‘How to Hack Birth Control’ is a 3-segment pilot of the satire series 'How to Hack' by Sassy Mohen. The pilot focuses on how to navigate and take charge in today’s contraception universe. Told through the sharp wit and perky charm of the narrator Ruth (Xanthe Paige), Birth Control takes a run at ‘not supposed to talk about,’ scenarios and answers all of the questions women truly want to know but are taught to be too afraid to ask.
Filled with tongue-in-cheek graphics and special effects, musical numbers and game shows, each memorable contraceptive milestone is a riotous new discovery. Hailed as, “wickedly funny,” and “charmingly scathing,” by Indie Shorts Magazine, ‘How to Hack Birth Control,’ dishes out invaluable hacks with a merciless sense of humor.
Sassy Mohen's innovative and bold, confident style is full of spirit and has emerged as a pioneer in the genre of female-driven comedy. She has written, directed, produced and edited multiple award winning FILMS, TV PILOTS, MUSIC VIDEOS, COMMERCIALS, SPECS and WEBSERIES.
In August of 2006, Sassy Mohen began pre-production on her first independent feature film, HAPPY HOLIDAYS when she was still a junior in film school at Chapman University. Denied support from the school because the project was “too ambitious," the film would go on to turn a profit, screen in indie theaters around the country and get worldwide distribution with IndieFlix. She credits this to their (then) unorthodox marketing campaign utilizing brand new social media platforms, youtube, twitter & facebook.
Sassy jumped at the release of innovative new equipment such as the red camera, the digital SLR, 6k and was the first filmmaker to create a narrative short with audio on Google Glass. She was quick to adopt the web series as a dynamic and affordable medium, winning accolades with her rom-com ABOUT ABBY. In 2017, she was tapped by FX for the online web channel, THIS IS AOK, to write, direct, produce and edit their online comedy shorts. This propelled her into an auspicious commercial directing career, working with a variety of film production companies, brands, apps and colleges such as, BUD LIGHT, BLUE DIAMOND, PEPPERIDGE FARM, HELLO KITTY, ADVANCED ROOM, PROPPER DALEY, MOTISPARK & SABIO.
Her most recent short, FEAR ACTUALLY was released in April 2020 to rave reviews including winning BEST FEMALE DIRECTOR at the NIAGARA INDIE FILM FESTIVAL, the TORONTO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL & FANTASTIC INDIE FESTIVAL of LOS ANGELES, among other festival wins and is currently available on YOUTUBE.
She is currently completing post-production on her newest lively and a little bit cheeky venture, the digital series HOW TO HACK BIRTH CONTROL, shining a light on how to navigate and take charge in today’s contraception universe, due to be released this winter.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?
The traditional, “catalyst,” moment of How to Hack Birth Control, happened in the summer of 2019. At the time I had just begun the sort of next “phase,” of my career, which was directing/writing/producing/editing a whole bunch of commercials for social media platforms. Social media commercials often have a sort of DIY hook within them to help target their specific audience, and I had this lightbulb moment that I pretty much always have with each of my big projects. I just had the idea “How to Hack Birth Control,” and using the technique and forms I was being taught how to do for social media commercials, but in terms of educating people about how to access birth control in a big and cost-effective way.
Beyond that, there are the thematic elements of How to Hack Birth Control, that I’ve been brewing on for some time and which I try to always include in my films, but this film in particular, which is showing women how to take power over their own lives. The ability to live our lives the way we want (especially when it comes to reproductive freedom,) is too often dictated by men, the patriarchy in general, or sometimes even our own fears and self-doubts. Because I was provided really good sex education a kid, the freedom and ethic of personal responsibility taught by my (super small artsy) public middle/school & high school, and because I’ve generally tried to not subscribe to bullsh*t, a great deal of female friends and acquaintances have come to me over the years asking for advice on dating, birth control and women’s rights. At least, that’s why I’m guessing they come to me, maybe it’s just because my fiance and I foster cats and there’s always a cool new cat around in our apartment. Or maybe both. But every time someone has come to me for advice, I’ve been somewhat shocked by the fact that no one told them the information I had, which isn’t even like top secret information. It’s just things I learned over time, like how to get a morning after pill quickly and for free, or who/how to talk to about your birth control, what to do if a guy you’re with tries to pressure you into something you don’t want to do. Being a woman today has tremendous freedoms and choices that weren’t around even 10 years ago, but all of that comes with a ton of hidden and not so hidden negative stigmas & deterrents from society. These negative stigmas and deterrents are what I strove to completely dismantle in, ‘How to Hack Birth Control.’
