By Hannah Donegan
Sarah Kolasky is a Toronto based award-winning actor, writer, producer and the former chair of the Breakthroughs Film Film Festival. Her first feature film, Great Great Great, is a dark comedy in which she starred, as well as produced and co-wrote with Adam Garnet Jones. Together they received a 2018 Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the film, which premiered at the 2017 Canadian Film Fest and won Best Feature, Best Screenplay, and Best Performance in a Feature (for Sarah Kolasky). The Globe and Mail selected it as one of the Top 10 Canadian Films of 2017. She also produced and acted in the short film, Liar, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX.
I have had the privilege of working closely with the BFF board for the past two years, and am so impressed with her drive and work ethic. Sarah is able to make things happen like a total badass. Pure inspiration.
Below are five questions with Sarah Kolasky about her filmmaking journey.
Great Great Great is available to watch on iTunes and Google Play, or catch it on your next flight with Air Canada or West Jet!
1 - As an actor and a writer you have the opportunity to write a characters exactly how you would want to play them. What was your process of writing a feature that you were set to star in? And was this always part of your larger plan?
I wrote the script for Great Great Great with my close friend and long-time collaborator, Adam Garnet Jones, who also directed it. As filmmakers, we wanted to make an intimate, character-driven feature that we could shoot with the resources we had available to us (i.e. Adam's apartment and some very talented friends). As an actor, I was excited to create a character who would be both fun and challenging to play; I wanted to take myself outside of my comfort zone. Adam and I developed the story loosely based on our own experiences, and from noticing that turning 30 seemed to be a defining moment for a lot of couples - they would either break up or get married (even if they were unsure it was the right choice) out of feeling obligated to do something by that age. We wanted to explore that conflict in our film. And yes, producing a feature film for myself to star in has been part of my larger plan for a while. I produced and acted in the last short film Adam and I made together, LIAR, to see if I could handle both roles at the same time without going crazy. I pulled it off and the short did quite well, so I started thinking about a feature. It wasn't always my intention to write for myself but it came naturally in my collaboration with Adam.
2 - I love that the protagonist in Great Great Great is a bit of an anti-hero, and that I still found myself identifying with her in a very intimate way even when I was mad at her. What challenges (personal or professional) came from balancing her internal conflicts?
Thanks! I'm so happy you identified with her. We were really influenced by HBO’s Girls and the way it portrayed "unlikeable women" - a term which is just a misogynistic way of describing honest, fully-developed female characters, IMHO. I wrote an article about unlikeable female characters for TIFF's newsletter, The Review, where I talked about receiving negative feedback on the script initially, because the protagonist's motivations weren't always clear. People were confused as to why she would blow-up her stable relationship with her loving boyfriend for an affair with her boss, and they found it difficult to connect with her. But would they have had this problem if the character was a man? Arguably not, but at one point we got so worried that no one would understand the movie that we wrote a version of the script where we very clearly explained her motivation, but it read like bad TV. Adam and I decided to trust our gut and push forward with the version of the script we wanted to make.
3 - It is so important for women to be writing roles for other women. What does your vision of the future of the film industry look like?
That's a big question, but I like to imagine that we'll have an industry where women no longer have to strive for equality, in terms of payment and representation, on screen and off screen. There will be equal amounts of male and female directors, producers, writers, and executives making the big decisions, and that will in turn affect every part of the system below it. I can already see changes happening and I think it's a really exciting time to be a woman in the film and TV industry.
4 - Great Great Great is your first feature (YEAH GURL!). What difficulties come with transitioning from shorts to features and what advice do you have for filmmakers undertaking their first feature?
I would say the main difference is that making a short always feels like you're practising for something bigger, and making a feature feels like the real deal - for better and for worse. It's a lot more pressure simply because your budget is bigger and you actually stand to make money from a feature, whereas shorts are more like "calling card" films and if they flop, there are usually no real consequences. I had produced several successful shorts but transitioning to a feature was still a huge learning curve for me, and I relied heavily on advice from many producer friends of mine. In retrospect, I should have brought an executive producer on board to help guide me and then maybe my lunch would have digested a lot better on many occasions (extreme stress = gas!). I also had to constantly battle my perfectionist tendencies which would slow down my decision making. I reminded myself that this was not the last film I was ever going to make, and it didn't have to be perfect, it had to get done. I had to stop being precious about every little thing.
5 - Your film was picked up for theatrical distribution, which is not always the case for Canadian features. How did you find working in the Canadian film funding model? What are some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages?
In terms of funding, Adam and I shot the film with our own money, and then applied to Telefilm Canada for completion money so we could finish cutting it and do professional sound mixing, colour correction, etc. Our experience with Telefilm has been really positive - they were totally hands-off when it came to creative decisions, and they've been very supportive of the film since we first premiered at the Canadian Film Fest in 2017. The only drawback is that since you're dealing with a government agency, there is a ton of paperwork to deliver and it takes a long time to assemble everything; there were many, many learning curves along the way. But their staff was always helpful and patient with me, and we couldn't have finished the film without them so I really can't complain!