little bit about just for everyone listening, how we met, and how we originally work together, and then kind of how that and we'll, we'll go. And that takes us to certain direction. So how did we originally meet and how do we work together?
Sonja O'Hara 1:09
Well, I had a mutual friend, I filmmaker named lava, Lucia. And Rob had told me that he was going to do this crazy experiment, where he went to Sundance to, uh, he was going to go to Sundance to act in a mumble core film, by this dude who's a director and also a noted podcast host. And I started, like, doing all my research. And I was like, This guy's real. Like, he has a movie on Hulu right now that I was like, checking out. And I was like, wow, I'd kill to do that movie. And he's like, you know, I think they might still be casting. And then I reached out to you. And sort of in fatica, Lee was like, I am this character, I can do this. And we had a phone call. And next thing I know, I'm being flown to Park City, Utah. I had never been there. I'd never been to Sundance, I wanted to go to Sundance, and I was 14 years old and Nova Scotia. And suddenly, I'm like, living right on Main Street, shooting a movie, like, like 24 hours a day, for the week of this thing. And it felt completely surreal. Like I never it was unlike anything that had ever happened to me.
Alex Ferrari 2:12
It was so funny. Because all three of you all the main characters, you Robin and Randy, all of you had never been to Sundance. So when you guys like I took you through I was your guide through Sundance, because I've been there so many times. All your reactions. Yes, you were acting fantastically but, but most of it was just like, oh my god,
Sonja O'Hara 2:31
I couldn't believe it. I was just like, the whole time. It was just you know, you've seen so much like footage, like behind the scenes stuff of these like Sundance, like gifting suites and the Sundance like you had like all these places, and we're like literally knocking on doors. And we're like in the Sundance lobby lobby, like filming, like, filming.
Alex Ferrari 2:51
And I would be getting upset. And I would be getting upset for people getting in my shot. I'm like, Austin, please like Alex, we're not supposed to be I'm like, I don't care. I'm a director Get out of my shot.
Sonja O'Hara 3:03
Yes, that was probably one of my favorite filming experiences ever.
Alex Ferrari 3:07
I mean, it was such a and I think that's how I sold it to you too. I sold it to all of you like, Hey, I don't know what's gonna come out of this. But at least you will have an amazing story in 30 years that you'll go. There's this one time I shot a movie at Sundance. And this is how it went down. At that minimum, you would have that? And and we did. And we definitely that definitely a story there.
Sonja O'Hara 3:27
Well I was a little scared at first, because you were like, you know, we're going to be a bit disruptive. And we're going to go in there and people won't know if it's real or not. And I was like, oh my god, I'm about to be a speaker at South by Southwest. Like, what if people think I'm obnoxious, like my character, and then you just forget all about your acting. And you know, it ended up just being a joy. But I was nervous.
Alex Ferrari 3:48
Yeah, I appreciate you thinking that this was as big as the Avengers than now everybody wouldn't be typecast as the crazy director. But not as many people have seen the film. But so, but it was really great. And we were so lucky because my producer, my co producer on the project, Adam had this ridiculous, ridiculous sweet apartment on Main Street. And I still remember we built we filmed you guys coming in. And the looks on your faces. You were just like, What is going on? It was insane.
Sonja O'Hara 4:23
You guys held that party there every year. And suddenly like everyone meeting at Sundance, I'm like, You should come to this party. Like I'm not telling them that it's going to be filmed and part of the movie I just think the network Hello Agents come to this party.
Alex Ferrari 4:36
Which brings me to another which brings me to another lovely side story to our adventures at Sundance on the corner of ego desire. Is that you know you were hustling hard from the moment you got there at the party. We have recorded conversations with you. Because at party if everyone doesn't see the movie There's a big Sundance party there. And basically, it's a live party. And you guys are just kind of thrown in there. And we're just kind of like ad libbing and having a good time. Yeah. But you guys were all miked. So I so while we were setting up a shot, you are literally networking with somebody, and you're like, Oh, the call me back on set, I gotta go. But here's my card. I'll talk to you a little bit. And I was just like, I heard that in post. I'm like, this girl, man. Oh, my God.
Sonja O'Hara 5:26
I know, I forgot. Sometimes I even know the love on me. And I would like meet a casting director or something else is like, absolutely choosing. And it was.
Alex Ferrari 5:35
So one thing. And one of those nights I think it was the night is Did you see the room the room with us, or you didn't see the room with us?
Sonja O'Hara 5:42
No the crew decided to watch the room, I snuck off to go to the APA agency party, because I had seen in variety, a list of parties that were happening for the agencies, and I knew no one that was going, and I just went off and snuck into the party. And mingling that night, I met an entertainment lawyer who ended up making a bunch of introduced introductions to the big agencies and helped me get with my agent all because I went that night. And I've always thought that, like, if I had stayed in and watch this movie, maybe my career never would have started at all. So very crazy thing, like just how it was serendipity you know?
Alex Ferrari 6:23
It was, well, if you would have never done the movie, you would have never had all of these opportunities. So it's it's so interesting, because, you know, we weren't paying the millions yet for our cast at the time of making that movie. So you were just like, I'm just gonna go on this adventure. I'm gonna just do my thing. But when you were there, you figured out I gotta, I gotta hustle this and I got a network and I got to try to do as much as I can. But it's such a great example of hustle. Because I mean, seriously, I, I was, I mean, hustle, respects, hustle. And you were you definitely there. So you guys, I yeah, I know, you guys want to sit down and like, you know, geek out over the room. And that's great. But I'm going to go sneak into the APA bar party. And all of a sudden, you got your agent there. And then some of the guests that I was recording, you you would connect with you like I remember like, I remember one guest specifically, who will remain nameless, got up from the chair after I got done interviewing him. And you bolted.
Sonja O'Hara 7:21
Send it on,
Alex Ferrari 7:22
Like this poor man, you were just like a hawk, like offer on fresh meat. You jumped in, you're like, Hi, I'm Sonia. Here's my card. And you eventually connected with that, that guy and he's been able to work with them. It's just really, it's really interesting to see how that all worked out. And then as the movie, you know, got made and everything I kept seeing on Facebook, you know, on social media, how you've been doing stuff. And I was like, Well, I mean, she's directing now. And she's like, I know you were a director prior to getting to ego and desire.
Sonja O'Hara 7:55
But before them I had been doing indie projects on my own right, like I had been doing self funded micro budget projects. And one of them ended up getting enough traction that I was like on the festival circuit with it, and getting to do some, you know, speaking as a panelist to talk about, like breaking out from just being an actor and as a multi hyphenate to like, you know, getting selling like a couple indie shows, but I wasn't yet being hired and offered scripts to direct things as a director for hire. And here I am playing this like pretentious, like art film director. He's like taking the world by storm. And like, next thing I know, after I do your movie, I'm like, I just moved, I hadn't even moved to LA yet at that period, because I flew in from New York to do the movie in Park City with you. And then I moved to LA right after that. And then I'm pitching on all of these director for hire jobs. And like saying some of the same things that we have in the movie. And like, in the movie, like even when I'm like, Oh, this is like the shape of water meets transformers. Like I'm still like having to like see these ridiculous comps. And pick the people are taking me seriously and giving me money to make the movies. I'm like this is very, very surreal.