What is the most challenging aspect of working in this particular genre?
Comedy is something I love to write. It stems from the fact that I find pretty much everything that ever happens funny. Because if you’re not trying to enjoy life, what’s the point? The comedy aspect of How to Hack Birth Control, wasn’t challenging per say, I mean, I’ll workshop a joke with a comedian any day of the week. What’s been really challenging, in a way that has, (but maybe shouldn’t have,) surprised me, is the resistance by many filmmakers to the newer Tik Tok/Sketch Comedy/Docu style of filmmaking that I used in Birth Control. I honestly wasn’t expecting that. A fair amount of people (mostly men,) have reacted very, I guess, judgemental (?) might be the right word, about it.
But then, I remember when I shot my first feature film Happy Holidays on HD-DV in 2006, and how many people got up in arms about how a film wasn’t really “a film,” unless it was “actually” shot on film. Or when I made this romantic comedy web-series called About Abby in 2009, and people said that web-series were “sub-par,” and/or no one wanted a rom-com web-series, only cool sci-fi, or super crazy sketch comedy, or horror, (all dog whistles meaning web-series most likely made by men.) And then About Abby amassed 100K hits globally and further distribution in Mexico & Italy. And that digital film Happy Holidays ended up making all of its money back, touring around the country, also got distribution and launched my career, along with many others (including Ludwig Goransson who just won an Oscar.) So those experiences, and others I’ve had put into perspective, make the pushback to Birth Control predictable. And yet, every time a general group of people in the film industry really push back to change, or just when people push back to progressive change in general, I can’t always help but ask ….why? Progressive change is what took us from apes to humans, change literally built and shaped America and has birthed some of the best films and art movements of all time. So the most challenging thing about this, is reminding people this new style of filmmaking emerged from our phones isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different and new. For better or worse, there’s a funky, fast paced, cooky reality that our smartphones have allowed us to develop, and I’m just excited I got to try new things in that style while it’s in its infancy.
When did you realize that you wanted to work in media and make films and what was the first film project that you created as a director?
My parents both worked in television my entire life, my mom was an aspiring actress turned tv archivist and my dad is a television audio engineer. He currently works on the hill (the US Capitol) but he was one of the lead audio engineers at CNN for over 20 years. As a kid, it was so cool to visit him at the studio on weekends and hang out behind the scenes. I remember as a little kid seeing the Larry King set up close for the first time and thinking how funny it was because it was so different on TV. You know those ‘lights’ that populate the map of the world behind Larry and his guests? Those are actually painted reflective pieces of plastic. It’s things like this that helped me begin putting pieces together on how to make media.
There was no shortage of art & entertainment growing up as well, because of my family’s deep roots in NYC we would go up there whenever my parents could and often saw the latest Broadway shows. My godfather is an off-broadway playwright who later mentored me in screenwriting, but when I was a kid he would just continually encourage exposure to off-the-beaten-path productions.
All of this sort of culminated when I was in 3rd grade when I made the proclamation that I wanted to be a film director and my parents put me in a TV Production class at this great facility called the Arlington Career Center.
