Writer and Director Isabel Monk Cade on an Orgy No One Shows Up For and Using the Male Gaze as a Prop in SEX PARTY!
Tell us a little bit about your background in acting, writing, and directing.
I have a background in acting primarily. I studied at LaGuardia Arts HS for Drama and at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. I made a lot of little films with my friends at LaG (mainly Ted Kolsby, who I produced SEX PARTY! with).
I’ve always been writing. From a young age, I wrote a lot of poetry, and I always kept journals. But there was this part of me that has been wary of embracing writing for theatre and film because I think I was nervous it would take away from the title of “actor”. But since writing SEX PARTY! I’ve found writing scripts to be an especially really great way to express myself. Acting isn’t a very tangible art form that you can expansively work on every single day and practice. So, this all started as an outlet, in a way!
Is this your first time directing?
Officially, out in the world—yes! It was such a natural thing. I wrote the script, and I had a clear vision for what I saw and wanted for the end result. I knew I was the only one who would get the job done exactly right, exactly what I saw in my head.
I’ve come to realize what I believe to be the three most important parts of making a good film. 1). Good acting. Yes, you need a good script, but I think even a shitty script can be done at least mostly well with good actors. 2). Good audio. If the sound is off, the film looks cheap, it takes the audience out of the world of the film completely! You can use a shitty camera, even an iPhone camera (have you seen “Tangerine” ?!), but good acting and good sound are so important! 3). Vision. You must have a clear vision for your film. This seems obvious, but there is so much content out there that has absolutely no vision. I’ve seen so many student films, shorts, indies, and web series that have huge budgets, amazing equipment—and absolutely no vision. There is no through-line in tone, set design, art design, dialogue, character, or cinematography. Without that vision, that message, that tone (whatever you want to call it!)…you have nothing.
Tell us a little more about SEX PARTY!
We had a tiny budget, a tiny crew, a really good cast, a really good script, an incredible soundtrack, no sleep, a lot of heavy lifting (literally), and a lot of love.
What inspired you to write this?
I was in a real funk in my acting career. Tired of sitting and waiting. So, I decided to write a little two-minute scene to shoot for my reel. I thought I’d at least get something done there on my own, something that I could write comedically for myself. I sat down to write and this idea just came to me, “Wouldn’t it be so funny and fucked up if a girl threw an orgy and nobody showed up?!”. That’s when I started thinking about details: What kind of young woman would want to throw an orgy? Maybe she’s really broken, what happened to her? Maybe she just loves sex? Little bits of me, a heightened version of my neurotic self. Taylor came out of that. Then I moved on to Jane, who is Jane? Why the hell would she show up to an orgy at midnight? I wrote the script in a day and a half. The rest is history!
What was your main goal in creating this film?
I just hope people will see themselves in it.
What were some of the difficulties in creating this?
The most stressful part of this project was definitely lugging an entire film set between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Being responsible for thousands of dollars of equipment that needed to be returned in perfect condition was intense! Actually, on the first day, we burned through every single lighting gel and had to replace them all. Luckily that was only 50 bucks.
The main difficulties were in terms of time. We ran super late pretty much every day…that is pretty standard for any film set. But honestly, it was just such a miraculous thing to see this piece of work I’d written come to life, and to have so many people believe in the project. That includes all of our backers on Indie GoGo and every person that worked on the set, contributed props…everything! It was a true labor of love. Even the tough parts were fun, and empowering!
Why did you choose this particular cast and crew?
Ted Kolsby and I have been working together since we were 14. We used to make short films with our friends in high school. The minute I wrote the script I called Ted. I was like, “Hey man, it’s been a while since we’ve done this. I wrote this script. I think it’s really good. Let me know if you want to this with me.” He called me back like, “I read it, and I’m in.”
I can’t say enough how rare it is to find someone who is creatively and instinctively on the same page as you. Ted and I have always been that way. I sent him some mood boards, some notes, and he just got it. He knew exactly what I was going for…my vision. Not only that, but oh man, he dedicated equal time, money, energy, and above all—love to this project. I couldn’t have done it without him. Which is why we’re planning on starting a production company together in the near future!