Alex Ferrari 9:10
So that character would everyone if everyone listening while it goes and watches it, which is available everywhere on Amazon and all sorts of places. You watch it for free. But you know, you were an extreme version of directors. But at the end of the day afterwards, I've had a lot of filmmakers come up to me and even, you know, high end professionals in the business who have watched the film. They're like, Yeah, I know her. Yeah, I know that character. I know. I've spoken to that director. I've spoken to that filmmaker a million times. And I'm like, I thought we were really off the off the reservation. Personally. No, no, no, we're pretty close to the reservation apparently.
Sonja O'Hara 9:48
Because I think people like that care so deeply and that pretentiousness comes from insecurity and you don't yet have an outlet to prove your ability and you're just so extra and like I'm not really like a type a nerdy person anyway. And hopefully it doesn't manifest in me being a psycho, but I definitely have been, like, over amped about things. So, you know,
Alex Ferrari 10:07
No, you weren't you were built to play that role. There's no question about it. Now, you but you start off as an actor. So how and why did you want to get into this insanity?
Sonja O'Hara 10:18
I mean, I have been acting since I was a kid in Nova Scotia, like when I was growing up, I would see Elliot page at auditions. And I remember when when, when the movie hard candy went to Sundance, like my goal has been Sundance longer than I could ever remember. And at some point, I had, you know, moved from Nova Scotia to New York to the acting school. And then I moved to Los Angeles at 20 years old. I was fade down, always personal assistant, which was such a trip.
Alex Ferrari 10:47
Ohh my god the stories, the stories,
Sonja O'Hara 10:49
Stories, I know and she was had this production company, and she was doing an adaptation of the plane masterclass where she was going to be playing Maria Callas. And I just saw and she gave me the advice that if you wanted to have any sort of autonomy as an actress, you had to produce your own things. So when I went back to New York, and started studying screenwriting, and when I made my first feature at 25, my goal was really just to launch myself as an actor, and then you just fall in love with making movies. And in the process of that I hired a really lovely director for that feature, but I didn't bring that person on until I had already cast the project and rehearse the project and like done and blocked it. And, you know, was shortlisting it. And I became a director in the process of making that first movie ovum. And then you just like above, and like I thought, you know, I made like a budget, you know, a $17,000 micro budget feature, which is still bigger in budget than what you did Ego and Desire.
Alex Ferrari 11:44
Much, much bigger, much, much bigger.
Sonja O'Hara 11:48
I had the bug and I just couldn't stop making things. But I still, you know, acting was my first priority. And I still act and I still love it. But now, the like, the feeling of fulfillment I get from making movies and being part of every part of the creative process is unlike anything else like me, you know how it is?
Alex Ferrari 12:05
Yeah. No, I have to ask you, though, was, and I might be mixing the plot with the reality. Did you sell your eggs to produce that movie?
Sonja O'Hara 12:15
Yes. And made and was like writing about the process of selling my eggs to fund my very meta while I was actually selling my eggs at this, like, you know, these egg donor clinics in New York where they were looking for designer eggs, and they're like, she looked more like Amy Adams or Emma Stone. Okay, check this box. This is how we're going to pitch her to potential like, you know, people who wanted like Norwegian eggs, and then half Norwegian. And it became like a very surreal experience. And I felt like I was auditioning, just like, I'd go to a cattle call in New York. And it was the same as being at like an egg casting. And then I wrote about that and then funded the movie, and made like, $100,000 selling my eggs and dudes get like, you know, 75 bucks in the candy bar. Women can make real money. So I made multiple projects with the egg money.
Alex Ferrari 13:06
You know what? So so listen, I've heard I've heard everything. I've literally heard every which way to raise money for a movie. I've heard it either through my show, or through people I know or just watching the industry. I've never heard of this. This is the first time I've ever heard on you. Film director selling her eggs and producing multiple projects with her egg money.
Sonja O'Hara 13:32
Oh, yeah, egg money was really like the golden goose for
Alex Ferrari 13:36
No, no pun intended.
Sonja O'Hara 13:40
One day, you know, there will be like 18 year old egg babies that see a billboard for one of my movies. No, like, is that mommy? Like I know what's gonna happen. But
Alex Ferrari 13:50
You know, talk talk about commitment. I mean, I don't know how many how many dudes out there would sell their their eggs.
Sonja O'Hara 14:00
There was a day that I had to go from my egg surgery for my first round of egg donation to acting in a film where I had to go through an exorcism in a field and you're supposed to be like on bedrest. And I'm like, launching around like lying in a field and getting shot. And like, it was really they were like, you should, you know, like, be, you know, in bed for like three days. And I was like, I gotta act like this is why I'm doing it so
Alex Ferrari 14:24
The thing, the thing I love about you is your tenacity. You you have a tenacity, you have an energy, that energy that you brought to Julia in my movie. There is there is parts of Julia with you within you. There's no There's no question. Yes, the extreme versions are funny and everything like that. But this, you know, wasn't a stretch. Like I didn't know that when I cast you about all of this. I'm like, oh, you should direct him and stuff. But but as I started working with you and I started seeing your pride now, over the last few years after watching, you grow as a filmmaker and as an artist. I'm like hurt, you are so tenacious, which is such a lesson for everyone listening is like, I'm sure you had a billion nose. It's still good and still getting.
Sonja O'Hara 15:09
Yes. And I just like everyone goes on social media, we share the highlight reel of what we're doing. But we get nose constantly. We get notes from festivals, we get those for offers for movies, I audition for big things that go to stars all the time. No is such a standard, but it stopped even factoring into my confidence. Like I don't even care about the news. Like I don't even ruin my day anymore. Like I used to be really sad if I lose out in the role. Now. It's like, I close those emails. And it's like, one second later, it doesn't even like stay in my psyche. Like I'm now actually past projection. I wish I could say that was like that in the dating world. But when it comes to work.
Alex Ferrari 15:46
Oh, the heart is what the heart is. There's no question. Now, you did get a chance to work as an actor on some pretty big sets. In network, what were some of the biggest lessons that you pull from working on those big sets, you know, that you have brought in to your own directing.
Sonja O'Hara 16:05
I mean, I think that there were many directors that don't really talk to actors on set and are so much more focused on working with their DP. And actors just sort of feel like moving crops. And there were many times that I just felt like I'm seeking some sort of validation that I'm trying to find, like one morning to make bold choices or something that my choices are landing. And I felt like a lot of the time, people just didn't really care. Like you were just like a moving prop to many filmmakers, not the great ones, obviously. And I knew that I wanted to take care of everyone on my set as a director, and I don't care if you're a day player, if you have one line, if you're a featured background, like I wanted everyone to feel like they were part of it as a collaboration. Because when I feel safe and celebrated, I feel like as an actor, I can make bold choices. And when I feel ignored, I feel small. And then I'm more likely to you know, not do anything that's especially spontaneous. Right?
