A Conversation with Roxy Sorkin
Our Editor-In-Chief, Micaela Merryman, had the opportunity to speak with New York City filmmaker Roxy Sorkin about her film Breastmilk (2020) and her upcoming project Vodka starring Alexis G. Zall and Iris Apatow.
MICAELA: I watched Breastmilk a couple weeks ago and just cried. I felt like the premise behind the film was super unique and I wanted to know more about the moment, if you can remember, where you were when the idea for Breastmilk came to life and when you were compelled to put it on paper and then put it on the screen.
ROXY: So the relationship between the mother and the daughter is based off my mom and I. I am an egg donor child. My mother is not my biological mother, but she birthed me. So that’s pretty interesting and unique, but I never really thought about writing it into a short. But I went to a film festival for a music video I had directed and the film festival was called NFFTY, and it’s actually where I met pretty much 100% of the people I work with now, so everybody who was working on Breastmilk and on Vodka. And basically, I just went to the film festival and saw like, 100 shorts every day. And just, by stockpiling my brain with filmmaking information was I able to start writing on it. It went to a ton of weird places before it got to where it is now. But just understanding what jokes I like, and understanding what jokes I don’t like, and what kind of intros I like, and what kind of intros I don’t like and stuff is very helpful. Just content and watching content is always how I start writing.
MICAELA: I was also wondering what the process was like; you have to fund it, you have to edit it, you have to cast it. The people you cast the movie with— were they close friends? Tell me all about that process.
ROXY: It started with the script for sure. The script got to like, Draft 12 before we started production on it, and it ended at Draft 16. So it made it the most of its way and it just kind of teetered off in a few places. But I pulled on two producers who didn’t even end up being the main producers, but they got it off the ground. Then we started funding pretty early on, and the funding was, you know, difficult because trying to ask people for money is not very easy.
So I do that, and then casting, I cast Adina Aaron, who’s Kat in Breastmilk, the younger actress. I went to high school with her actually. I went to an arts high school in Los Angeles and she was in the theater program. We connected at a party and talked about filmmaking and what she wants to do. Really we were on the same track, so it came very naturally to see her in the film.
And then Elizabeth Dennehy, who played her mother— I knew her through a mutual friend and ended up— I didn’t know this until I got to set, that she’s Adina’s acting coach from a long time ago. So they had had this relationship previously of mentor-mentee. I literally found that out on our first day.
But casting Vodka was much different, because Iris Apatow stars in Vodka. I had messaged her over social media when I was writing Breastmilk, and I was like, “Is this something you’re interested in?” The stars just didn’t align, it didn’t work out for either of us, and then I was like, “I’m gonna write a script to have you in at one point.” and I wrote the script and it was just the first person I thought of.
And then to cast the other roles, I was luckily signed management with Management 360 two months ago, and they helped connect me with Alexis G. Zall who is the co-star, and then our third actress Michelle Webber, I messaged because I saw her in a video with Trippie Redd and I was like, “If there is a grandma who’s gonna be in my movie, it’s gonna be this one.”
MICAELA: I love that! I definitely wanted to ask about the probably very interesting process of filming during a pandemic. I wanted to know the in and outs of that, because I’m sure it’s been a very unique experience.
ROXY: It was really scary, to be honest. It was really scary. Because we started production in the middle of when it was peaking in August, and now it was peaking when it went down to like, 1,000 cases a day, and it seemed very plausible for everybody to get tested, and have a code of compliance officer, and wearing masks not to be a huge sweat, you know? Like, it wasn’t up to the statistics of 1 in every 20th person, which is what it is now.
When the cases started climbing, we were really nervous about losing money, because you get to a certain point in filmmaking where you’re just not gonna make any of the money back if you... If you purchase insurance, or if you start purchasing production design, that’s just not money that you’re gonna get back. So we just had to play every day by ear, like… Wake up in the morning— are we still making the movie? I don’t know.
But we definitely took all the precautions that were necessary. I’m happy to say that everybody tested negative after the shoot. It’s been maybe a week and a half, maybe two weeks, and I haven’t had a positive test from anybody. Basically, we just had very strict contracts saying that everybody had to get tested before, and then quarantine, we had a daily quarantine log where you’d state your activities for that day and who you encountered, we had an on-set protocol officer. But definitely as a student filmmaker, that’s a big fish to fry, trying to oversee the safety of 15-20 people... it’s a lot of people.
MICAELA: I’ve never thought about that that way. That’s a lot of people. Especially right now. I can definitely understand how that would be scary. It’s the worst anxiety. I can not imagine accounting for more people than just myself, to be honest.
ROXY: Yeah! And actors have to be unmasked on-screen, so you don’t even have the safety of that really. One of the stars of the film is a senior citizen and it’s just like… I was so nervous… every single production meeting, every single talk we had, I was like, “You don’t want to be the person who gives the 80 year old Jewish actress the COVID-19. You don’t want to be that person. So like… nobody do anything crazy.”
MICAELA: About Iris Apatow, you told me earlier that you had reached out to her for Breastmilk initially but the stars didn’t align. How was it finally getting to work with her on this script you wrote specifically with her in mind? That is a really unique dynamic, I feel like.
ROXY: I originally wrote the characters in Vodka as 13. Still with her in mind, but knowing that she is actually 18. And then I realized that that wasn’t gonna happen and they needed to be 16, which they are. But I just kind of wrote it, and then as I was coming up with the content, I was like “Oh, this is perfect for Iris.” But I wasn’t like, “oh, I need to write a script to cast this person.” The script was definitely the catalyst.
MICAELA: Yes. So working with her worked out well I’m assuming, do you think even though you had to change the age and maybe make other edits, do you think it came out the way you wanted it, or is it coming out the way you want it? Because I know you’re in editing.
ROXY: Oh, totally. It’s totally coming out the way I want it to. It’s like a dream movie. I’m so happy that I got to make it and that everything worked out and that everything was safe, and you know, that we had the actresses that we did, but it worked out really well. It’s very exciting.
MICAELA: That’s so exciting, especially that you could pull it off during a pandemic. I’m really excited to see it. I know it’s not out yet, I just wanted to know what you can willingly tell me about Vodka. I don’t know, like a back-of- the-DVD synopsis kind of thing.
ROXY: It follows a 16 year old girl who just lost her maternal grandmother who was taking care of her her whole life, and her grandmother is this very big, fabulous party girl / political activist personality. When she passes away, Ivy, the main character, feels like she needs to live up to her legacy and like, the beauty she had in life. So it’s her and her best friend going through her emotions and trying to live up to Ivy’s grandmother.
MICAELA: That sounds so good! Oh my God, that sounds so good. I’m so excited to see it. Do you suggest that all student filmmakers just go ahead and take the limb and reach out to the person they want to reach out to and just go for it? Do you think that’s the best way to approach film as a student?
ROXY: Yeah, the best way to do it is to just make movies, even if they’re bad. Just make a ton of movies and then send them to film festivals and then talk to everybody at the film festivals. It doesn’t matter if it’s the worst film festival ever. It doesn’t matter if the movie’s shot on an iPhone. And it doesn’t matter if you’re acting in it. Make content, send the content out, learn from the people around you, and then gradually your content will become better content, and you’ll send it to bigger, better places, and then you’ll know the right people to be able to make what you want to make.
Watch Breastmilk (2020), dir. by Roxy Sophie Sorkin here or below. You can follow Roxy on Instagram here. Our interview with Roxy, as well as more behind-the-scenes photos, will be included in our first issue. Pre-order available here.