Sophia Takal wrote, directed, and starred in the critically acclaimed feature film Green (SXSW ‘11; distributed by Factory 25), for which she won the SXSW Emerging Female Director award and was nominated for a Gotham Award.
Takal also produced and starred in Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries (SXSW ‘14; distributed by IFC Films) opposite Alia Shawkat, Jason Ritter, and Kevin Corrigan, as well as produced, edited, and starred in Lawrence Michael Levine’s Gabi on the Roof in July opposite Kate Lyn Sheil, Amy Seimetz, and Lena Dunham.
Takal’s other acting credits include Ti West’s V/H/S; Joe Swanberg’s All the Light in the Sky; Michael M. Bilandic's Hellaware; Daniel Schechter's Supporting Characters; and John Slattery’s God’s Pocket.
Takal attended Vassar College and graduated with a BA in Film Studies from Barnard College of Columbia University.
I was first introduced to Sophia Takal in her astonishing and confident debut feature, Always Shine, a surreal horror thriller with a feminist edge. The film follows two friends, Anna and Beth (played with extreme precision by Caitlin Fitzgerald and Mackenzie Davis), over a weekend road trip to Big Sur, where jealousy and tensions arise—and things quickly start to spiral out of control. Always Shine was a hit on the festival circuit; it played both the Tribeca Film Festival (where Davis won for Best Actress) and the American Film Institute Festival. I found the film’s exploration of sexuality and the female psyche to be especially empowering. Takal’s bold voice shone through to create two complex, interesting female characters, both of whom are totally unapologetic and avoid cliché characterization.
In November, Takal and I meet at L.A. neighborhood joint Kitchen Mouse in Highland Park to discuss the film—which was made on a micro-budget and filmed on location in Big Sur—in more detail. Takal explains that it drew on her own career as an actor. “I knew I wanted to do this when I saw Judy Garland in Meet Me in Saint Louis. I stayed obsessed with her for many years,” she says. Indeed, Garland—a fascinating actress in her own right—might have inadvertently served as a central inspiration for Almost Shine.
After attempting to get the film off the ground using more traditional means (e.g. a bigger budget, which kept falling through), Takal decided to take the film’s destiny into her own hands. As a result of this experience, she advises other young filmmakers to “Just do it. Who cares. A lot of women have this feeling—they feel they have to be perfect and are afraid of failing. I say go for it. Court failure.”
Takal now collaborates with her husband, Lawrence Michael Levine, whom she met in college, and who wrote the screenplay for Always Shine. Of her husband’s contribution to the film, she says, “I think he wrote really complicated female characters. The girls didn’t improvise at all. It was all in the script.” From their initial meeting, they have continued to craft each other’s work.
“I started out just making movies for fun,” she explains. “I was studying cinema at Columbia [University]. My roommate—the great Kate Lyn Sheil—and my [then]-fiancé, [Michael Levine]—[and I] all went out to the country to make a movie, having no idea, of course, if anyone would ever see it. That film ended up getting into South by Southwest. And that’s when I realized this was a path I should continue to pursue. While I was acting in friends’ films, I kept developing ideas.”
Reviewers have compared Almost Shine to the work of Brian De Palma, Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar, and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. Yet the film stands on its own thanks to Takal’s clear vision—and her strong team. She calls her collaborators “wonderful,” noting that her cinematographer had been working for decades and shot numerous series, including Aziz Ansari's Netflix series, Master of None. She’s grateful for the warm critical reception it’s received, given that, in her words, “It’s a weird movie.”
As far as the challenges currently facing women making work in Hollywood, Takal says, “I do think there’s an issue with hiring practices in Hollywood. I really don’t think Hollywood is making particularly interesting movies right now. I am more interested in making independent cinema that will get financed and distributed… I want to do this and tell the stories I want to tell.” That said, she’s keeping any cynicism at bay in large part thanks to her fellow women in film. “I have so many wonderful female friends who are making super interesting cinema, and they are finding their audiences,” she says, “so I’m hopeful.”