My Admission Statement: Raised in an international hippie house in San Francisco’s famed gay neighborhood, “The Castro,” Monique Sorgen is a French-American writer-director who has worked on films and TV shows that take place in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Brazil, India, France, and the US. The oldest of 4 siblings, from three different mothers of varying ethnic backgrounds, her travel experience and multiculturalism informs her brutally honest, quirky, and unexpected comedic voice as a filmmaker.
How did you get into the industry?
I always wanted to be a storyteller, so (in my rebellious teenage-dom) I vowed to my mother that I would only go to college if I got into a good theater school. I was accepted to UCLA, and my mother wiped the sweat off her brow. There, I learned that it wasn’t so much the actors who tell the story, as the writers and the directors, so I shifted my focus to those areas. By the time I graduated, I had impressed my professors so much with my work, that they recommended me to be the assistant director on a multi-media play that was being directed by a professional television director. When I graduated, she hired me as her assistant on television sets, and I spent the next 3 years learning to write and direct on the job, from the top people in the television business.
Any emerging industry trends?
In show business, we are in the most dramatic period of change and disruption since the invention of sync-sound. People are changing their viewing habits, so film and traditional TV are losing their audiences to online and streaming services, and having to catch up by creating streaming services of their own. On the positive side, it seems this would create more work, but on the negative side, it’s obliterating the financial backend for creatives, and making it really hard to explain to independent finance people where their return on investment will come from.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One great new opportunity that has arisen for women is that people are finally considering us for jobs as directors. Most of my career, I wasn’t even in consideration for most jobs because people struggled to wrap their minds around the idea that I was capable of doing the job, even though I felt 100% confident that I could, and acted accordingly. Before the Time’s Up movement, there was this unwritten thing, where people (mostly subconsciously) didn’t trust that we could do it. Now people are thinking about their unconscious biases on a conscious level, and that gives them the opportunity to ask themselves the hard questions about their preconceived notions regarding women and people of color. It’s still a huge challenge, but at least now a lot of people are thinking about it, so I can question people who don’t automatically give me the benefit of the doubt and ask them to seriously consider why they don’t think I can do what I know I can do—and have been doing for years. Before if you called people out they’d just tell you that sexism doesn’t exist and you’re a troublemaker. I mean, some people still think you’re a troublemaker if you bring it up, but at least now those people are seen as not being very “woke” and sort of not getting this obvious thing. To drive home the point, is directing really that different from the ultimate female job: being a mother? It’s basically just organizing a family of people to get out the door so they’re not late for school or work, while you’re making sure that everyone is fully clothed with a lunch and a coat, in case they get cold or hungry later. You also want them to get out the door in the way you like, and that’s your “vision.” Are you the kind of mom who makes sure your kid has his shirt tucked in, and has healthy food in his lunchbox, or are you the kind of mom who lets your kid pick out their own mismatched clothes, and gives them some cash for the snack machine. It takes all kinds of visions and points of views to create new and original art, so letting new people direct can only be a door to mind-opening points of view on how the world could be better.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I was inspired to become a filmmaker because I was raised to feel a responsibility for making the world a better place, and I felt that this was the medium through which I could reach and affect the greatest number of people. To me, making the world a better place means simply reminding people that we’re all humans who want and deserve to be loved and taken care of by the world we live in. Sometimes that’s a story I want to tell on a small human scale with every day problems we face—like “remember to be good to the people in your life, and treat them as well you’d want to be treated”, as I showed in my latest short film “Sorry, Not Sorry.” Sometimes I want to say that on a bigger scale, like one story I have based on a true story of some juvenile delinquents who were given a chance to compete in basketball against the non-incarcerated high school kids, and how the experience of winning renewed their hope in themselves and their lives, and basically proves that reform is both possible and likely if you just treat people like the valuable human beings they are.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
The next project I’m going to make is a feature film called, “Bad BFF” about a woman who is so desperate to get her life-long best friend to hang out with her, that she pretends she’s getting married, in order to make her best friend the maid of honor. In this story, I’m tackling the themes of female friendships and how important they are to keeping us balanced and whole, as well as the concept that just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean that you should have to get married or have kids. I want to create an acceptance through the project of the unmarried woman’s point of view—because often it’s a choice, not a circumstance—and I also want to show how women really act in friendships. A female friendship can be so deep and loving that it’s super intimate, like a romantic relationship without the sex. That’s something that I think women feel on a deep level that hasn’t always been explored from a non-jealous, non-catty, non-antagonistic point of view.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I’m in a creative business, so you never know what’s going to work, and the only thing you can do is listen to people’s advice and say “yes” when you’re offered an opportunity. Some of the best things that have happened to me came from the most random people and places, so I try to know everyone and be nice to everyone, and whenever I can (within reason) I try to help people out, if I can do something for them and it doesn’t compromise me.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Rejection is the most difficult moment in my business, and it’s not a one-time thing. Even when I’ve been doing well at the top of my game and everyone around me is impressed with how “great I’m doing,” they have no idea how many rejections I’m getting on a daily basis, interspersed between the good things. When I started in this business, I was told that rejection would get easier the longer I did it. That’s not true. It gets harder every time, because with every rejection you get, you’ve worked harder, and put in more hours, and tried more and more to be the best at what you’re doing, and you feel more and more deserving of getting a yes, but you’re still getting a lot of “no’s.” So you start to question yourself and your choice of being in this business and your ability to get a “yes” more and more. But then, when you do get that long-awaited “yes” it rolls off you like it’s nothing, while the “no’s” stick with you for the rest of your life, just accumulating. Rejection never becomes something that’s easy or fun, no matter how much you practice receiving it.