Brooke Vianey is a fabulous actor that I know through The Neighborhood Playhouse. When I was writing the script I envisioned Brooke in the part. She’s a good friend of mine, and I knew she could play a hilarious straight man in a scene. She’s got a great deadpan quality to her. Super dry comedy sensibility. We also have genuine chemistry when we work together, which is important.
What was really moving to me was the collaboration and effort on the parts of the crew and everyone involved. True guerrilla filmmaking. Ted and I have a network of artists, film people, and musicians from LaGuardia, The Playhouse, and even from the bars we work at! We reached out and found some amazing crew members. Ya know, it’s not easy to find a group of people who are willing to work for next to nothing, and actually care about the project. I also had bands and musicians hear about SEX PARTY! and reach out like, “Hey! I heard about your film, check out my band for the soundtrack!”. Our soundtrack consists of three amazing NYC based musicians; Floam, MIRANDA, and COLDMAN.
What are the major themes?
Contrary to the title of the film, there is actually no sex or nudity in it! The larger themes are self-love, solitude, and the importance of friendship between women. The film also deals with body image, and how our view of sexuality can be skewed by media and, frankly, the men in our lives.
How do you feel about being a woman director on any scale - in 2018?
It’s pretty awesome. I don’t necessarily think so much consciously about the fact that I’m a woman and I’m directing. I’m just doing what I’ve always loved to do since I was young. But there were definitely moments on set when I looked around at all the women in the room and it occurred to me that that is not usually the way a movie set looks.
How do you feel about directing a film about a woman's sexuality and sex - as a woman?
We see so much sex on TV and in film today through the lens of the male gaze. Sex is sensationalized. Women’s sexuality is rarely seen in a way that is not exploitative. SEX PARTY! is not really about sex. AIt is more about self-love, and friendship between women. Sex is used as a prop in the film. Actually, SEX PARTY! sort of uses the male gaze as a prop. I only know my experience and the experiences of those in my life. It was natural to direct what I know with the hope that it would reach people. If even one woman sees this and goes, “Yeah, that’s me. I’ve been there”, I will be ecstatic.
Do you relate personally to any characters in your film?
I absolutely relate to the characters in my film. Taylor in particular. I pulled a lot from my own neurosis and personality with her. I think everyone can relate to those feelings of rejection, self-loathing, looking only at your flaws, and trying to love them, trying to push past the self-deprecating voice in your head.
In the film, Taylor is also fresh out of a very unhealthy relationship. We learn about the things her ex said to her about her body, face, even her vagina, which completely skewed her idea of sex and her own body. I know in my life I have heard and internalized so much of what men have said to me in past friendships and romantic relationships.
Do you hope to keep directing?
Absolutely. It’s not just about directing for me, it’s really about creating and doing all the time.
Why is it important to have women direct their own work?
What I’m seeing more and more is this women-driven narrative making it into the mainstream. Shows like Broad City, Issa Rae’s “Insecure”, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag”, Michaela Coel’s “Chewing Gum”, and most recently “SMILF” (starring, created, directed, and produced by Frankie Shaw). As women, we have such a nuanced experience. It is dark, heavy, and hilarious all at the same time. These stories of sexuality, dealing with our bodies, love, work, motherhood, and just living our day to day lives…they need to be told by women! If you ever watch any of the shows I listed you’ll see…woman/girlhood is hard, and we know that intimately. We can expose that, and we can make light of it. Not some whitewashed version of womanhood, but the gritty, beautiful truth.
How do you feel about the fact that no women were nominated for the Golden Globes Best Director category (even though…Lady Bird…)
Yeah…Lady Bird. I know, extremely disappointing. Not even a nomination for Greta? I don’t get it. Also, where was Jill Soloway!?
Our NYC Premiere is on Sunday, January 28th @ 6PM at The Living Gallery BK. There will be drinks, raffles, and live music by all the bands who are on the soundtrack. All are welcome! For more information visit our Facebook or Instagram.