Sofa Queen

When a power outage threatens Landry Family Furniture’s final “Going Out of Business” sale, Martha, the matriarch, attempts to reconnect the power and her fractured family.

What inspired you to bring this story to life?

I really wanted to make a short that was a calling card, something with a twist ending and razzle-dazzle to engage the festival circuit, but basically the complete opposite of that intention – my weird obsession with wonderfully terrible local commercials – kept drifting up.

My dad, uncle, late grandfather, and great-grandfather owned a real estate company together, so perhaps subconsciously, I was riffing off my inside knowledge of a family business (although, I should mention the men in my family are a far cry from my Sofa King, Gene). However, I didn’t really have my access point until the character of Martha surfaced. I’m a huge advocate of workshopping in a writer’s group (humble plug- I run screenwriting workshops called Working the Wound) because it’s where you move away from the essence of a story to a full narrative arc. Most of my projects center around a feminist theme, so in exploring my mosh-posh of ideas, I started scratching at that angle and found myself writing this older woman protagonist.

I was excited by the concept of taking an average “Jane,” whose life is a bit sad and drab and giving her a moment in the limelight. Although the film world is changing a bit, older women’s stories aren’t explored very often. I was inspired to write a character struggling against the ageing process- a seemingly endless battle that controls many women’s entire narratives until it’s inevitably lost. When youth, looks, family, and work- EVERYTHING which previously defined this one woman’s life come to a grand finale, how does she start over?

What were some of the more challenging aspects of making this film?

I think all directors should self-fund a project in their career- because, boy does it make you stay on budget and work fast. We had a lot to do in a very small window of time…

We shot for three overnights in a furniture store in Clifton, New Jersey. Overnights are really tough, but especially when there are so many soft surfaces to fall asleep. The store, which is very much in-business despite the film’s script, opened every morning at 10 am. Each morning, we had to completely break the set before we could go home. On the logistics side, almost everything went without a hitch thanks in part to my dream team- Isabella Olaguera (Line Producer), Josh Echevarria (DP), and Dina Graham (AD). However, each production comes with its set of challenges; ours was the dance number.

Even before we shot the dance sequence, the trickle-down effect of its importance was affecting our schedule. For instance, all of Nikki’s exterior shots had her laying on the ground in a tank top- but there was a random cold snap despite the fact the shoot was mid-May. Because of the dedicated scheduling around the next morning’s dance block, we had no choice but to move forward with those exterior scenes anyway- at 5 am in 40-degree weather. I can’t believe Nikki came back the next day. Seriously, all of my actors were such troopers. The ensemble had only 6 hours total of rehearsal time to learn the choreography (provided by the amazing Andy Frank) and each of them truly busted their butts to try and make that scene perfectly happen.

Sofa Queen wouldn’t have been made possible without all the amazing cast and crew members- all of which put an enormous amount of time and effort into this passion project- which is just the industry’s code word for a very small payout. There are so many junctions where a film can go off track because the final project is such a team effort. I just feel like I won the lottery.

Nikki really drove the energy of this film, what was your casting process like and what were you looking for exactly?

I was really concerned about the casting of Martha because if the character came off like someone’s nagging mother, we’d lose our audience. Further, it’s a hugely physically demanding role for a senior actress- and on a tight schedule with overnights, which is certainly less than ideal. And most importantly, the actress had to be able to balance the comedic energy with all the heart and dramatic appeal. No small feat.

Because of that, I thought it was going to be a laborious process to find our Martha- but Nikki James was the second audition on the first day. I knew from Nikki’s self-tape (via Backstage) she looked the part, but she absolutely blew us away in her audition. Honestly, I was in shock and disbelief that we could find our Martha so quickly, so I had Nikki come in for a callback (with Paris Peterson in the role of Diamond) and made her do it all over again. Spoiler alert, she nailed that too. When I watch this film, I feel like I wrote the part for Martha for Nikki without ever meeting her before. Nikki James is an absolute powerhouse, and we were so lucky to have her.