Interview with Sabrina Stevenson – Writer and star of Love Songs of a 3rd Grade Teacher

We experienced technical difficulties.  The interview was not even started when things started acting up.  So I tried taking some precautions, stopping the interview and saving the audio halfway through.  Sabrina Stevenson, writer and star of Love Songs of a 3rd Grade Teacher, was very understanding and patient with me.  Good thing I took such measures because the first half of the questions were not properly recorded and were unusable.  Instead, Sabrina graciously wrote down the answers for me in an email.

Marco Duran: I’ll begin by asking the question I wrote at the end of my review.  Why did you feel such a burning need to bring us this story in the first place?

Sabrina Stevenson: To have the experience of making a film and to tell other women what I was going through and to see if any of them were doing the same.  Also to expose embarrassing things about myself, because I like to.  Is that exhibitionism?

MD: What gave you the idea to write a screenplay?

SS: I love movies, especially independent ones. I had written and performed a one woman show with a degree of success that made me want to try the wider reaching medium of film.

MD: How true to life is it?  How much of these stories is you and how much is from your friends?

SS: They’re all mine.  They’re all true but some are enhanced for fictional purposes, and some got altered in editing.

MD: Do you fear any of the real guys seeing this and coming after you for defamation?

SS: No, I think it would be funny.  There’s a good chance they wouldn’t remember events the same way anyway.  They wouldn’t know that I went home and wrote down dialogue verbatim  who does that?  That’s crazy!

MD: What was it that led you to hire Karen Aschenbach (who helped Sabrina finish the screenplay)?

SS: At the time I did not know how to write a screenplay.  She was a good friend from Judith Weston’s acting studio, which is where I knew Michaela [the film’s director] from and in which I wrote my one-woman show.  Karen directed my show in San Francisco. We’d known each other for about one year.

Break in audio.  When it started working, Sabrina had mentioned that one of her favorite influences in movies is the Danish Dogma style of filmmaking (a simplistic approach to shooting life.  The main concern is to not sugarcoat things and to show reality in all its gritty un-beauty.)

MD: The thing is the Dogma directors do brutal things to women in their films.

SS: Yeah, I’m aware of that.  I saw Breaking the Waves, um, and the one with Bjork…

MD: Dancer in the Dark

SS: Yeah, Dancer in the Dark and something else was supposed to be a trilogy about women.  And, yeah, they were brutalized, but…I don’t know why I like brutal depictions of women.  I don’t like brutal depictions of women in horror films.  But I guess where terrible things happen to women, I find, maybe, more interesting then glorious depictions of women.  Like, I really hate movies where things are just totally unrealistic.  I guess I see life as kinda brutal.

MD: Why didn’t the band do the rest of the score?

SS: I probably would have liked that.  I asked my guitar player and I think he just said he’d never done a score.  So he didn’t seem terribly interested in it.  I wouldn’t know how to do one myself cause I don’t compose music.

MD: In the film I felt that your character was only truly released when she was on stage.  When she was dealing with others, she was almost an observer of her own life.  If this story is true to life, do you find that to be true for you?  If it’s not true to life, what led you to write the character that way?

SS: There were scenes where I am screaming at men.  They got cut.  And since I didn’t have a hand in the editing, I don’t know what the choice was behind that.  Possibly feedback from some of the focus groups [Michaela] did.  Maybe people found my character unlikable when I was screaming?  I don’t know.  But there were definitely times when I was verbally eviscerating men and that didn’t make it in.

MD: (Laughs) I’m being quoted back to myself.

SS: Yeah, no, I liked that.  Cause I thought, “Well, gosh-darn it.  I know I did do that.”  I recall a specific scene that, when it happened in real life, I was like, this is the kind of rage couples have with each other and I want to put this in my movie because people don’t show that kind of fighting…  There was a fight that we had in a car were I slammed my hand on the dashboard and said things like “God Dammit!  Let me out of the car right now!”  That’s the way I fight with a man in a car and I want to see something like that in a movie cause I don’t really see that kind of fighting.  I see more of witty verbal sparring in movies.