Alex Ferrari 17:00
Right. Because you're not feeling I always tell people, like actors want to feel safe. And they want they want a safe environment. So I just I love to hear your perspective on and I don't mean to keep going back to ego and desire, but it is our experience together working as, as an actor and the director. You know, that was a very intense and wild experience. I just met you that day. I had never physically met you any of the cast was almost Skype.
Sonja O'Hara 17:28
One zoom. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 17:30
It was just like, Yeah, we did a zoom. And that was it. So then, when we met, you had to figure me out pretty quickly.
Sonja O'Hara 17:38
Yes, and you are so good at fostering a sense of you are warm and kind. And the way that you are on your podcast is exactly how you are in person. So like I felt safe to make choices and to fall on my face, and like, be ridiculous. And you'd given me a script, none of the beats that we wanted. But you were so open to playing and taking like chances with things. And that just makes you feel emboldened to make choices and have a real performance. Like, I'm often afraid of directors. And I think many actors are that way too. And that just doesn't give people the you know, it doesn't make people feel ready to like, take on the world if they're, like, you know, afraid to make choices,
Alex Ferrari 18:18
Right! Absolutely. Because if you if you don't feel safe, then you're not going to not only give your biggest you're not going to give your all but you're also some actors might act out, some actors will be in a protective mode and say, Hey, I'm just going to take care of me because obviously, you're not going to take care of me. So I'm gonna just, I'm gonna just do me not listen to you. And then this is where problems occur because the director did not foster that environment of like, you are in a safe space. No one's gonna hurt you here. No one's gonna judge you here. Let's try let's play because that whole movie was trying and playing. We were all on an adventure. Like, I literally got on the plane and didn't know if I had a movie. Like you asked me like, Do you have something? I'm like, I think so. Like I don't know if I'm gonna make my 73 minute deadline than I wanted to make over 70 Like I think 70 over 70 minutes. I think Mark do plus one said if it's over 70 minutes, it's a feature. So I'm like I just need to make enough I need to shoot enough to get over. But we had no time to look at footage. Like I just saw glance by in like, I bring you over I'm like here this is a cool shot we got or here's Mormons, but we had no time we were running we were shooting we were like constantly on Oh that one night. By the way. I have to I have to I have to call you out on the one night that we shot on Main Street excuse me in the morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to go shoot the movie poster shot that whole sequence the snow was falling the lights do they remember the whole lights were all dimmed up on Main Street?
Sonja O'Hara 19:52
Like like it looked like we were on this like beautiful studio law right there would be no cars going down Main Street. We had to ourselves, I was able to stand in the middle of the snow on the road and just look out at like the Egyptian Theatre and all like genuine awestruck.
Alex Ferrari 20:07
It was it was, but you unfortunately made the one choice. I know you regret it, which was the pant choice that you made at the beginning of the movie.
Sonja O'Hara 20:15
Yeah. I thought I wanted to look like happen hot and we're talking leather pants and heels on like icy like total rookie move because like I listened your podcast was like, were double warm socks, like wear flat shoes. Bundle up, and I'm in these like, stylish freaking leather pants that I was like, Oh, great. And I was freezing. And I'm like shivering and dying. But that she would be she would wear that she would wear leather pants. So I stand by your choice. Voice.
Alex Ferrari 20:45
But the thing was, the thing was beautiful, too is you never ever complained. None of you did. No one complained. I think the only complaint I heard was when we were at the party and we were shooting outside. And the boys didn't have their shirts on. I mean that their jackets on they had their shirts on. And I just pulled them out there. And for a normal conversation that takes four or five minutes, you might be able to pull it off with maybe just a sweater. But we were out there for an hour.
Sonja O'Hara 21:11
I had a major confrontation scene.
Alex Ferrari 21:15
I had a parka. You had your jacket on, like
Sonja O'Hara 21:18
And they were just shivering. And they were such good sports about it. I could see they were freezing. Like you can see their breath like they're using it. But like poor Randy is like, you know, it was it was
Alex Ferrari 21:29
It was insane. Now, you got an opportunity, right? Shortly after we work together to direct your first feature as work for hire because of all these things. By the way, I'm still waiting for my residual checks. But we'll talk about that. No, I'm joking. I'm joking. But what was it like for you walking on the set for the first time on that kind of project? That's not your project that you're a work for hire? What's that feeling like?
Sonja O'Hara 22:00
It was pretty intimidating. I was lucky in that I got to bring my long term DP from Brooklyn, I got to fly him to Louisiana. And we had made so many projects on shoestring budgets that we have sort of an intuitive way of how we work. So but it was still hard to convey this sort of small way of working to suddenly being on a big set. Like they he's such an indie DP that he wanted to be camera operating. And they were like, What do you mean, you're the cinematographer, like, we're going to give you a team. And he's like fighting to operate his own camera. And I am fighting to hire actors that I know and trust that will give me great performances. And they're like, we have the money for some names. And you're like, okay, and you're just sort of like expanding. Like, there's so many times that I don't, I didn't have the sets to be able to do these epic, beautiful wives. And I'm having you do these tight, claustrophobic shots. And suddenly, you know, you're on a real set with real production designers and things that I just didn't have access before. To, and it sort of just expands, you know, you're able to do things you were never able to do before. And that was great. There were some ages and problems where I felt like they were older local crew members that I look like I'm like freaking 19 years old half the time. And like I'm on set and I always directed like a floral dress. And I have like no makeup and I'm like this like happy like and I don't seem like the typical director like a man with authority, the whole space.
Alex Ferrari 23:24
Where's your monocle? You didn't have a monocle. I mean nothing.
Sonja O'Hara 23:27
And like, there was one day that I showed up with like, no makeup hair in a ponytail, and like a T shirt and sneakers and someone thought I was a PA on my own set where I was a director, you know, and it's like, you can't take any of it. Like I had no ego about it. But for the first week, I felt like judgment inside i from these like really seasoned crew, like half of them had just come off during the whole season Queen Sugar, and then they're like on my movie. And it's my first time with like a real crew and these numbers of people. And but by the second week, they got what I was doing, you know, and then I'm still trying to do little indie filmmaker things. Like I'm trying to get my like Terrence Malick like shot at Magic Hour. And we're like about to lose the sun. And all the departments are like last looks last looks. And the script is like this isn't in the script. And you're like, Oh, God, I just want to be able to be creative and get this shot of my own journey on a swing, as you know, that just get lost in translation to make bigger films.
