The Multi-Hyphenate Hustle of Indie Filmmaker Megan Griffiths for New Film Sadie

Cheryl Laughlin talks with Megan Griffiths, whose credits include new film, Sadie, Lucky Them starring Toni Collette and Johnny Depp, Eden (winner of 2012 SXSW Audience Award), The Off Hours, and episodes of Animal Kingdom and HBO’s Room 104, garnering a GLAAD Award nomination. She is developing a project with Philip Fleishman and Steven Soderbergh.

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Photo Courtesy of Hayley Young

Twitter feeds are amazing, right?! You’re just swiping along, fangirling a bit on one of your fav indie filmmakers and bloop – up pops a new film with a new distribution paradigm. SADIE, a powerful, disquieting and darkly funny film about a girl fighting for her father’s place on the homefront. Yes please, sign me up for updates. Films like SADIE – written and directed by Megan Griffiths – are the stuff we should all be watching as we navigate the world our scripts will ultimately exist in.

Meg took a moment out of her busy film fest schedule and October 12 launch, for some Q & A on how to go from script-to-screen using today’s new outreach. Plus, learn about the hustle to get SADIE’s script made the way she wanted and how to build discussions with your film fans.

I’m always amazed at how stories find us. How did you uncover this story… how did it come to you?

I was feeling inundated and overwhelmed by the amount of violence coming at me every day, and I started to think about children coming of age in this culture. So much of the media they consume celebrates a kind of brutality that is entirely disconnected from consequence or emotion. If I pulled a gun out and shot someone, it would affect the rest of my life. Yet we watch characters mow down entire rooms of people without batting an eye. I think that’s harmful.

It’s not that I think we shouldn’t see any violence in our media, but I we should deal with its psychological effects when we show it and when we consume it. SADIE was a way for me to contribute to this cultural conversation.

How long was the writing process for SADIE and its time to screen?

I’ve directed six features, and four of them happened in the years between initially writing and finally directing SADIE. I started writing SADIE in 2009 and worked on it for a couple years before it resembled what’s now on screen.

In that period, a few trusted people were reading drafts and providing valuable insight: my sister Sian, a creative writing professor who reads everything I write and gives me sometimes harsh but always fair critiques (sometimes even in red pen!); my producer Lacey Leavitt, a collaborator for years and who always has smart creative feedback; and my friend David Lipson, who worked as a consultant on SADIE. He and I would have these long conversations where we’d really dive into Sadie’s world and try to find all the details and complexities within it.

Megan Giffiths works with Sadie lead Sophia Mitri Schloss. Photo Courtesy of Irene Mitri.

I first learned about your work with the Lucky Them starring Toni Collette. (Thanks for the intro to one of the best soundtracks!) SADIE seems even more dramatic but definitely has moments of levity. How do you approach that fine line of comedy in a drama?

Sadie sees her situation as cataclysmic, but part of what I’m exploring in this film is that kind of black-and-white thinking can be dangerous. I really wanted to build in characters who tried to break through Sadie’s intensity. Characters who are as earnest as Sadie really need to be challenged or else their earnestness can overcome the film. I also had an eye for that in the casting process and intentionally sought actors (like Danielle Brooks, Tony Hale, Keith L. Williams, and Tee Dennard) who had the charm and humor to offset Sadie’s brooding energy.

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Always curious… are you an outliner or cue card scribbler or other ways of getting your story out onto the laptop?

I tend to write in prose first – summaries of each scene with no dialogue. I like to look at the whole story condensed like that, to wrap my head around it. But even before that I tend to do a character breakdown – who are the people central to this story, and how do they interconnect?

As a writer/director, do you use any short hands to yourself in your script?

I don’t think I use short hands. I don’t tend to write scripts for others to direct, but I’d like to think I’d approach the process in the same way – writing to allow the reader to experience things as they might as a viewer.

Producers can make such a difference in guiding a film. Did you have your producer on hand from the get-go or did she come onto the project after you were finished writing?

Lacey Leavitt has been on the project since the very beginning. She and I were working together on our film The Off Hours when I started writing SADIE, and she read every draft of the script over the years. We were incredibly fortunate to bring Jennessa West on board much closer to the start of production. Jennessa is also an outstanding producer; she and our co-producer Jonathan Caso and our executive producer Eliza Shelden were all instrumental to getting the film over the finish line.

Photo Courtesy of TJ Williams Jr.

Can you give me an overview of the unique distribution you’re undertaken with Sadie?

We are working with Amazon on our streaming release, which will happen in February 2019. We partnered with them through their Festival Stars program. Leading up to that, we are building our own independent release in theaters starting October 12, and then on iTunes and other online formats.

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We walked away from a few traditional distribution deals with SADIE to put the film into the world with intention and specificity. It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve felt incredibly empowered by it as well. We’ve been able to retain such a clear voice in the way the film is being delivered via our trailer and marketing materials. It has also allowed us to engage directly with audiences on the themes of the film, our motivation for making it in the first place.

How is it working out so far… any lessons learned? Love that your emails are informative behind-the-scenes but not overwhelming my inbox.

We’re only just getting to the phase of the process where there will be metrics to gauge our own success. We have spent the last four months gearing up for this moment, and I can definitely say I have learned A LOT. We have been blogging about the process and release a new post every two weeks to get into detail on our approach and the knowledge we’re gaining along the way. It’s available at our site, and people can subscribe to our newsletter at the site as well if they want the blog delivered straight to their inbox.

Anything else you’d like screenwriter, filmmakers and film fans to take away about your film SADIE?

This movie is very meaningful to me, and I think it contributes to an important societal conversation. We encourage people to engage with each other after watching the film, to reach out and engage with us as well.

We’re on all the social media channels @sadiefilm, and we always love to hear what people have to say. We’ve had great conversations with audience, particularly teen and college-aged kids, all over the world over the course of our festival run. We hope those conversations continue into SADIE’s release.

Keep up with Megan, SADIE film, and her other movie projects on the film’s website, Twitter @sadiefilm, and Facebook, and Instagram.

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Writing and Producing the Micro-Budget Film