Sassy Pants is a biting coming-of-age comedy that follows recent homeschool grad Bethany Pruitt (Ashley Rickards) as she struggles to break free. As valedictorian of her one-student homeschool class, Bethany is stuck at home with her younger brother Shayne (Martin Spanjers) and their oppressive mother, June (Anna Gunn). Unable to take it anymore, Bethany catches the nearest Greyhound to her gay dad Dale’s (Diedrich Bader) mobile home, where he lives with his fun, younger boyfriend, Chip (Haley Joel Osment). When the fashion-inclined Bethany learns about the Fashion Art Technology Institute, she sees a chance to break free, once and for all, and make her own way in the world.
During an interview while at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) to premiere the film, actor Haley Joel Osment and writer/director Coley Sohn talked about the inspiration for the story, finding the right balance for a flamboyant character like Chip Hardy, the challenges of such a quick shoot, making the most of every set, and their hopes for distribution. Osment also talked about his next role, as a young physics student in the mystery drama I’ll Follow You Down, and Sohn said that she’s working on a gay marriage comedy for her next feature. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Coley, how did you get the idea for this story, and what was the process of this going from short to full-length feature?
COLEY SOHN: Sassy Pants is actually based on a short film that I made a few years ago, called Boutonnière, that premiered at Sundance in 2009. I used to act, and I’m not meant to act. It was always just enough to keep me going, but not. And then, I started to write, but just to write stuff for myself. And, AFI has a director’s workshop for women that a friend of mine went through, and it’s an amazing program where they give you money for the short. I was like, “Holy shit, I want to do that!” I used to do sketch and improv, and I had a sketch about a home school prom. A friend was like, “If you’re going to do a short, make it funny.” And, it was really these two-dimensional characters, but when I wrote the script for it, it was more about the people and less about the jokey reveal, at the end.
To make a long story short, I applied and I didn’t get in, but my friends were like, “Make it anyway!” So, I did and it was just an amazing experience. We premiered at Sundance, and went on to a bunch of really great festivals. From that experience, it was really clear to me that directing is what I should be doing. It was the first thing in my life where I was like, “Oh, my god, I don’t want to act, I want to do this.” So, when it got into Sundance, the same filmmaker friend said, “Now, people are going to ask you what’s next, so you have to have a script ready.”
I started to work on something else, and this family – the Pruitts – just kept calling back. I thought the short was just what it was – a 10-minute short. The dad was only mentioned in the short, and the boyfriend. Then, I had the script for the feature, and Adam Wilkins, who produced it, found me there. It took a lot of hunting for money. We were developing the movie for awhile with a really great indie financier production company, but at the end, they pulled the plug and we were like, “Okay, we’re going to make it anyway.” And we did, somehow. Here we are, in a bar in Santa Barbara, celebrating the impossible, or not so impossible.
How did you end up getting such a great cast?
SOHN: We got (casting director) Eyde Belasco on board, and she just did this incredible job with all of these actors.
Haley, what attracted you to the role of Chip Hardy?
HALEY JOEL OSMENT: Well, line dancing is my first love. No. I wanted to do it, as soon as I finished the script. It’s full of really great, sharp moments of character. To have this opportunity to express someone as colorful as Chip, in just these few stabs throughout the film, was really cool. And to be with such a strong cast was a lot of fun.
All of the characters in this are flawed and they all have their own weirdness. Coley, how did you approach bringing that out, as the director, and how did you work with the actors on that?
SOHN: I think I’m more warped than I realize. When I first wrote this, I just thought it was funny and someone read it and said, “Oh, that’s dark and sad and weird,” and I was like, “Oh, really?” So, I think what I find funny is really more uncomfortable for people, but I love that. I just love discomfort. Clearly, the characters are a slightly heightened sense of reality, maybe Bethany aside. I don’t know. I like when people squirm. I think that’s awkwardness is real. Maybe that’s the stuff that I notice throughout my day. I’m a little warped, what can I say?
Haley, how did you approach finding this character?
OSMENT: My process was a lot of appearing next to Coley and asking permission to do certain things. I came to the set a few days before I started and was just hanging out in the make-up trailer with the really fun ladies who did hair and make-up for us, and we just went nuts. My favorite thing was the lip ring, which cut a whole in my lip by the end of the shoot. We just had a lot of fun putting it together, and it took me several months to recover from that haircut.
This is such a fun and spirited character. Was there an inspiration for some of the choices you made?
