Heart, left, San Francisco: Mission-shot comedy Sorry, Thanks played the Mill Valley Film Festival and screened in Cinema by the Bay.

'Sorry, Thanks' Lavishes Love on the Mission

Michael Fox October 24, 2009

From the steep slope of 22nd Street down to La Taqueria, from the Attic to Boogaloos, Dia Sokol and Lauren Veloski’s droll and charming Sorry, Thanks showcases the Mission to glowing advantage. Veloski (producer and cowriter) was born and raised in the Bay Area and knows the territory, while Sokol (director and cowriter) mapped the terrain of seriocomic relationship movies as producer of Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax and Mutual Appreciation. Sorry, Thanks follows the dating stutter-steps of a young woman (Kenya Miles) unattached for the first time in eons, and the amusing antics of a passive underachiever (Wiley Wiggins) barely present in his long-term relationship. Talky without being pretentious—or precious—the film glides gradually from gently absurd comedy into a poignant look at commitment and responsibility. We caught up with the filmmakers via email ahead of the Bay Area screenings of Sorry, Thanks October 11 and 12 in the Mill Valley Film Festival, and October 24 in the first annual SFFS Cinema by the Bay festival in San Francisco.

SF360: Would you describe Sorry, Thanks as a mumblecore movie, or do you recoil from that description?

Dia Sokol: I think this film shares a lot of traits with the wide variety of movies that get labeled with the m-word. It certainly is a film that seeks to tell the truth, that explores relationships and personal development through casual, small moments and is shot in real locations and without the plot devices of big explosions or gunshots. However, it’s also unique in a lot of ways in that the film dares to be an overt comedy, with laugh-out-loud moments, but (hopefully) a lot of heart.

SF360: In what ways do you think Sorry, Thanks is a snapshot of San Francisco at a specific point in time, and in what ways is it a timeless portrait of twentysomething uncertainty and aimlessness?

Lauren Veloski: In terms of twentysomethings, the movie, to me, is more or less a morality tale. A very hands-off morality tale. If that’s possible! It’s about what it really feels like when something falls apart, drops away and you’re left standing at the edge of a crater like, What the hell just happened? So in that sense, I don’t think it’s about being in your 20s at all. It’s about how crazily easy it is to hurt someone and to get hurt. And what you’re left with. Because when the bad stuff in life is happening it always feels so benign, right? Even funny! That’s how we got away with making this a comedy! In terms of place: Dia and I definitely wanted it to ‘feel San Francisco.’ I grew up here so I can vouch! I think, for sure, the movie moves at a certain speed and with a certain ease that is very San Francisco, this year or any. We even had an earthquake while we were shooting. Mid-scene. That’s like an S.F. blessing.

SF360: I particularly enjoyed the scenes outside and inside the Roxie. Did you choose the location to honor a dwindling fixture of urban living—neighborhood theaters? Or perhaps as a nod to Woody Allen, who frequently includes marquee shots and scenes on the way to or from a movie.

Veloski: Hmm, no. If I were more properly schooled in Woody Allen movies I would say yes, I’m sure! For that scene, we thought it would be interesting that these people are at a movie while entirely missing the fact that basically they’re the show! Because people assume their own lives are ordinary and boring. And, well, sometimes they are! But the mundane in that scene is the fascinating stuff. The weird and hurtful and dangerous stuff.

SF360: Along those lines, do you consider Sorry, Thanks a comedy, a date movie, a tragedy of misspent young adulthood, a Bergman-like drama or a Chekhovian moral fable?

Sokol: Um, all of the above. And you forgot: a remake of Back to the Future! Seriously, we used BTTF as a reference while we were writing because Lauren and I are huge fans. It’s in there. Honest.

Veloski: A Chekhovian moral fable was what I meant before! Or, same thing: Back to the Future, that most preeminent of all Chekhovian adaptations. And the only one that dared to broach the metaphor of the "hover board" (although technically that’s in the sequel).

SF360: How did you get such naturalistic, fluid, unaffected performances from a cast of mostly nonprofessionals?

Sokol: I rehearsed as much as possible with the cast, with an eye to not killing all of the spontaneity. A lot of rehearsing was helpful as far as re-writing and learning what the characters would and wouldn’t say in certain situations, and we were always fine-tuning, even moments before the camera started rolling. We shot the film on HD with a seven-person crew, and we tried to be as low profile as possible. But mostly, we just lucked out with casting. The actors (first time or far more experienced) just made the scenes come alive and feel unbelievably conversational.

Veloski: A seven-person crew, by the way, does not mean, like, seven extra pairs of hands to help! Seven includes Dia and me, so it was a ton of work. But the film benefited, for sure. And, yes, casting! We found these incredible people, mostly Bay Area locals, people whose day jobs have nothing to do with indie film or acting. But they became absolutely essential personalities in the world of the movie. And Dia is also just an incredible judge of performance, of what’s authentic. I was blown away. She knew how to get every actor on set to own it, pro or nonpro.

SF360: What is your distribution strategy at this point?

Sokol: Funny you ask! We are right this very moment putting together plans to hopefully release the film theatrically in the spring. This means funding and fundraising. The state of films, theatrically speaking, is totally in flux right now. So we are actively looking for people who love the film to come onboard as backers, executive producers, etc. We’d like Sorry, Thanks to have a true theatrical life. And especially here in San Francisco, where we know it’ll really connect.

SF360: OK, I’ll bite: What’s the title mean?

Sokol: Is there a better way to sum up how you feel at the end of a relationship than "Sorry, thanks"? The inspiration for the title actually came from a handwritten note that I have had on my refrigerator for ages that Andrew Bujalski wrote at a party he had long ago. It was pinned to his Steenbeck editing machine and it said, "Please don’t lean on—this beautiful machine.—Sorry/thanks,—The management." I always thought that every line of that note would be a great title—for a movie or a band or a song.

SF360: If somehow this isn’t enough, feel free to ask each other a question.

Sokol: Lauren, as established, ad infinitum, on set when we were shooting, you have a preternatural ability to match any scene/location/dramatic conundrum in Sorry, Thanks to its logical counterpoint in Back to the Future. Think fast! What’s the Roxie Theater?

Veloski: Clocktower!

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