Writer on the Rise: Amy Sohn of "Spin the Bottle"
by Josh Robbins
I first met Amy Sohn in 1993 at a summer camp in Vermont. I was the
camp cook and she was a drama counselor. She was a couple years younger
than me — pretty, smart, goofy and we had a little summer romance. I
was cool and distant with her. I spent a lot of time talking about how I
was a writer. She showed me some of her writing and I tried to be
supportive without giving her any unrealistic hopes.
Now Amy writes a widely read autobiographical column in the New York
Press called “Female Trouble,” is under contract to write a novel, and
has recently had a screenplay made into a feature length film.
Meanwhile, having given up on writing the great American novel, I’m at
CUNY finishing up my long, lost bachelor’s degree. Funny how things
We lost touch for a while, but I often read her column secretly hoping
she would write about me — she eventually did (be careful what you wish
for). Then not long ago I ran into her on the street and we became
friends again. A couple of weeks ago, she invited me to Tribeca Film
Center’s First Look Series to watch a film she wrote called “Spin the
Bottle,” directed by Jamie Yerkes and produced by Gill Holland
(“Hurricane Streets“) about five childhood friends who are reunited one
weekend in rural Vermont. Like most of her writing, the film is
thoughtful and racy, and includes a “Crying Game“-like surprise.
Impressed with the film’s screenplay, my friends at indieWIRE asked me
to toss a few questions her way.
We met at a Japanese bar in the East Village where you’re not allowed
to talk loudly, and where they make very precise drinks. She still
looks pretty and smart, but a bit less goofy. She drank margaritas on
the rocks; I had Manhattans.
indieWIRE: Recently you have been working on a novel, the “Female
Trouble” column, and a screenplay. What kind of writing do you find the
most challenging? Do you, for instance, love screenwriting and dread
working on the novel? Or is it pretty much equal?
Amy Sohn: The novel requires incredible discipline and concentration
over a long protracted period of time – I’ve been working on it for over
14 months now. The column I tend to write in about an hour and then
revise over maybe a couple of hours. The strongest ones I’ve ever
written have been started and finished within an hour and a half. They
just really flow easily and then I just kind of tinker with them a
little. So I find the easiest writing my “Female Trouble” column. A
screenplay is easy in the sense that if you want to show a time lapse
you can write it visually, like shot of sun going down; shot of sun
coming up. Or you can just write: Exterior – next morning.
iW: So the transitions can be easier in screenwriting?
Sohn: Yeah, because you’re working in a visual medium, but in the
novel you have to find a way to say time passed in an interesting way.
For me the hardest thing about writing a novel is sustaining one
narrative over a long period of time. What parts of the story are
important and what parts of the story aren’t important? In a screenplay
you can do some things in a vague way, and the director and the D.P. can
figure out how to shoot it. In “Spin the Bottle,” I was concerned
mostly with the dialogue and not too much with the visuals. I also did
very little in terms of how a line should be said, I didn’t write a lot
of personal direction.
iW: Have you ever studied screenwriting?
Sohn: No. The director and I met, and I said I’ve never written a
screenplay and he gave me Syd Field’s book called “The Art of Screen
writing” or something, and he gave me “David Mamet on Directing” which
is kind of a private joke because Mamet is considered to be one of the
worst directors ever. But the book is actually pretty good. I said
“How do you do this? How do you set up a scene?” And he showed me the
books and I learned the general language of screenwriting. But my main
role in the whole project was to write believable dialogue, and I didn’t
worry about the technical stuff too much and that was fine because he
was going to story-board it all and he felt confident translating the
screenplay to a shooting script.
iW: How did you meet the director?
Sohn: I met him in July of 1996. I was doing a summer stock show in the
Berkshires called “Room Service” Which was a Marx Brothers farce, and a
friend of mine was forwarding my mail from New York, and I got this
letter forwarded from the NY Press, and it said : “Dear Amy, I’m an NYU
graduate student, and I’m working on my thesis film, and I really like
your writing, and I’m a big fan of your column. I was wondering if
you’d like to help me, I’m from Vermont,” and it had a phone number in
New York. So I call the number and I flirt with him. We hit it off,
and I say, “you know it’s funny because I’m in the Berkshires, and I’m
not that far from Vermont”