Alex Ferrari 24:23
So so that first week when you're done because I was gonna ask you that because like I was I was at one time I know it's hard to believe the young guy on set. I one point I was always the young person in the room, you are still the young person in the room. But one day soon, you will not you will not be the youngest person in the room. But I remember walking on sets, I was directing commercials and and I would have this DP or I would have this production designer out of this first ad who'd been around for 1000 years. And they look at this who's this kid and they start trying to you know, puff up their chest and like Now you really don't know what you're talking about kid and that there was no respect there. How did you deal with that as a first time, not a first time filmmaker, but a first time filmmaker this scenario,
Sonja O'Hara 25:10
I mean, I luckily had producers that believed in me that I had come in and beat now more, more, like, you know, filmmakers that had far more resumes than me, because I've responded to the certain script. And I knew an exact vision of how I would do it. And I impress them in the light phase when I was like making mood boards and cutting together sizzles and doing all these things to get this job. So they knew that I had a vision, and I was passionate, and the actors understood it. And because I'm an actor, first I speak actor, and there's no person on that set, that's not going to feel like I care about their performance. So me and the actors are always good. But there is some issue sometimes with crew members that like, often it's the first ad, they've done a million movies, often they went to AFI, they like are really qualified. And they see me as this like young person who maybe has gotten the job because of optics right now, or in a post me two world. And it's proving that Sure, absolutely. Women are getting jobs. But I also have a voice and a vision. And I can do this, and I'm not going to do it the way someone else would. And I might make mistakes, but I'm going to deliver a movie with heart that's good and has a unique point of view. But I might just do it in my own way. And trying to act like other directors is not going to be the way that I accomplish that. So I learned I the first while I was trying to be like every other director on set. And now I throw that out. And I'm the free spirited little happy director. And I know that I'm not like everyone else, but my way works, too. It's just a different way.
Alex Ferrari 26:38
So you know, I've had, I've had many female directors on set, I'm actually gonna set on the show, because I always love to hear their point of view and their experience, because it's an experience that I just don't understand. Because I'm not a woman. And I had to deal with my own things, you know, being a Latino filmmaker coming up. And there's, there was a whole, there was a whole thing that I had to deal with coming up as a commercial director. But as a female director, I have to imagine that, you know, you got not only ageism, but just guys were just like, Who is this chick? And how is how dare she direct? And it couldn't be
Sonja O'Hara 27:16
Film at me, you know, they're trying to, like, catch me?
Alex Ferrari 27:20
Or like, have you, you know, let's do this scene, you know, like that scene that really did on Blade Runner. And you're like
Sonja O'Hara 27:28
I've started to just own what I know. And what I don't know. Because I think that if somebody catches somebody posturing and pretending they know something that they don't, that's more of a way to lose them. And I might have different references than they do, right. And I might be talking about shots on euphoria. And they might be talking about Rashomon. But that's okay. You know, we can find different ways that there's like, a different way to meet in the middle and still make great movies.
Alex Ferrari 27:51
But, but as far as I mean, because you have the pressure of being a director, you know, on your first big set, and then you've got also these situations, and you you actually very eloquently said it, you know, they might, because of optics, you know, oh, that's why she got this job. You know, as a creative, do you have enough stress, just doing the job, let alone with all this other stuff? Is there a way? Is there any tips that you can give other, you know, female directors or other young directors who have to deal with things that might, you know, might not affect other other directors of different ages? Or races or so on?
Sonja O'Hara 28:27
Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of the time, the things that people are saying when they're upset, it's more that they wish they have that opportunity. It's not really about you and your work situation about where they are at that moment. Like largely, things aren't personal. And largely, people don't really care about you the other person, right? They're just like, endowing the situation with all the other people that they've met that maybe weren't deserving and maybe that person who's your first ad your second ad, is actually a killer filmmaker, and I wish that they would get these opportunities to but what I say is like, I didn't just get handed a job because of being a nepotism hire, right? Like I'm from no money in Nova Scotia, Canada, like I my mother remortgage your house to send me to acting school in this country, right? Like, I'm not from any of it. And I just made micro budget things for a long time because I loved movies, not so somebody would hand me, you know, a movie, like I didn't have any horse like aspirations. I just like to make good weird creative work. And it's just like finding those like, like minded weirdos who want to hire me to do it. So I largely Don't let these haters on set, you know, hurt me will get me down. And often they become my friends like the very people that doubt me the most, I often learn a ton from them because I don't have an ego about it. And there's so much like I have to learn, right? I'm a good filmmaker, but there's so much more I can learn. And I've just become like kind of Zen of like, it's okay, I'm gonna make a good movie. We're all in this together. But you'll know my name. My attitude about it.
Alex Ferrari 29:57
I always I always, you know for me three I always I've told this story on the show before, but I think it's it's a story that do needs to be repeated. I was on a show once that was, I was producing the show the whole series, I was the director. And we were under a lot of stress. We didn't have a lot of budget. But you know, we were able to shoot this whole show. And I had this older first lady who didn't know who I was had no, I'm not that I am anybody but understood, didn't do enough research to know that this is someone who's been directing for 25 years at the point that I did it. So I thought I was you know, who's this person who's this guy, and was giving me crap on day one. And I had to pull him aside and I said, Hey, man, look, I've been doing this for a long time. And I didn't want to pull them aside. Sometimes you got to show teeth. But I never showed teeth publicly. Because that's disrespectful was, yeah, always quietly, Hey, can I talk to you for a second? I'm like, Hey, man, I've been doing this for a long time. I don't appreciate the way you're treating me. And I've done this so much that between me and my DP, I don't need you. And I can, I don't need a first ad on this gig. I can do this by myself. So if you don't act, right, you're fired. And from that moment on biggest cheerleader he was? Yes, sir. No, Sir Howard, because he finally realized, oh, okay, this guy understand. And he was a frustrated director. And that's okay. It had nothing to do.
Sonja O'Hara 31:23
And they tried to make other people on your crew think poorly of you, because of their bad attitude. And I definitely thought things were, the crew has listened to my DP who's a man instead of me. And we're like, laying down dolly tracks for something that I was dead hadn't approved. And there are times that I have to just be okay being like, that's not what we're doing. And
Alex Ferrari 31:43
So children, children come back to the table. What we're doing,
Sonja O'Hara 31:48
When people called me miss, oh, like, I Miss Frizzle, from the little like, you know, on set, because like I do, I'll be like a really nice kindergarten teacher. But when people are condescending, I'm like, that's not how we're doing it. And then we like, you know, get back to what I meant to do.
Alex Ferrari 32:05
And that's a, that's a great way, a non abrasive way of doing it. And it's in people, it means you got to be pretty heartless and not react to that in a good positive way. And there's only so much that you can take before you you just go, Okay, I'm fine.
Sonja O'Hara 32:20
And you have to make your day and like there were times that it becomes bigger than me and people are getting in the way of that I'm like, Okay, we literally have to, and right now I'm only having to shoot maximum, maybe five pages a day. And you've told me stories about how many bajillion pages that you're doing. And I have such respect for that. But, you know, I'm like, I have to make my day I can't go over budget. And there's like a pressure there that's bigger than me and like my sentiments towards, like making art in a beautiful collective.
