A chat between Movies: Live!'s Sarah Shockey and Conor Sullivan

Conor Sullivan and Sarah Shockey have teamed up for a series of live script readings called Movies: Live! w/ Conor & Sarah. Tomorrow, Saturday September 20th at 1pm at the new iO space, they'll be reading Conor's new screenplay Steal My Sunshine, and Sunday the 21st at 4pm at the Public House Theater, they'll be having a double feature of Sarah's Sand Castle and Conor's Calm Down Tanya.

In advance of this weekend's three readings, here's a conversation between Conor and Sarah about a whole bunch of things!

C: I think what we should start with is, I’ve been watching the Brendan Fraser movie Blast from the Past.

S: I haven’t seen it.

C: It is really, really fun.

S: I’ll have to watch it.

C: It’s him and Alicia Silverstone. They’re my Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

S: Of course.

On Screenplay Readings & Feedback

S: I remember a couple times being involved in people’s readings before. This always happens to me, where I’ll watch something and be like, Man, all these people are doing stuff and I could do that. But I don’t - but I could, maybe, I think. So that had happened a couple years ago. But then, when I went to yours it was like, Oh this is like, a completely different thing. This isn’t me being like, ‘Oh, I could do this.’ It was like, This is a skill that I really admire and it’s in a voice that I really like and - how, how is that happening? I’m interested in it.

C: Well, you were one of the only people who gave me real notes. I remember you were bashful about it, but you were like, “There’s this thing with this young girl and it’s gross, get rid of it.” And I thought, “Oh yeah, that is gross.” I took it out immediately. Most people, their notes are either things they loved or how to make it something that they would like more, instead of how to make the piece better.

S: Yeah. I read this thing about feedback, and it was like, “What I want to hear from people is, what’s boring, what’s confusing, what is throwing them - and take that and make my own solution.” Instead of people being like, “Here’s what I’d do...”

C: That’s like when Funny or Die told me Molly in Technicolor was good, but not raunchy enough.

S: It’s not a raunchy movie!

C: My tribute to Hollywood musicals of the 40’s did not have enough raunch.

S: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s nice but you know in all those tap dance numbers, could we get some dicks floppin’ around in there?”

C: “Could somebody wear something that’s stupid, and then five people riff, like, ‘You look like a gay astronaut,’ ‘You look like a slutty thing.’”

On Writing Female Characters and “The Creep Vibe”

C: I think most female writers are better at writing men than men are at writing women. I know guys that are really good writers but just write cold, distant women because they can’t grasp them. So we get Hangover kind of movies where they’re whores or shrews.

S: Yeah, are women in these movies? I think about it a lot. With feminism, people make such a big deal about the difference between men and women. And I get weirded out sometimes because, there’s more women than men in the world. So why is there so much odd fear about this huge, enormous chunk of the population that’s willing to talk and work on it and figure out what’s going on. It weirds me out.

C: It’s really weird. In the last year, I’ve been listening to a lot more female-driven music and reading more female writers and it’s amazing how even with just doing that internally, people treat me different. Men are more creepy and gross to me I guess. Or it makes me feel that way.

S: Maybe you can sense it better, too. I know a lot of guys who can’t sense the ‘creep vibe.’  And that’s something I immediately sense. Even some of the girls I know, I’ll mention it to them, like, “Oh that guy’s a creep.” And then they’ll think about it and go, “Oh yeah, I guess he is!” And I’m like, How is this not, like, a sense that immediately everyone gets in their heart?

C: Yeah. I don’t know. But I mean, I guess, I’ve... probably been a creep at points.

S: No no no, there’s a difference. A creep is the person at a party who you just like, within two seconds of talking to them, you sense this primal, underlying fuck vibe. That almost seems like they can’t control it. And that’s terrifying to me. It’s a fuck and anger vibe.

C: I write about that a lot in Tanya. There are scenes where she’s on public transit and guys are talking about how they’d fuck her. And it’s just normal small talk to them. Like, “Yeah Bitch Face, she’d probably do weird shit.” I never realized that that’s horrifying. It’s not [just] that they’re saying graphic things about this girl, it’s that that’s their ‘I’m-bored-let’s-pass-the-time” conversation.

S: It’s so ingrained for people like that, you can’t shake them out of it, like, “Do you realize if there were some giant creatures that were talking about you that way, how horrible it would be?”

