You may do a double take when Sassy Pants screens during the 25th anniversary of Out on Film but let me save you the trouble. Yes, that is Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense playing a lip-ring wearing, line-dancing queer. Sassy Pants follows Bethany Pruitt as she tries to break out of the homeschooled bubble her overprotective mother has created for her. Bethany gets a dose of the real world when she befriends her father’s much younger male lover (Osment) and gets screwed by bitchy coworkers. Writer/Director Coley Sohn talked with David Atlanta about the making of Sassy Pants, working with Osment and her next film- a dark comedy about gay marriage.
Sassy Pants evolved from a short film that you actually premiered at Sundance in 2009. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Sure. I had never directed before. I had acted, and I saw a friend had made a short film through AFI; they had this women’s directors’ workshop, which is this amazing program where they give you money to make a short. Long story short, I saw my friend’s short and decided to apply but I did not get in. I wrote Boutonniere when I applied since you had to submit a script so when I didn’t get in, that same friend who is a filmmaker said “You gotta make it anyway.” And I ended up doing just that, and it’s turned out to be an amazing experience.
In hindsight, I’m glad we didn’t get into the AFI program because I think I ended up learning a ton. It was just very hands-on and DIY, but it was an incredible experience. As you mentioned, it got into Sundance, and that same inspiring friend said “Okay now you’ve gotta have a feature ready”, and I don’t know if there would be a feature if there wasn’t Sundance. So it was all very kismet and chronological in a fortuitous way.
So Boutonniere was sort of the baby that birthed this full-length feature. In the short film Zachary Quinto stars as the shopkeeper. Was it difficult for you to recast the characters when moving on to the bigger film?
That’s a great question. Initially, very much so because I wrote the feature after making the short and knew these people so well from seeing them on the screen. It was a hard transition, but I’m a big believer in things turning out as they should.
Now that I know the short and the feature, they feel like two different entities to me. Even though the short is sort of the first ten minutes of the movie, it kind of was what it was in mind, what I needed, and it was about this messed up dysfunctional family more-so than the jokey reveal at the end. And it was what it was, I didn’t think there was a feature there. And I feel like the feature has a slightly different tone because it’s not as jokey as the ten-minute short and there’s a lot of heart to it that I don’t necessarily think was in the short. So even though they’re the same people and there’s a home-schooled girl in the same story, they’re very different to me.
I think one of the things I really enjoyed was the character development for Bethany’s mom. I think we try not to be like our parents, but the older we get, I think the more we realize that we are…
I know, right? [Laughing]
…so I wondered if that scene in the movie was maybe based on personal experience for you, and if so how did your mom react when she saw it?
Well, I have a controlling mom but in a different way. Like, the more abrasive, outward Jewish mom type, and not the passive-aggressive Mrs. Pruitt type.
She’s actually based on a friend’s mom – but I need to be careful of what I say –but the mom was the Fox News-watching, neo-con, scared of a lot of things, and domineering with a more silent kind of hand. But I think I realized – and I don’t know that friend’s mom’s mom – but I think just from hearing a lot of people, it seems like there’s definitely that gap from how a grandparent treats their grandkids and how they treated their own kids. And I’ve heard so many adults – women in particular – saying that they never heard their mom say “I love you”. And these things seem so shocking to me when that grandparent seems so different then. And we’re all clearly a product of – I mean, there’s very much nature and nurture and what we’re born with, but clearly the environment and what we went through has such a huge effect and takes its toll.
Like it or not we do become our parents, and there’s such complexity to whether the cycle’s gonna repeat itself or not. Inevitably, I think some aspects do, but with the help of therapy and self-help books, we evolve the best we can. I think Mrs. Pruitt is different than her mom in that grandma is brasher and really doesn’t hold much or mince words, but there’s a cruelness about her that helps explain who the mom, who June is.
But I think it, strangely, comes from a place of love. I think Mrs. Pruitt feels like she’s not doing a disservice to her kids by keeping them in a bubble but is actually doing the best thing for them, is protecting them from the unknown and change and the wilds of the world. So I think essentially – and her mom thought she was doing the best thing for her, she thought her daughter was too sensitive and needed some toughening up.
Coley, being a first-time director, you guys shot this film in eighteen days. Was that just a crazy shoot?
Yeah, it was crazy. And to make matters worse, it was over the holidays, Christmas and New Year’s between 2010 and 2011, and we shot with Christmas Eve and Christmas off, and New Year’s off. It was really tough.
Then on top of it all, we had hellacious weather. We shot on different L.A. locations, and it was just pouring. We had lights outside of windows trying to make it look sunny outside. We were shooting for summer, and that party scene where the kids – it looks like they’re smoking because smoke is coming out of their mouths – it was like 35 degrees and they were all in t-shirts. It was so brutal but it was funny.
That’s another big difference between the short and the feature: the short was shot in two days and this incredible uplifting experience. I’d never directed before and thought, Oh this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and these beautiful two days. And the feature was one of the more arduous things I’ve ever done. It felt like boot camp, but I wouldn’t change it. I think it brought us all together. It was just nightmare after nightmare. Anna, who plays the mom, I think one day she gets this call that her house had flooded because there was so much rain, and she had to leave. I mean, it was just so many problems, but miraculously we got through it and that’s the movie we got. I hope that next time, I can add a few more days on there – at least twenty. Twenty-five would be luxurious. It would be a vacation!