Alex Ferrari 32:46
It's, it's a really fascinating conversation. It really is. Yeah, and like that one show, by the way, we shot 96 pages in four days. And that's instant. And it was with Austin, my good buddy and DP, who's the best and he we were able to just knock it out. But it was just so funny, because I just had to run the first idea of like, dude, I'm literally paying you like, it's my production company producing this
Sonja O'Hara 33:14
All the time in LA where I go to a party. And people imagine that I'm just an actress, or I'm somebody's girlfriend. And it's like a bunch of crew guys that I could hire that I'm like crewing up for my next movie, right? And it's deep. He's talking down to me and acting like I don't know anything about cameras or lenses. And they're talking about like, glass and wood, all this stuff. And they just think that I don't know. And I might remain silent. But I'm like, You're not you could have had a job. And you just took yourself out of the running for this. Because you're being sexist,
Alex Ferrari 33:43
Right! And never just never judge a book by its cover. Never judge a book by it's just, it's old mentality. It's an old mentality. And that's how like, you know, when I was a younger filmmaker, they did that to me, they just would like, you know, they would like oh, this is a PA. I'm like, Nah, dude, I'm the director of the show.
Sonja O'Hara 34:03
Yeah, but then they get hard. And they see that I'm with a mega agency. And then there's like this quick about face and how they treat me. But it's, you know, you want to work with your friends. You want to work with like, cool down to earth, people that are going to be lovely when you're doing a 14 hour day, right? If you have an attitude, it's just not going to work, you know.
Alex Ferrari 34:20
Now on that first project or either of the two features that you've finished. There's always that day that we all all directors have, that the whole world coming down, crashing down around you. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome that obstacle?
Sonja O'Hara 34:39
Yeah, I had an actor on a project that had a really strong emotional response to he just wanted more coverage. And he wanted us to spend more time on a scene and the show must go on and I'd gotten what I needed. And there was an actor who just had a full breakdown, and was threatening to like, call their agents and more We're talking like history, Onyx. And like blaming everyone and not seeing logic. And it's going to cost our day like the actor was like refusing to do a stunt. And we had like all these things set up. And there were times that I think that so much of directing is just people skills, and be able to step up and be a leader and be like a freaking, like, I just have to like spin things and be kind and support. Because like, I'm knowing that I have to make my day I'm against the clock, I'm being told by the producers that I have to be able to get this particular actor to like, do his thing. And I'm just having to like hold hands and stroking egos, and all this stuff that I wonder if I'd have to do if I were a man, to be honest. But I got my I thought the person around, I like convince them. And on another movie, too, I had an actor who didn't have enough time was kind of a star who didn't have enough time for hair and makeup. And she just wanted to like blow our day, because she had the power to do so. And each time it's sort of like me getting like having an out of body experience and being like, Okay, I have to convince people to do the thing that I need for the to get the movie through it. And I just like, I don't know, it's like, my blood pressure is through the roof. But I'm just looking this actor in the eye, and like holding their hand and saying we can do this and convincing them to come to set. And it's just, I've had a number of those things.
Alex Ferrari 36:20
So it's interesting. I mean, I doubt that Ridley Scott was directing either of those projects that they would have been this issue,
Sonja O'Hara 36:25
They wouldn't have it would not have been. Yes. And then later, these actors become my biggest ally on social media and in the media, and talk about supporting female directors. And I always think it's interesting, because the reality isn't always that.
Alex Ferrari 36:38
Yeah, it's interesting, because you have to deal with things that I doubt that that that first direct that first actor who lost his his crap. Um, you know, I don't think he would have done it with someone like myself.
Sonja O'Hara 36:51
No, he wouldn't have he absolutely. He's a gifted actor. And like, you know, it's fine. And I forgive but
Alex Ferrari 36:58
No, no, no, but yeah, it's completely 100%. But it's, but it's great training for a director, because I've had that I've had, I've had actors who either weren't doing their job. And that all comes from insecurity, that guys, that was all insecurity and fear, and just.
Sonja O'Hara 37:14
And I have to say that now that the bigger actors like the marquee names, I've largely had wonderful experience, yes, have any sort of a need to do it, they want to have a smooth day, they want to make this a great cameo or whatever else. And they're lovely. And sometimes I do see like, it takes like a day for them to want to take my specific direction. Like before them, I see them sort of watching out for themselves. And they're worried that if they take a direction from an early career director, and it makes them look bad, they're the one that's going to suffer. And it could affect maybe their rate on the next movie, but they watch me direct other actors. And within a day or two, I've won them over. And then we're working together beautifully. And in tandem, you know? So it's just, it's, you know, and I think the more movies I do, you're just going to Command more respect, you know, ultimately, and I just worked with the beautiful Bruce Dern on the movie was the most supportive, wonderful human ever, like telling me stories of like, working with Hitchcock, and like collaborating with Tarantino. And like, I could have sat down and listen to this man talk forever, like our ADR session was in just like regaling his stories. And like, it was like the most fun ever, like he's the coolest dude.
Alex Ferrari 38:26
I mean, I've had the pleasure of working with those kinds of actors as well. And they're just, they're just such, they're old school, they're Pro, they come prepared. There's no ego, they're about the work. You know, and it doesn't matter if it's a $1 million movie or $100 million movie it did. They're bringing their stuff. But it's interesting that you say that they look at you for those first couple days, because they're protecting themselves. That happens with all directors to a certain extent, and all and all actors, because even from, you know, actors that I've talked to who are very established actors who work with really established directors, for the first time, you know, when you're on set, you want to figure out how, how do you? Is this going to work? Because you've got basically two titans. So you know, when Meryl Streep is on set, and she's working with Steven Spielberg, for the first time, you've got two titans. Yes. Now, either one has equal power. Yeah, for sure. They're just equal power. So, you know, obviously, they played the game long enough that they wouldn't have signed on unless they really felt that they could vibe and things like that. But at a certain point, you just have to figure out like, how it's one thing to have lunch with somebody and maybe even go away for a weekend and go to you know, and things like that and hang out with them and all this kind of stuff. But there's nothing being on set. And there was one story I will I will have heard which is so amazing. There was this one actor and I can't use their names because it was an Eric story, but it was brilliant. And I'll tell you who the actors are after we after we stopped. But there was this very famous actor who was chasing this very famous director. I mean, just chasing them to do this movie. And like, you got to do it, you got to do it, you got to do it. And finally he broke them down is like, Okay, let's do the movie. First day on set, that actor tested. That director, that director had been directing at that point, for two years. Very well known director, and the actor, very legendary actor. And he tested him, not to his face, but by his actions. So there was a scene that something happened. And there was a PA that was supposed to do something. And he was like, this pa isn't doing the thing the way he's supposed to be doing it. And I want him off the set. It that's it. And then the director came down is like, Alright, what's going on? He's like, I want them off the set. He's not doing what he's doing. Right. And he was testing to see how far he could push. And after the fact, then that director who is just old school directed a billion freakin things. Like it was a commercial director, and he did all this kind of stuff. He's like, you act, you do the thing. Let's start again. Wow. And never, and never and never had a problem with him again. But he was being tested by a very seasoned actor to see if he's got control, or am I going to be able to walk all over him? I don't care if he's a seasoned director or not. And the director just called them right off right there. They won instantly. And if he didn't do that, the whole shoot would have been hell. But from that moment on the shoot pretty much ran smoothly with that actor, though, and he's that actor is known for being difficult sometimes. But he's a genius. So I get it.
