Writer’s Corner: Monique Sorgen


Writer’s Corner is a place to get to know outstanding writers, talk about the craft of writing, career advice, share horror stories and find out more about compelling films, television shows, plays, etc. There’s so much great content out there being made by female creators, we should all be keeping an eye on these women.

Today we are featuring Monique Sorgen.

Monique, I know you’re a writer/director, but tell us how you usually introduce yourself.

I introduce myself as, “Monique Sorgen, I’m a writer-director.” I make a point of including my last name whenever possible—even if nobody else is—because I think it’s more powerful. If people don’t know your last name, they never have an opportunity to recognize it. Hollywood is a small town, and you’d be surprised about how many people have heard of you when they hear your full name. Meeting someone whose name you’ve heard is a great way to make lasting connections. I’ve noticed that a lot of women forget to include their last names (even on name tags at networking events), which keeps them in a more casual and more anonymous position, so I always give mine.

Nancy Myers said after a screening of “Something’s Gotta Give” celebrating the film’s 15th Anniversary: “Have someone else direct your movie and you’ll want to direct.” What motivated you to start directing? Which do you like best, writing or directing?

I started as a director. My first job out of college was working as a director’s assistant on “Star Trek” and a bunch of sitcoms for the guys who made “Frasier,” amongst many other TV dramas and comedies. I only became a writer because I couldn’t find any material I wanted to direct. In the process, I fell in love with writing, too. Writing is a lot more relaxing. You sit around and make up stories. I love that you get to be the one deciding on the point of view and the message in writing. You are God in the world of your story. It’s an introverted power. Directing makes you feel a lot more powerful in an extroverted way. I like being a leader and guiding the vision, because I believe I have a strong sense for what a script wants to look like and feel like, based on my understanding of writing and stories, and I know how to make what’s in my head come to life on the screen.

How do you approach a project that you want to direct? Is it a different process for you if you write something and don’t intend on direct?

First of all, when I write something, I’m always directing it in my head, and then writing down what I see. So, I’m not sure I’ve ever written anything I wouldn’t want to direct. I think where there is a difference is when you’re writing your own original material versus when you’re writing for hire. In the writer for hire situation, you’re trying to convey someone else’s vision, and incorporate a lot of things that they think are cool. So, the approach to that involves trying to relate to another person’s point of view, and getting inside their head and their soul. Of course, I always try to bring something of myself to those projects too, because otherwise, why am I the one writing it?

I’ve recently started listening to 3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast and I have really enjoyed your interviews. I understand you’re the only woman contributing to the podcast at the moment. Can you talk about the experience of joining the podcast, the amount of work you put into it and what you feel you’re learning or getting out of doing the interviews? Have you learned a lot? Can you tell us a few memorable pieces of wisdom or advice you’ve heard while doing the interviews? Do you a favorite episode or person/team?

Wow, I’ve talked to so many amazing people on the podcast. That’s the main thing I get out of it. It’s an opportunity to have peer-to-peer conversations with the people whose work I admire. I generally love talking to people and learning about them, so the podcast has felt like a really natural fit for my personality. I joined the podcast because I would listen to it and get annoyed that there weren’t enough women’s voices on it.  Then I realized, “I can do something to change that. I can join the podcast!” So, I did. And once I was trained in the sound recording equipment, and started doing interviews, I handed in a list of women and writers of color that I wanted to make sure weren’t being neglected in our selection process. I’ve been able to advocate for women and people of color ever since, and I think everyone on the podcast has a strong awareness now of the importance of making a concerted effort to include people who aren’t white men on a regular basis. Recently, we held a training session, and we’re going to be adding a lot more women and people of color to our team.

As far as people I’ve interviewed, I think it’s interesting to hear each person’s journey, and how no two people have the same path to success. This is a crazy business that way. There’s no ladder, and so much of it is luck! I’m a comedy person, and one lesson I learned is that pretty much every successful comedy person I’ve interviewed has happened upon either Judd Apatow or Will Ferrell on their path, and that was the thing that made a difference for them. Those two are the comedy king-makers. Another thing I found interesting was in my conversation with Aline Brosh McKenna, when she talked about how there’s a panic that sets in after your first big success that makes you question everything you’ve ever done, as well as if you’ll ever be able to do it again. She talks about how after “The Devil Wears Prada” put her on this new level, she freaked out. And then she found a group of people who told her this had happened to them with their first big hit, too.  So here we all are chasing this thing, and when you get it, it’s nothing like you’d imagined. It’s scary and daunting, and just another trauma you have to overcome. On the happy side, she got over it, and I’m sure you and I will, too, when it happens to us.

I hear you just finished directing a short film. Can you talk about that?

Well, it’s not finished yet. We just locked picture last night, so I still have to do sound, and music, and color correction, and titles, and make a poster, and create social media for it, and the list seems to get longer every time I think about it. But I hope to have that all done in the next 2 weeks— ha! The film is called, “Sorry Not Sorry,” and it’s about a how a couple’s one-upmanship escalates to incredible heights after a man eats his wife’s plums. It stars Wallace Langham, M. Emmet Walsh, and Jessica Oyelowo. They were all amazing to work with! Experience and professionalism count for a lot when you have to get through 7 pages in one shoot day. It also helped that I had a great, fast DP, Troy Smith, who brought many members of the “Blackish” crew to work with him.

The film was inspired by my favorite poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, which I read in my English lit class at UCLA. Over the Christmas holiday, I was reading back though my college journal, where I had written down all my own deep thoughts and poems in my late teens and early twenties, and I found the poem on one page with a note that said, “This would make a good short film.” Now that I have a lot of experience writing and developing short films (I’ve developed over 100 short scripts in a class I teach at UCLA extension), the idea and structure for my film came to me in an instant, and I wrote the first draft in an hour.

Where can we see your films/work and support you?

A lot of my directing work currently lives on my Vimeo channel https://vimeo.com/moniquesorgen . If you live in Asia or Europe, you can find one of the reality series I directed on Fashion One TV, a digital network that isn’t available in the US. The show that’s out is called “No Grey Skies,” it’s about the making of a girl group. I’m still waiting to hear when they’ll release the other two shows I directed for them. If you live in Brazil, you might find an episode of “(Des)Encontros” that I wrote for Sony Brazil. That show is a rom-com anthology about couples meeting and falling in love in Sao Paolo. Also, I have a novel on Amazon called “How Long You Should Wait to Have Sex,” about a girl who gets dumped after sleeps with her perfect man too soon, but then gets a chance to go back in time to find out how long she has to wait to make him fall in love with her. That book is currently being developed for a movie production, which I hope to direct. And of course, anyone should feel free to reach out to me if you want to check out any of my other scripts, with an eye toward production.

What’s next for you?

So much! Aside from finishing “Sorry Not Sorry” and taking it to festivals, I’m continuing to raise money to direct my feature film, “Bad BFF,” which is about how female friendships fall apart when everyone starts to get married and have kids, and the extreme lengths to which one woman goes to preserve hers. I’m also finishing writing a new feature script, which I can’t say too much about yet besides that it’s a two-hander action-comedy starring a female bad-ass and black male comedian. And I have a TV show in development in France about my childhood growing up as a latchkey kid in an international hippie house in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, during the hotly political days of free love and experimentation.

Where can we find you?