Ideal experience for a client?
When someone hires me or invests in one of my projects, what they’re getting is a person who will stop at nothing to create the most entertaining possible story an audience could hope to enjoy. It will be something that is fun and moving and makes you think, all at the same time. And they’re getting someone who has put in the years and the hours to learn and know how to make the project they are investing in, so it will be of a high quality. They’re getting someone who asks the right questions, when questions must be asked, and who is prepare for the challenges that arise with any creative project. They are getting assurance and dedication.
How do you motivate others?
I motivate others by example. I am tireless, and I’m always going out there putting in my all. Because of that, I accomplish a certain number of things that people didn’t expect of me. I’ve often been told that I was an inspiration. I’ve been told that people decided to write a book or make a film because they saw that I had done it, and that motivated them to try. You’re kind of on your own as a filmmaker out in the world, so the most you can do is keep reminding the other people in your community that it can be done, if you just band together and support each other and stick to it with drive and determination.
Career advice to those in your industry?
If you can think of anything you could do that would satisfy you besides this career, you should do it, because this business never gets easier no matter how long you toil away at it. (And it’s also not the cash-cow it looks like on TV.) That said, if you can not think of anything else to do that will make you happy in life, then buckle up and enjoy the ride. It has amazing moments, better than any other career. If you don’t have a choice in your heart besides this, then just try to keep a positive attitude in the hard times, by remembering that it’s about the journey, not the destination.
What do I do best?
I’m really good at sticking to commitments. If I say I’ll be somewhere, I’m there. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. If I say I’m going to write something, or make something, I finish it. I’m incredibly disciplined, even when it comes to things like dieting and working out. If I’m not sure I can do something, or if I’m not sure I want to do something, I simply don’t commit to it.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I’m at my best when I’m centered, grounded, and happy. I think everybody is. When things are going well in my heart and mind, I have more time and energy to help others. My work is better. It’s almost as if more hours in the day become available to me. Because of that, I try to put a strong emphasis on putting my own well being first. I prioritize exercising, sleeping enough hours, eating right, and having fun social activities with friends and family, because that makes me feel balanced—and otherwise I would literally work 24 hours a day, and be completely haggard, and of no use to anyone.
What are my aspirations?
I hope to direct at least one feature film next year. I have a few in the cooker, that I’m really excited about and that seem to be moving in the right direction, so I’m looking forward to finally surmounting that long-awaited hurdle. On a personal level, I’m always working toward being at my peak positivity, which is when I’m most in touch with my intuition. I find my intuition always leads me on the right path, when I can access it.
My Biggest Success?
My biggest success is staying in my career as a freelance writer-director for as long as I have. It’s been hard at times, not knowing for months at a time where my next paycheck would come from. Hustling every day without reprieve. I’ve been cheated and taken advantage of, and had moments when I wanted nothing more than to quit, but I’m still here, and I’m still doing it, and I still can’t think of another life I would’ve rather lived than mine… I’m proud that I’ve had the guts, the stamina, or the faith to stick with my dreams and not give up on myself.
My Most Challenging Moment?
I think the most challenging moments in life are when you have to pivot. Even when things are going bad at work or in a relationship, it feels easier in that moment to stay where you are and hope it gets better, than to turn around, run the other way, and jump off a metaphorical cliff into the unknown. I’ve pivoted several times in my career, and left housing situations, and romantic situations that were bad (even though they felt stable), and every time I’ve had the guts to take that risk, I’ve been happy that I did. I’m thinking of some of the low points in my life that would be too much to explain here. One simple example is a relationship I was in that was super unhealthy, and I didn’t understand how much of myself I’d lost to the relationship until I left it and almost instantly became reacquainted with all the things I loved about being me. Things I had somehow forgotten as I focused on trying to please the person I was with. I didn’t understood how low I had been until I left the situation and suddenly felt high. You can’t fake leaving a situation if you want this technique to work, though. You have to really commit to the fact that you’re done with the thing you’re leaving, and come to terms with the fact that you will never have it again. Then you will be open to seeing the new things that are opening up in front of you.