MD: More “His Girl Friday”?

SS: I guess.  Because this is a kind of romantic comedy, although an oddball romantic comedy, I wanted to show things they don’t show in romantic comedies like where people look ugly and stay stupid things and they’re not terribly witty.  Life isn’t like that.  I guess, unless you live with a writer.

MD: You did an awful lot of praying to God and at one point you lit a candle and at another point you were quoting New Age philosophy.  Do you have a religion you subscribe to or was that more of a plot convention to show your desperation?

SS: No, no plot convention.  I was at that period living in that, I wouldn’t say it was “The Secret” because I hadn’t even heard of that at that time.  I was reading Shakti Gawain’s “Creative Visualization.”  So I was doing all these affirmation techniques to try to affirm all these things I wanted in my life.  I mean now I find it very funny and also somewhat dangerous.  But then I was.  I am definitely a “believe-in-god” person and I know it’s selfish to pray to god for the things you want…but who else am I going to pray to?  The thing is I found that also embarrassing.  I found my own ability to believe in affirmations a little bit embarrassing and so I kinda wondered, “Does anybody else do this?”

MD: Because it shows a desperation.

SS: Yeah, and I’ve since found out that, yes, many, many people do.  Many more then is probably healthy.  Anyway, now I find it all kinda funny.

MD: There are many instances of others and even yourself making note of the girth of your arms.  Is that something you contend with?

SS: It’s something I constantly, yes, I make fun of myself about.  In real life that guy {The lawyer that Sabrina dates in the movie) did say, “You could stand to work on your arms.”  Which I thought, you GOTTA put that in a movie for women cause I’m sure there are other women who have either felt that or, God forbid, have been told that.

MD: I did hear a lot of reaction from the women around me at that point.

SS: That’s another thing.  For example, I have not seen it, but with that show “Cougar town,” a lot of people have said that the premise is unbelievable because Courtney Cox is not unattractive.  Like I see this in movies where people say, “I’m so fat” and they don’t have any fat on them.  At least my arms really jiggle.

MD: There were quite a few scenes that took place on the beach.  Is that a place that’s important to you?

SS: That was mostly done in post-production.  We had one shooting day after we had wrapped everything else where I went over to Michaela’s house, she lives at the beach, and we did a lot of the walking on the beach because she needed to make up from all of the focus groups, she needed to make up for the fact that there was so much in there that people didn’t like, I guess, so we needed new material.  But I actually do love the beach.

MD: You keep bringing up that stuff was changed, the focus groups and with the editing…what do you think of what’s come out?  Being that you’re such a slave for reality, have they changed the reality so much that you don’t think it’s applicable any more?

SS: No.  It’s so interesting because I am a slave to reality and what’s so interesting is that Karen was there at the screening also and she said, “Everything you told me you wanted to get across, got across.”  So, that made me feel so good.  To make people squirm, to have people not sure if they’re supposed to laugh, to have people be genuinely embarrassed.  When we were watching the film, I had to shield my eyes because I was so embarrassed.  Like every screenwriter book says, “You’re going to lose your babies.  You’re favorite bits will get cut.”  And they did.  But I guess the story, the intention still came across.

MD: So what’s next for you?

SS: I’ve written a screenplay that almost like a part two.  It involves my husband and I, now that we are married, what’s the flip side to finding Mr. Right?  It’s two people who are reaching middle age trying to get pregnant and struggling with infertility.  I also wrote a novel based on that same thing.

MD: So it’s a sequel then?

SS: Umm…not really a sequel because unless somebody knew me they wouldn’t know that that was me.

MD: Are you planning on playing yourself again?

SS: No.  Because I don’t have the money to produce another film.  So I would hope for the best for it.

MD: How does [Stephen Dansiger] (Sabrina’s husband) feel about being in another one of your stories?

SS: He had a hand in writing it because he wanted to make sure his character was true to himself.  And we have in mind Jack Black to play my husband. (Laughs)

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