OSMENT: He was really, really, really clear in the script. Coley has just a very concise and clear way of setting those scenes up. Visual wise, we just threw it together in the trailer, and we cut into the hair. I don’t know why, but I didn’t really want to search for a picture of somebody online. I wanted him to be his own guy. The swoop just seemed right. And then, the artist who cut my hair, added the great bird of paradise thing in the back. It was so fun ‘cause we didn’t really come in with a template. We just put a lot of pieces together.
SOHN: And, Haley was such a sport. He was like, “Can I have a tattoo? Can I paint my nails?” I was like, “Yes!”
OSMENT: Walking through Eagle Rock Mall like that was a lot of fun. We shot on one side and the trailers were all the way on the other. That was a confidence trip. People were like, “What happened to him?!”
Was there anything in your past that could prepare you for a role like this?
OSMENT: Aside from the underground porn career? No. I didn’t really base him on any particular person. Despite what I just said about physical objects informing the character, you do go from the inside out. I’ve played other characters where I take pieces of people that I know and fit it in there. But with this one, it was more about going from the script and figuring out why Chip does the things that he does. He’s not faithful to Dale, but still wants to be with him and goes to Mexico with him. There was a carefree, spirited attitude to him that really made everything else come through, for me.
SOHN: I love that you got that because I feel like people are not cut and dry, in real life. Some people do cheat, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t love. Sometimes in movies, it’s one or the other. Chip is actually the best guy to Bethany, in the movie, but he’s still flawed.
OSMENT: The cliche you do see in films is the magical gay friend who has all the answers, and Chip’s not that person. He just does the best that he can for his friend. The fact that Bethany is surrounded by all these different people, from all walks of life, who are helpful and unhelpful, but are trying the best that they can, is really what makes it so real and uncomfortable, too. I feel like we’ve done our job when the character is something that’s pulled from your imagination, but then people can feel like, “Oh, I’ve met that person before.” That’s when you feel like you’ve done a good job.
How challenging was it to not make him too over-the-top?
OSMENT: There was such a great and economic use of this character, in the script. I think he’s got five scenes or something, but each one is just a really clear snapshot of who this person is and you get certain flavors. I definitely didn’t want to go for a cliched gay thing. The funny and ridiculous part of this guy’s personality is that he’s a party boy who works at a bar. Rather than starting from a place of, “I’m playing a gay person,” his job is that he barbacks, he’s pretty promiscuous, and he’s a fun-loving, positive person, in a less than ideal situation in his life. All the natural colors and complexities of that person, even if they’re only in the film a little bit, came from that. And then, in terms of underlining the fabulousness of him, we just had all sorts of toys and props at our disposal that me and the four ladies in the hair and make-up trailer just went to town with. So, for the two weeks of shooting, I had the black nails and the haircut that was impossible to recover from, for almost a full calendar year, and these great shirts and shorts, and everything. There is a lot to be said, for any type of character, for getting into the actual clothes. The walk comes to life. There are often objects that will make a character spring to life. If you have something in your pocket, or you have a ring that you’re wearing, or even the lip ring, you start to feel things come from that.
How self-conscious were you in the short-shorts?
OSMENT: You can’t be! Not that there’s any reason to feel particularly self-conscious in any situation. As an actor, you’re inhabiting somebody else’s skin, and Chip is totally un-self-conscious. He’s very happy with who he is.
What was it like to collaborate with Diedrich Bader on the relationship between your characters? Was he just game for anything?
OSMENT: He was. For a relationship like that, you do just have to dive in. We worked at this great bar, called Oil Can Harry’s in Studio City, for all of the gay bar sequences, and they generously gave us one of their line-dancing coaches. So, Diedrich and I went into a conference room at the production office – again using one space for two purposes – and learned the two-step and everything. We worked with him for about an hour. Luckily, there’s just the right amount of it used in the film. That was a fun day. I also got barback lessons. I learned all kinds of things. They like us there. I think we can drink for free there, forever. Diedrich and I were often wearing little to no clothing. There was one day on the shoot, that was just me and Diedrich, in our underwear, in a real trailer park, frolicking all day.
Coley, how much research did you do about the home schooling community?
SOHN: Well, I was not home-schooled, I will readily admit, but I did have a controlling mom. The character was actually based on a very controlling mom that I know, for my short, and then she became her own person. When I was writing, I would do things like research classes, but I took it to a little bit of a heightened and over-the-top level here. From what I read, a lot of home schools are more communal and maybe would have a joint graduation. For my short film, it was a home school prom. That was the build and the reveal, at the end of my short. From what I read, the proms are maybe 10 people, instead of you and your brother. I don’t know. I did some research, but via Google.