I’m not sure I have just one motto, but I’ve certainly lived by the adage that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
A business role model is Tina Fey, because she is so funny and so fearless. A personal role model is my 11 year old niece, Laila. She is kind and thoughtful and loving and generous. She is warm and fun and smart. Ever since she was born, she’s been a deep and grounded old soul. Even when she was 2, if any other baby cried, she had to go to their side to help them feel better. I’ve never met anyone as genuine and caring and interested in everything as she is.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I am a huge fan of Spain. I’ve been there 6 or 7 times, and the people are wonderful, as is the culture. This is a culture of people, who despite their struggles, know how to live life and make sure they have enough time and money left over to enjoy good food, drink, and conversation. I also love Paris, for its beauty and romance. Just walking the streets alone there, a million fantasies will pop into your head, so it’s a great city for visualizing. And Hong Kong is a city that almost personifies aspiration. It’s constantly trying to get bigger and better as fast as it can, and I really relate to its work hard/play hard attitude.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I’m not really into physical “stuff,” but I do love a lot of the tools available via the internet, that help me create and connect. I’m a fan of any app that helps me connect with my many friends throughout the world or helps me take my creativity to the next level, whether it be writing, filmmaking, or creating visual sales tools.
My Current Passions?
My passion is telling stories about the “female experience” that are fun, funny, and shed light on what it’s like to live in our world as part of the other 50% of the population. I hope to use my work to help push the needle toward equality for the sexes, or at the very least open up the conversation so that people start to see women as fully dimensional human beings that comen all varieties—good, bad, and everything in between.
My Daily Thoughts:
Goal of the Day: Cross things off my list of goals to accomplish.
Thought of the Day: She believed she could, so she did.
Action of the Day: Set up a pitch meeting with producers I don’t know yet.
Deed of the Day: Pass along a friend’s script to an executive I know.
Tip of the Day: If you can help, you always should, but if someone can’t help you, you shouldn’t hold it against them. People don’t always have as much power as you perceive them to have.
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
The weather. I love sunshine. I run on sunshine.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
Coffee. (Most breakfast foods are bad for you. I start with lunch.)
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – Final moments of REM sleep. I wake up at 7.
Then coffee and straight to my desk. I write in my pajamas.
10:00 AM - Hopefully I’m writing, but often I’m answering emails.
10am is the time at which I might start calling people if I’m in production mode.
12:00 PM - Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
Most days I eat at home because I don’t want to stop working or break up my mental flow.
Because I skip breakfast, lunch is usually my biggest meal. I need the energy to get me through the rest of the day. I have some great recipes I’ve concocted over the years, many of which I can make while multitasking on the phone or while listening to a podcast or a show I need watch.
After lunch, I address more emails, make any necessary phone calls, and then do more writing.
When my brain fries out in the late afternoon I go for a powerwalk or get some other form of exercise. I’m obsessed with multi-tasking, so if I have any errands to run, I try to fit them into my neighborhood power walk routine.
7:00 PM - I usually go to a networking event or dinner, a panel, or a movie screening after work. It’s part of the job to know people and stay in touch with them, and I like it.
If I don’t have something planned, I stay home and catch up on the TV shows I need to watch for work, or read a script.
11:00 PM – I get ready for bed and wind down. Unfortunately, I often multi-task by watching the late night show monologues, to get caught up on current affairs, while I get ready for bed—which is not a great way to wind down.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
I drink so much water that my little niece makes fun of me. In the winter time I drink hot water, for which everyone else makes fun of me.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
The app I use the most is Calendar, because with so many projects and so many plans, I need to stay organized.
What should everyone try at least once?
Standup comedy. Just the idea of it scares you, and that’s why you should try it.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
Paris. I like to walk around aimlessly for hours, because at some point you can always go into a metro station and find your way back to where you started
My Pic of the Day: This is the poster for “Sorry, Not Sorry” which contains 3 shots from the film:
What Else to Know?
My award-winning short film “Sorry, Not Sorry” will be screening in October:
Oct. 5th 6:30pm EST Mystic Film Festival Niantic Cinemas, Niantic CT
Oct 5th 9pm PST San Pedro International Film Festival, Warner Grand Theater CA
Oct 4th-10th on demand for pass holders Oaxaca Film Festival MX
Oct 16th 4:35pm PST San Diego International Film Festival, Theater Box CA
Oct 18th 3pm PST San Diego International Film Festival, Pendry San Diego CA
Oct 24th 6pm EST Female Voice Rock Film Festival, Village East Cinemas NYC
Oct 26th 7pm EST Devour! Food Film Fest “Chefs & Shorts Gala” at Lightfoot & Wolfville Winery, Nova Scotia Canada
Oct 26th 9:15 PST San Jose International Short Festival, Cinearts Theater San Jose CA