After watching the film, I feel like there’s so many more stories that could be told with these characters. Has that crossed your mind?
That’s so cool that you said that. It is funny that there was this one Q&A we had, I think it was maybe at Outfest, where someone said it felt like a TV show.
There’s actually two different TV shows I’m developing right now that have nothing to do with Sassy Pants. But maybe there is. I don’t know if there’d be a sequel to the movie, I don’t know how that would work. But maybe there’s something to it. Who would you like to see more of?
I’d definitely like to see more of Chip and Dale . It was like Dale was a little confused and trying to capture a piece of himself. I guess I’d like to see him explore his life a little bit more. So I would be interested in that. I mean, I guess even just Bethany, what happens afterward. She seemed to be a dreamer, very strong-willed, but she’s been sheltered. So FIT is gonna be a whole new thing for her.
That is really cool, Joseph! First of all, there could be a spinoff of Dale and Chip down in Baha at their B&B across from the water slides, and the antics they get into there south of the border. And Bethany is very much the fish-out-of-water so mom could come and visit and drag along grandma and Shane. That’s cool.
Speaking of Chip, Haley Joel Osment is just brilliant in this film. People are gonna go “Oh, that’s the kid from The Sixth Sense!” What was it like working with him?
I’m not just saying this. He is such a gem on and off camera. He’s, like, one of my favorite human beings. The cool irony is that we had actually talked about him when were developing the feature. Initially, after Sundance this company called Big Beach Films in New York, found me from Boutonniere, and they asked me what was next. I gave them the first version of Sassy Pants and this other script I had, and they liked Sassy Pants, and we started developing with them. Very long story again, but they nine or ten months in and five drafts later ended up pulling the plug, and the financer did, and we decided to make it ourselves.
But when we were doing it, I can’t remember if they had asked ‘Who are you picturing for Chip?’ and I don’t know why Haley’s name came to mind, but I just pictured someone little but mighty, just a ball of energy and personality. But I’d just think it’d be really fun and campy if we got him, but his name never came up again when we were actually casting, for some reason. And then it did again closer in, and he was in New York, and I just didn’t know if he could do gay. I knew he was an amazing actor and I knew he could do anything, but our casting director got me a tape of him auditioning for something else with a gay character, and I just saw him do one line and I was just like “Done!” I didn’t even watch the rest. “Yes, please. Done and done.”
Then he came to set – we had already started shooting – and he came in from New York, and he was amazing. He went off to the hair and makeup trailer and played with the girls there, and he came back and was like “Can I cut my hair?” I was like “Yes, please!” And it was his doing. We gave him the Adam Lambert/Kate Gosselin hair. He was like “Can I get a lip ring? Can I paint my nails?” He just took the ball and ran with it. He’s just a consummate professional, he’s so much fun, I just can’t say enough about him. He’s so deserving of everything thus far in his career, and I think it’s only just begun.
He’s just amazing in the film. You’re just watching him and he seemed like he’d be up for anything on-set.
Oh God yeah! We shot the mall stuff at – and I don’t know if you know L.A. – but Eagle Rock Mall was kinda like the outskirts. And being a cheap shoot, our trailers were really in a remote area, and he had to walk all the way through the mall and through Macy’s, and when he would go back to the trailers, wardrobe would offer to cover him up, and he was totally fine and comfortable in his own skin in the cut-offs and the boots and the short shirt. He was “No, I’m fine.” He was so comfortable with himself. It was just amazing. We should all take lessons from him.
Is there anything else you’re working on that you can speak of right now, or are things just in development stages?
The thing that’s closest to my heart has a gay character but it isn’t like a gay movie per se. But the next feature I want to do – and just today, my manager did his final tweaks, and we’re gonna go out to our first actress in just a second – is called Dodie and Cheryl Get Hitched. And it’s a gay marriage dark comedy, and very much the same tone as Sassy Pants.
It’s these two middle-aged lezzies who’ve been together and they live in a small town, which is like where my ex is from. And everyone is fine with them, they’re like “Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t throw it in our faces.” And through a series of events, one of them decides very adamantly that she wants to get married and the shit kinda hits the fan. … And again, it’s kind of warped in the same creepy, colorful but endearing characters. I hope it all starts coming together. That’d be really exciting for sure.
Is there anything you’d like to share about the film that I’ve not touched on and that you’d like audiences to take with them?
You know, I don’t think Sassy Pants is gonna change the world. It wasn’t ever my intention. But I think it’s a fun hour-and-a-half ride and the characters are larger than life, but the message is just dancing to your own drumbeat and following your heart and doing what you gotta do, and I just hope that it’s told in a fun enough way that people enjoy it.
Sassy Pants screens as part of the David Atlanta sponsored night of Out on Film, Friday October 5th. The films shows at 7:10 pm. You can also find Sassy Pants on VOD, iTunes and Netflix beginning October 26th.