With such a low-budget, quick shoot, did you feel lucky that it finally all came together this way?
SOHN: I come from an improv background. We planned as much as we could, but we shot in 18 days and there was a lot of chaos. There were some fiascos and a lot of letting go and going, “Okay, this is how it’s supposed to be.” But, things worked out. I’m just a big believer in things happening as they should, and we just completely scored. So, some things that seemed like insane problems, at the time, were amazing gifts. The chemistry just happened. I just lucked out. This is what our casting director unfolded for us, and we’re eternally grateful.
Coley, did you have a moment, when you were making this, when you saw each of these actors bring the characters to life in the way you had envisioned them?
SOHN: Absolutely! Ironically, we talked about Haley [Joel Osment] in prior versions. I imagined Chip as smaller, blonde and young. I don’t know how or why, but I just thought of him, so it was amazing that that came to fruition. You write it on the page and you have something in your mind, but whatever ends up in there is what it is and what it’s meant to be. The thing with some of the Pruitt family, but not for Chip and Dale – which was an accident, by the way – was that they were characters from my short, so it was difficult for me to have other people in mind. But, the fun thing with the newer characters in the movie was that anything goes. The life they brought to it just exceeded my expectations. It was just above and beyond. We saw Haley in this tape our casting director showed us of him auditioning for another gay role, and he just played it so real. I think he said one line, and I stopped and was like, “Done!” That’s the fun part, when the actors bring what was on the page to life, and they do it so well that they make you look good. Good actors make writers look good.
OSMENT: It’s a total collaborative effort.
SOHN: Big time! Every person on that set, from wardrobe to hair and make-up to the D.P. to the editor, was paramount.
OSMENT: Coming from someone who was outside the process of this film getting funded or not funded, it was one of the most efficient and team-driven sets I’ve ever been on, and those are the ones you love. There were just more ideas getting used and people were just really great, in choosing what they wanted to do. The speed and efficiency of doing 35 or 40 set-ups a day was amazing to watch. I was only there for 1/3 of the shoot, and it was pretty incredible.
SOHN: It was definitely a team effort. It was 18 days. You just had to let go and be like, “Well, I guess that’s the shot.” Sometimes the A.D. would fight me and be like, “Do you want to do that again?,” and I was like, “No, that was it.” It just had to be. But, I’m a believer in things happening as they should. Every person on the film was just amazing.
OSMENT: The first day I had a scene was the last scene that we have in the movie, when we’re at Applebee’s. So, when I got to set that day, I got into costume and was like, “So, are we going to a real Applebee’s?” And they were like, “No, we’re shooting in this garage.” We did one take and it was done, and I was like, “I hope it was a good take.”
SOHN: We literally were in the corner of a garage. The art department did an amazing job. It looked like an Applebee’s. These poor actors were coming on their first day and wondering, “What the fuck did I get myself into?!” That same garage was also Grandma’s (Jenny O’Hara) apartment and Brianna’s (Shanna Collins) apartment. We were very MacGyver, but it worked and they were good sports. I just scored with actors. They brought what I imagined, and then some, so it wasn’t very difficult.
What was it like to premiere this at SBIFF with the cast?
SOHN: I feel like I birthed a baby. I’ve never had a kid, but I do feel like it’s been such a long haul, and now that it’s for public consumption and it’s out there, it does feel like a release, in that sense. I’ve been working so hard on it, and living, eating, breathing it, that it feels like a relief, but it also feels like, “She’s out there. Okay, is she going to walk?” I don’t know. It feels cool. I feel like a weight has been taken off, maybe, although I don’t know what that means. I might be dead in the water tomorrow.
Do you have distribution yet, for the film?
SOHN: We do not. We have a sales rep, and this was the birth that you just witnessed. The baby is out. Are you buying?
What’s next for you guys?
SOHN: We’re just starting to try to set up my next film. It’s a gay marriage comedy about these two dowdy middle-aged lesbians, in a small town. They’ve been together forever and no one really cares, but through a series of events, they decide to get married, and then the shit hits the fan. Hopefully, that will be soon-ish.
OSMENT: I’m doing a film, called I’ll Follow You Down, in Toronto, in April. It’s with the director Richie Mehta, whose film Amal did pretty well at some festivals, over the past year. He’s a really exciting young guy. His film, Amal, was shot in India, and he’s a really brilliant producer and director.
Who are you playing in that?
OSMENT: It’s a young physics student at the University of Toronto. It’s a mystery film, actually. It’s a cool little missing person drama. It should be nice. This one is straight-laced.