By Catherine Woo
Welcome to NYWIFT, Sara Robin!
Sara Robin is a German filmmaker bringing her stories of humane futures to New York. She directed and wrote the award-winning short coming-of-age film Cranberry Nights starring Inde Navarrette (13 Reasons Why, Superman & Louis). Her script Switch explores virtual relationships and won the 2023 HollyShorts screenwriting contest.
She is in production on feature documentary Your Attention Please, investigating how to overcome the addictive pull of the attention economy. She has also brought her talents into commercial work, directing and producing for clients including Netflix, Jordan Brand, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Sara tells us about her exciting works in progress here!
How would you summarize your experience and career highlights?
I am a German filmmaker based in New York. My work focuses on creating more humane futures, and spans narrative, experimental, and documentary films.
I’m the winner of the 2023 HollyShorts screenwriting contest with my script Switch that explores virtual relationships. I’m in production on Your Attention Please, and my undocumented coming-of-age short film Cranberry Nights has screened in dozens of festivals including HollyShorts and SCAD Savannah, and received awards for best directing and best film. I also direct and produce commercial work for a wide range of clients.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I’m passionate about collaborating with women in this business. I think great things happen when we connect and learn from each other. It’s still a very lopsided industry, and it takes extra effort to get our voices heard.
What’s more, as women we are often encouraged to see each other as competition, and our highly competitive industry actively pushes that narrative as well. In the face of that I think it’s even more important to create spaces for community, and NYWIFT is a great example of that. I’ve previously been a member of WIF LA, and WIFVNE and am so grateful for all of the incredible women I have met, and events I got to attend, through these organizations.
As a fiction and nonfiction filmmaker, what kinds of stories or people do you find yourself drawn to?
I’m drawn to stories that imagine more humane futures, whether that’s through the lens of science fiction or documentary storytelling. I like stories that don’t seek to provide answers to everything and leave us pondering a question. Visually, I am drawn to darker tones and low-key lighting – I love shooting at night! I’m inspired by the tone and pace of Denis Villeneuve, the raw grounded visuals of Gareth Edwards, and the curated discomfort of Kubrick. I enjoy subtlety and a slower focused pace, perhaps a sign of my European heritage! I almost always use female protagonists for my story and like to play with putting women front and center in genres that are typically male-dominated.
What can you tell us about Switch, your dark comedy script about virtual relationships? How did it feel to win best screenplay at HollyShorts this year? Where did your inspiration for this story come from?
It’s a story I’ve had in my drawer and refined for almost a decade. Over that time, it’s become weirdly prescient, to the point where I thought it’s soon to be a documentary rather than a sci-fi. Switch imagines a world where dating happens on a metaverse-like fully immersive virtual platform. Think Ready Player One and Tinder combine for a darkly comedic coming-of-age dystopia!
While the story explores virtual relationships in a futuristic way, it provides commentary on dating habits that are already commonplace. The need for perfection, the endless supply of potential partners, and the monetization of intimacy are all too familiar. Winning best screenplay was exciting. I think in the throes of the AI race we’re in, it’s more important than ever to ask questions about how we can protect our experience and capacity for intimacy. I am honored to get the chance to make the film in collaboration with the Seattle Film Summit and HollyShorts next year!
You are also in production on Your Attention Please, a feature documentary exploring how we can overcome the addictive pull of the attention economy. How is working on a documentary different from or similar to working on a fictional narrative story?
The longer I do this work, the more I feel that fiction and documentary storytelling have a lot in common. As a filmmaker I’m always crafting the story. It starts with my perception of reality, and then I take it and make it my own. Being factual is of course very important in documentaries, in a way that doesn’t apply to fiction. Yet I find that I employ a lot of the same techniques in both.
For my undocumented coming-of-age short Cranberry Nights, I went out and did in-depth interviews with undocumented young people during the writing process all the way through production, to help ground the story in reality. And for Your Attention Please I am creating shot-lists and narratives to help pull together the story and keep me focused during the filming process. The two modes of storytelling start in opposite places, but quickly converge in the same question: What makes a compelling story?
Along with Shirley Miller, you co-wrote the feature adaptation of Here to Stay. The script placed at the top 5% of the Blacklist, and top 1% of Coverfly, and was the winner of the 2021 New England Film Fellowship at Stowe Story Labs. What was the process of collaborating like?
Collaborating on a feature allowed me to discover my love for writing! Having a co-writer meant that the painful parts of being caught up in my own thoughts and wasting time doubting the process were cut short, and instead we got to focus on the fun part: getting words on the page! It fundamentally changed how I approach writing and turned it from a solitary practice to a group effort.
Even though I don’t always bring on co-writers now, I will make sure that every project I create has a solid sounding board, whether it’s an accountability partner, a producer, or a writing group. The experience also motivated me to start the “Speculative Fiction Society,” a writer’s group for women with a focus on science fiction and adjacent genres, like fantasy and horror.
Do you have any other projects in the works that we should look out for? What can you tell us about them?
Yes! Sign up to our newsletter at www.yourattentionplz.com to stay in the loop, or shoot me a note if you’re interested to connect about the doc. We’re 50% through production, planned release is early 2025.
If you’re Sci-Fi nerd, keep an eye out for Switch next year. It will be premiering at HollyShorts 2024.
We’re looking for more writers to join the Speculative Fiction Society! If you write science-fiction, fantasy, or horror, and are interested for a monthly zoom hangout, plus getting your work reviewed by the group, drop me a line here: saraxrobin.com/contact.
You can keep up with Sara Robin and her projects on Instagram at @saraxrobin, on LinkedIn, or her website saraxrobin.com.
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