Sonja O'Hara 41:59
Well, right. Totally. And like there I was, like directing Stephen Lang, you know, obviously, yes. Come on. Don't breathe franchise, like he's amazing and super skilled. And he's such a force. But there are times that like, you know, he just requires a really professional set that moves quickly. And he deserves that, because he shows up, so ready to go. And he knows all day long, huge pages of dialogue. And it's like, I can't have my focus puller, doing like, everything has to go smoothly. And it's like, you just step up your game, and you're working with people like that. And like I learned so much from him. And by the end of the movie, he was like, I want to be in your next movie. And now we have this like, beautiful bond. But for the first couple days, he's watching me and then we'll go up to the monitor. He's like, That's a stylish shot. And then like, thank you. And you know, and it's like, he's looking at all of it.
Alex Ferrari 42:45
He's just been around. He's been around, he's worked with James Cameron, like, you know,
Sonja O'Hara 42:50
He's talking about working with these people and like having lunch with Dustin Hoffman yesterday. And you're like trying to not be intimidated. And he's not meaning to name drop. He's like, I just worked with Sandy Bullock this week. And I'm like, awesome.
Alex Ferrari 43:02
Tell Sandy, I said hi.
Sonja O'Hara 43:05
But like, they're the coolest. And I learned so much from working with those actors, but they don't give me any problem. Like they're there to up my game. And I you know, it's really collaborative.
Alex Ferrari 43:14
If you as long as you bring your A game with actors like that, and now only actors like that dps at that level. Oh, yeah. Production. No hope. You mean you weren't when you're working with an Oscar winning DP? You better know what you're talking about. And you don't need to know his job or her job. No, absolutely. You don't need to know about glass.
Sonja O'Hara 43:35
Yeah, I have to know what you want. And that's where I'm so involved with the shortlist, especially because I often act in things that I direct to. So I have to have such a relationship with my DP that for this last movie, mid century, the last week, I'm like acting in it for five days, and I get four weeks first, we're just directing. And we did the schedule that way deliberately. So you know, by then you can relax a little bit more in the last week. But those days that I'm acting and directing,
Alex Ferrari 44:02
How do you do that? Like, how do you do that? How do you like the one scene, the one or two scenes that I acted in the movie, we were together, I was playing myself. I was playing myself. And I was just like, it was just so awkward. And it was weird. And it was just like, how do you it's such a weird thing. I think every director listening should act in a scene with an actor just once. So they can see so because I saw your performance, you were like right next to me in the in the scene that we did together. And you would say stuff that would be like so audacious, that I haven't told you like I'm a disenfranchised millennial. I was like, I said, Cut. I want to slap you with that. Oh my god, that's so obnoxious. That's brilliant. Let's do it again. But being in the movie, and watching it from that perspective, is such a weird experience for a director because we're usually separated. Yes, it's so I love to hear your point. Because I mean, I don't consider what I did acting, I was just playing myself. But what
Sonja O'Hara 45:10
Cameo I mean, I don't know, for me, it's sort of trusting those collaborators, right, because even the days that I'm acting and getting to sit in hair and makeup, and like I'm having to like be holding my little monitor, and I'm still like directing. At some point, I have to turn off my director hat and be an actor in order to give the performance in my own movie that is going to be solid. So it's just on those days, really handing it over knowing that my DP knows exactly what I'm trying to go for. And trusting those around me and you feel like you're in a theater troupe at that point, and everyone has your back. And everyone's rooting for you to succeed, and trying it different ways. And just trusting and not being at the monitor and not trying to like do two things at once. Because then I can just see it in an actor's performance when they're like backseat directing. So it's like just trying to be present with my scene partner. And I've been lucky, like in this movie, I had a single Shane West and I grew up like I saw A Walk to Remember when it was like a shirt, right? You kind of have like a talent crush on these people. But it's just trying to be present in the scene. And then as soon as I'm done that scene, then I can go back to being the director. And then later in the edit, I might be extra anal about those scenes, because there are certain things that maybe micromanage and you're like, Oh, God, why did I do that? Or whatever. But it's really fun, and you feel very alive. But I try not to do three at once. Like if I'm acting, writing and directing, like, I think, ideally, I don't do more than two of those things on the same movie.
Alex Ferrari 46:35
Right! Because it's a lot. It's a lot. It's, it's, it's, it's so interesting. It's so interesting, because when you you know, I've had the experience now because of the show to, you know, speak and have long conversations with some amazing filmmakers. Some that I grew up with some that I have palette, I love the talent crush, I'd love that term talent crush. But you know, at a certain point, you know, that last for a minute, because I'm sure the first day when Bruce Dern walked on set, you were just like, Oh my God, but as a professional, you have to like, I can't, I can't get out right now. I need
Sonja O'Hara 47:09
I don't keep out my rules. I don't keep out till ADR when the movies in the can. That's how I could actually be a little starstruck. But before then we are just peers, we are on a set, right? coworkers. And it's like, you can't let any of that like mysticism about this person that you grew up watching. And but by ADR, that's the only time I'll ever take a selfie with an actor before then I'm like, a little more closed off, and I'm just trying to do my job. See what a big deal.
Alex Ferrari 47:34
Yeah, like you can't go on send the first day and just take a shot with them. Like, it's like, it's so you want to though.
Sonja O'Hara 47:40
I want to and I want to so badly but I've just learned that I have to keep like there's just a certain level of calm, I assure I can't even let myself fangirl like you're there to do a job. And you are there to make them have the quickest, most easy day possible. But then later, you know, when I become their friend, when you're promoting the film down the road, then they're like, oh my god, I had no idea you were even a fan because I was like, very chill.
Alex Ferrari 48:07
It's similar to me, when I'm talking to somebody, when I first meet them on the show. I'm like, okay, boom, boom. And after an hour, two hours of conversations and the recording stops. I'm like, dude, okay, that movie that you did, and then I'll just and then and then I'll pick up but I won't kick out prior to that. Because it's um, you can't, you just can't, okay?
Sonja O'Hara 48:24
We're having a rapport with them. And you're both equals, in that situation, you are having a dialogue and you're being of service to other people. And that's what I kept on reminding myself but later, I'm like, Oh, my God, you're my favorite actor, you know?