On Chicago Improv & Finding Friends

S: It’s a weird thing that improv sets up. And the community at large. Because you’re taught that we’re all in this together. And it gives you this kind of false hope which is, “If we encourage each other enough, and one of us breaks out into the world, they’re gonna scoop back and pull all of us up with them, and then every single person’s gonna become famous and every single person’s gonna be creating stuff.” And it doesn’t work that way. It’s not the oasis of fame that you’re led to believe it will be in, like Level 2.

C: The instant friendship thing is always scary. It took me ‘til the end of [Living in] Chicago to be friends with the people I really thought were funny. Because I was so scared of them. And jealous. The best friends you can have are the people you’re nervous and scared around.

S: Yeah, and those people want friends too! We’re all just people doing this. If you want to be friends with someone, chances are, they want to be friends with you. Unless you’re like a completely different breed of weird person.”

C: I feel like I was more upset, more angry at the world when I was competing with other groups with Oh Theodora. Whereas when I started writing on my own, I realized this isn’t a competition, as weird as that is. I feel like I wasted a lot of time not thinking about what I like and what I would do because I was like, We need to be the group that gets Sketchfest blurbs. What a shitty stupid thing to worry about.

S: I think the thing for me that made a difference was that I started writing at a really lucky time. Had I not started writing and Shock T’s has ended, I would feel like I didn’t have any skills left. And I know that I do. I know that I’ve been spending five years training myself to be a version of myself on stage that people can connect with. You can’t put in a box of, Well Shock T’s is over, I can never get that out again. But, because I have a finished script and then a bunch of other things that I’ve started, I feel like, Okay, I’m not moving out with no bags.

On Common Writing Tropes

S: I was looking back at an early draft of Sand Castle and realizing that all the people just talk kind of like I think. Every single person says, “Oh,” and, “Yes,” all the time to everything.

C: I cut out a lot of ‘Ughs.’

S: I have a lot of ‘Ughs’ too!

C: This is something, I think it’s in every one of my scripts, I don’t know why and it’s not because I think it’s a good turn of phrase. Either hands being held or hugs are described as being, “gripped for dear life.” Like, “She hugs him, gripping for dear life.” I don’t know why that’s in fucking everything. I think it’s ‘cause I’m like, Oh, they’re really sad. They’re gonna hug a little harder than normal.

S: I have a weird control issue of saying that the actors are looking at each other. Like, of course they’re looking at each other. And smiling. And breathing. Where else are they going to be looking? Is it going to completely go off the rails if I don’t say, “She looks at him, and then replies..” No! She’s not gonna reply out to the fourth wall, what’s wrong with you?

C: This is something that I’m so embarrassed [about]. In an early draft of Tanya I imagined a character… She’s not a character who eats a lot, always eating frosting or something. But in my head, I was like, Oh I could see her being bigger. And then the description of her is, “23, plump.”  No one would ever describe another human as “plump.”

S: “Yeah, hey do you wanna read for this part? The description is ‘plump.’”

C: “She’s a plump girl. You will be playing a plump girl.” Tell me about my character, “Is she plump?”

S: “She has heavy footsteps, if that helps.”

On The Movies: Live! Readings

S: I felt really good when the idea occurred to me that I could have someone read the screenplay. First I got John Eisenrich just stuck in my head. I would see him places and just be like, Oh my god. What a fantasy, if he were to read this part.  And then that led to casting Maggie as Julie Marchiano and being like, her voice would be perfect. So I’d go back and I’d rewrite things in a way that I thought would be fun to hear them say. And then it just kind of rippled out.

C:  I wrote Tanya because I think Megan Green is a very funny, strange person and I love how she talks.

S: The way her brain works is just like - I don’t know, it’s like the best store you’ve ever gone into, but like - no one knows how great it is. It’s like music, the way she thinks.

C:  I’m basically writing a watered-down version of her. Mixed with uh, me I guess, if I was a woman.


C: Any wrap up things you wanna do?

S: I feel weird talking about the plots of them. I’m glad we just have that in the Facebook event. My main thing is that I’m just excited that it’s happening and it doesn’t cost any money.

C: Yeah, I’m excited to work with a bunch of Chicago actors that I respect and love. And I just want to keep working with them even though I live so far away. I’m glad there are still opportunities for that.

S: I’m excited. It’ll be fun.

EDITORS NOTE: Hopefully as much fun as Blast From The Past which wears its goofball heart on its sleeve, and holds up well!