Alex Ferrari 48:35
So how do you so how do you I love asking this question of directors who work with these kind of caliber actors? How did you approach directing a booster and receive like, like, what was your literal approach to like directing them?
Sonja O'Hara 48:49
Well, I mean, I try to see everything they've done beforehand. So I'm never stumped, because Bruce Dern will throw an obscure movie at you. And you kind of need to know the reference. So I want to know everything about them before I try to read interviews before to talk about what their process is. Both Bruce Dern and Stephen Lang are actor studio guys. And I was an observer at their Actors Studio in New York. So I knew that I could talk to them about sort of method things and talk to them about private moments and just geek out about these things. And then I try to ask people just directly, like, how do you work, you know, and, and I'm just really cognizant of never getting in the way of the process, never ever giving someone a line reading. Like, it's really just sort of respectful. You know, what I mean? Like, there are times that you have in your head, like a certain idea of how you might want something to go, and then these people are going to throw such a different direction at you, that you just have to be so like, you are in awe of their ability, and I just I relinquish control and it might go a different way than I want but it's going to make me look good if I'm supportive of the thing that they're going to do anyway. And then just watching them do a take before I ever do give them any sort of direction and sort of earning that, you know, back in with them, and trying not to get too heavy, because there were a couple times in the beginning that like, I could write an essay on what every scene means. And like letting that go and trying to just, you know, sometimes it's so much simpler than you think. And you're like, Wow, this is brilliant. And I don't know, I mean, I think it's just like being kind and open. And, you know, they're, they're experts, and they'll make you look good. If you're just, you know, in any way, like, open and present, you know? Yeah, no, doctors are harder to direct than pros. That's how I kind of see it.
Alex Ferrari 50:32
I agree with you 110% professionals who've been around forever, who were sometimes legendary, these guys and gals, both that just, they just show up, they do their job, they know what their lines are. It's the younger actors, it's the more inexperienced actors is the is the more insecure actors, who are the problems that you have to
Sonja O'Hara 50:51
That's where a lot of my day will be working with somebody who's more experienced, and the bigger actors, but it's also like trusting that I have something to say, and that my directions are worthwhile, and that we're in this together. And I've gotten far more confident about like saying what needs to be said, without, you know, worrying that maybe I'll offend someone, because I think if you're invested in them having a great performance, and you're both together trying to make a great movie, you're just collaborating, and I try to not think about their stature, or anything else if you're just trying to make a cool fucking movie.
Alex Ferrari 51:21
Right! And they would, and they appreciate that. Because if you are like, Do you know who you are? Like, yeah, you can't, that that hurts the process? Because yes, that might be fun for a minute, but then you've got
Sonja O'Hara 51:36
No yeah. And I mean, like, I'm an actor, and they're an actor, and maybe we're doing a scene together. Or maybe I'm watching them doing a scene. But like, I don't know, we're just in it together and your team, team members together. And that's really like, given me a lot of calm going into set with these people. And like we're just in it together.
Alex Ferrari 51:54
Did you what was a big lesson you picked up from Bruce, as far as acting or see from just an actor's perspective, you're like, wow, I, I'm putting that in my toolbox.
Sonja O'Hara 52:04
I mean, Bruce does a thing called giving a doing a Jersey, where he makes you at the end of any take to just keep rolling until he basically says cut, and he's gonna throw out some improv things. And they're usually gems. And it was interesting watching Stephen Lang, who doesn't really do that, and Bruce, who's going to wing it, and like, do a total a bit and seeing them work off of each other. So you know, not calling up too soon. And sort of like letting them have their human behavior was something that was cool. And then Bruce likes his actors, Bruce reads lips, and it's really hard in a time of COVID with masks, because he's an older, he's 85 years old, right? And he wants to be able to read your lips in order for him to be able to hear things. So like, that was tough. Like, there were some miscommunications of just, you know, that's a challenge. And he likes his actors to be I mean, he's director to be like, really close, like, you're not back at video Village. And I'm like that anyway, like, I'm on the ground next to a scene with my mini monitor, like I'm like, right in the action. But he said he doesn't like directors that are like, distant and removed. And he likes people that are just really open and forthright. And like, I just learned so much from, like, just the way that he talks about movies. I mean, it's like being in a masterclass, but still trying to make us make our day because you can tell. Right? And you're like, it's film school, but I also need you to do this thing right now. And you'll laugh and like, do the thing. But
Alex Ferrari 53:31
That's That's to say, to say the least no, that's, that's, that's awesome. Because I yeah, I have to ask you, what do you what was there? Is there something that you wish your your you could tell your younger self? Is there something that you could go back and that you just didn't like, Man, I wish somebody would have told me this.
Sonja O'Hara 53:50
Yeah, I mean, I think that with auditions and casting, I see such incredible actors all the time auditioning for like projects that are wonderful, and they're not getting the part because they're literally not the type that you need to serve that story and do that thing. And I just thought I was awful and untalented all the time when I was younger, like the amount of time that I just beat myself up about not getting something and it was so completely out of my control and it had nothing to do with my ability. So just hearing like, you are enough. You have talent, you have a voice and you're going to have the career you want but be patient like I had no you know like I just wanted everything 10 minutes ago and you know I think it was just chilling out like was really important and I had no chill you know?
Alex Ferrari 54:37
I I'd argue still have very little chill but chill saw. Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, but that's the energy you have when you're when you're young is that you just are like this energy like I want I want to write like when I was in my 20s I'm like, why hasn't Hollywood figured out I'm a genius yet. What is going on? I should have I should be directing major motion pictures at this point in time. No, I mean, Orson Welles did it a 23 Spielberg did it at 27. I mean, what how old was Lucas when he did do a Star Wars? Like I mean, you start doing that kind of crap to yourself. And my everyone, I always asked that question, which I'll ask you in a second, like, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn? For me, it's patience. Patience, is patience is patience. And I'll drop a name from one of my former guests. Richard Linklater, who said, the best the best advice he gave, he gave us like, what are however long you think it's gonna take to get to your to make your movie, it's going to be twice as long, it's gonna take twice as long. And not done twice as long and twice as hard. For sure. Still, and he's still hustling it. He's still going after it
Sonja O'Hara 55:48
End up like achieving the things that you've always wanted. And then you realize like that your idea of like, achieving the goal feels good for a second. Like when I got my Daytime Emmy nomination last year, yeah, all I wanted was to be able to be like, I'm an Emmy nominee, and then you get it. And then you still feel like a big imposter. And it still doesn't like, you know what I mean? It's like, anytime you get the goal, it feels good for a second, and then you're still back to being yourself, and stuck in your own head with your own fears. It's and that sort of forever,
Alex Ferrari 56:19
It's the best piece of advice I could say to people is that the life that life and specifically our career, but life in general is the journey, not the event.
Sonja O'Hara 56:28
It is. And it sounds cheesy, and like it's so hard for people to understand it. But like, I love what I do, I'm gonna do this at freaking 98 years old. I'm certainly acting, writing and directing. It's the great love of my life doing this stuff. And it's such a privilege to get to do it. And like sometimes you have good years, and sometimes you don't, but like everyone, no matter what stage they in, that they're making it, they're still feeling like they're not enough and that they're not talented and like it doesn't that doesn't really go away. And I always just imagined one day, I'd have the big agency and I'd be doing bigger movies, and that my life would be without problems. And that like everything would feel hunky dory. And you still I still am like the nerd. I was at 17 and acting school in New York. Like that doesn't change, you know?
Alex Ferrari 57:11
No, absolutely. And one thing I'd love to just touch upon is that imposter syndrome is something that I've asked the biggest, most accomplished writers and directors in Hollywood, won Oscars, who've won Emmys, world legends. And they all say, I haven't watched it still, I still have it. And I'm like, But you, you you made friends. You know, and I had Martha Kaufman, who's who's gonna come on the show in a few in a few weeks. She said, Yeah, I still have it every day. And you're like, like, like security's gonna walk in. And oh, what are you doing here? You're not supposed to be directing who gave you get security? Get her out of here, or get him out of here? Well, it's a weird thing all the time. But that's an artist though. But that's a
Sonja O'Hara 58:01
And I think that you have to be vulnerable to make good art, and letting yourself be vulnerable. Lets like the demons come in a little bit to make you feel like why do you deserve this opportunity? And like, Why does anything I say matter? And like that happens. But I just tried to tell myself, somebody was going to get this job, why not me? You know what, like, you know that, like, we're all trying our best. And like, I'm just going to keep on making movies. And you just have to remind yourself that like you have intrinsic worth, and you have something to say, and that whenever people talk about waiting until the perfect circumstance to make a movie, I always get upset, because that's never going to happen. And growth is inherently uncomfortable, right? So the first time I ever do a new movie, I feel deeply uncomfortable. And I feel like I can't physically do it. And meanwhile, I've gone into pitch on that movie where I've tried to convince everyone. Oh, yeah, this is so easy. I've got this, I'm going to give you the best movie ever. And then I get involved with the creative process. And then you doubt everything. But I think that's part of what makes work good.
Alex Ferrari 59:03
But that's the process. But that's the process. Well, I mean, that happens with everybody, every director at any stage of their career. They're still they're still trying to figure it out. They're still like it's brand new to them. You know, again, and I've had that privilege of talking to these these these amazing artists and you just start to realize you're like, you put them up on a pennis pedestal. Yeah, but they're, they're filmmakers. They're there. They're writers. They go through the same they have to make their day. The camera might not work the sun the light might be going away on a $200 million movie. And on a $1 million movie. It they struggled with the same the process is the same. The paint brushes are different the players might be different. But foot like if I use of baseball or football analogy, if you're playing it with your friends on a field. High school football is the exact same is professional NFL football, right bought at home Another level and a whole other speed and a whole other level of performance. But the game is the game, no matter who you are, and at what level you're at, the game doesn't change. And that's, that's, you know, you could be playing on the sandlot. Or you could be playing in a major stadium. You hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball.
Sonja O'Hara 1:00:17
And I always feel better with directing. It's such a collaboration, right? Like, yeah, trust Bunheads. And you trust the people you're working with. Like, it feels like we're all in it together. Writing is a process that's far more painful for me. Because I feel like it's all me sharing my most like my demons on the page. And that I'm going to be skewered for it. And like, it's just such a different, more vulnerable process to me, and much harder for me to do it. Like I can daily show up to set and be a director and give my all and then like that with with acting too. But writing is like one of those things that I'm crippled with levels of like, you know, the imposter syndrome in a different way. So I think we all have like different things that, you know, come easier, and like writing will always feel like you'd like purging something really significant. You know,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
That's amazing. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker, a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
Sonja O'Hara 1:01:15
Make your micro budget feature, just go and do it. And no excuses, like, make this thing yesterday? Because you will not have somebody else give you money until you've put your heart and soul and finances into that first project. So go make it because that's the only reason I have a career
Alex Ferrari 1:01:29
And sell your eggs.
Sonja O'Hara 1:01:30
And sell your eggs. Absolutely!
Alex Ferrari 1:01:34
If you have to sell finance your first feature that way? Absolutely. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Sonja O'Hara 1:01:44
I think finding your tribe, like there's an urge when you first start to get into the industry that you want to reach up to people that are ahead of you. And I think that you're going to find most of your valuable collaborators with people that you're currently enacting class with, or you're making that student film with, and those collective of artists that were my own peers, or people that I'm now bringing with me from project to project and that feels really good. So realize the worst and the people around you.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:10
And three of your favorite films of all time.
Sonja O'Hara 1:02:13
Ooh, Mulholland Drive is probably my favorite film of all time. I'm all about Eve, and Betty Davis film Love that makes that makes sense. And who, um, I've been really obsessed with Fincher his films recently. Oh, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
I mean, we're all they're all. I mean, you've talking to a Fincher fanatic. And I had Jeff crone worth as dp on the show. And we so geeked out on his process and how he works he's been he's been doing he's been working with him since fightclub. So you know, he did grow with the dragon that too and social network and like dude, social network had to get that shot how to do this. How do you do that? Like it was just fascinating. But yeah, Fincher note, no question.
Sonja O'Hara 1:03:02
I feel like I want to make a movie like Black Swan. I think that's I just psychological haunting stories of ambition are what keeps me up at night. And what I'm interested in making
Alex Ferrari 1:03:11
That makes that makes sense. And I think Julia would definitely like all believe, I think that's definitely our top. And what's next for you? I know, you've got 1000 projects going on. You should be doing the next Avengers soon. What's happening?
Sonja O'Hara 1:03:25
My movie mid century is going to be coming out this year, I said, signed with a very cool distributor. And you'll see news in the trade sometime soon about that. So that will be coming out. And then my series doomsday that got the Emmy nomination will be released on VOD and demand and all the streamers on March 1st.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:44
Very cool. And how about the other film you have going on.
Sonja O'Hara 1:03:48
The other feature is in post right now. And it's about to make its festival premiere. So I'll be able to announce some information about that soon.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:56
So I am so happy for you in all your success. And it's so fun for me because I literally was there at the beginning of this part of your journey. And I'm so glad I had a small, just a small part in helping you get to where you are today, just by casting you in a movie. I'm not taking any credit whatsoever for what you've done. But just
Sonja O'Hara 1:04:20
You were fundamental to where I'am today.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:23
I am not. I'm not hunting for I'm not hunting for a compliment. But I but I'm just glad that could be part of the the the journey in one small way. And I'm really glad to see it. And I every time I go on Facebook, I see your happy face pop up like hey, you know, it's me Quintin and we're just hanging out. I'm like, but, but you know, but that's the kind of stuff I'm like, oh good for her man. I'm so happy for you. So, continued success. I cannot wait to see the films you make in the future. And I hope this interview inspires a lot of other directors and female directors out there to tell their stories. So I appreciate you.
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