The sort of last ‘element’ to me charging forward into directing at such a young age was my education. I went to an ‘alternative’ public middle/high school called H-B Woodlawn. It was a very cool and artistically lush environment to learn in. H-B bounces around in the top 50 public high schools in the country because of its unique approach to education and their students' test scores and college placement numbers are reflective of the all-around positive learning experience the school gives you. H-B’s main goal is to teach you, as in you specifically, and no one person is going to learn the same way. H-B also challenges you to take responsibility and prove yourself. So if you went up to your TA or Teacher and said “I want to be a film director” they would say “Okay sure, we’ll let you try it, but you have to take this as a real responsibility. If you don’t take it seriously, that’s fine, but we might not let you do this again.” So in 7th grade, I said that, and the head of drama let me Ast. direct the high school musical, which was of course terrifying because I was 12 directing high-schoolers! But, oddly enough, the high-schoolers listened to me. I still remember the first scene I directed which was the ‘Greecian pose’ scene from The Music Man and having a group of 15–17-year-old girls actually listen and do what you say and then have it actually look good, is a truly powerful experience when you’re still so young.
From there I directed 5 plays between 8–12th grade which was a tremendous learning experience. H-B also let me readjust my schedule so I could take high-school level TV-Production classes at the ACC (Arlington Career Center,) and some of my teachers even let me make films in lieu of finals for classes I struggled in (like science and foreign language.) They did this because they understood filmmaking is something I wanted to do and I was serious about it, so if the best way to reach me through harder classes was to let me make movies about the subject matter, they knew that not only would this help me retain information, but also help my education overall. I wish more schools out there were like H-B.
My first film was a feature film called “Happy Holidays,” (www.happyholidaysfilm.com) that I finished in 2007. I know I talked about it in my last interview with you guys, and I’ve also written a lot about my past, so I’ll keep this as short as I can. Right before my junior year of film school at Chapman University, I realized that I would be leaving college with the same thing as every other person who left film school, if I’m lucky, it would be directing a very regimented senior thesis, if I’m unlucky, it would be participating in a very regimented senior thesis. So, basically, nothing that was going to get me a job or real-life film production experience. I then had the “brilliant idea,” (please know I’m saying that sarcastically,) to make a feature film. Chapman had just opened their new multi-million dollar film school with a ton of untapped resources, which I assumed they would let a film student use, but once again, my assumptions were incorrect. Despite having a full plan, funding (which we got from social media before it was called social media and before sites like Kickstarter existed,) an online fan base, and a full cast & crew, Chapman said the project was, “too ambitious,” and we couldn’t use their film equipment. So, the co-producer and I basically camped out in front of the Dean of the film school's office, (he had no idea who we were or about the project,) and when he learned what he wanted he basically said, “Uh, yeah, sure. What’s the problem?” And then the professor who made up the problem initially and denied us, caved when we presented him with the facts that we were ready for the challenge, and we were able to make the film.
Happy Holidays turned out to be the most challenging, mind-bending, frustrating, angering, saddening, exciting and possibly smartest decision I’ve made in my entire life. It was so incredibly hard and difficult, but somehow, we managed to finish it. And then, not just finish it, but do everything I already mentioned in the previous question with it. We turned a profit, screened the film around the country and it got distribution. Is it the best film? No. Is it an “okay,” film? ….Maybe. I wrote & directed it when I was 19 and everyone else involved was also between the ages of 18-22, so I think that puts it in perspective. But it got done and got seen, and made money and got me a career in film, which is a lot more than many other first-time no-budget indie films.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of the film and what was the most challenging aspect of production?
I was so fortunate to work with such a talented cast & crew, especially at the height of the pandemic. I’ve learned through doing many low budget films, the best way to get a great cast & crew is to plan ahead. People need to make money and the only way you can expect quality people to make the sacrifice of working for a lower rate, is to give them the time and respect to make sure they are personally financially able to commit to a 8 day shoot. I had crewed up pretty much almost entirely 5-months before production, with the only set back of “I really really hope no one gets covid on this.” But once again, if you give people a time-frame, that means they have enough time to plan to quarantine.
For the cast, we did online casting which was the first time that I had done this exclusively. I used to be against online casting because I really liked the ability to get to feel an actors vibe during an in-person meet, but we auditioned in August of 2020, so that obviously wasn’t an option. However, after casting How to Hack Birth Control online, I now only want to do online casting because we got such a bigger pool of people to turn out. One of my friends Kirsten Benjamin who is a casting director helped me out with going through all the submissions. I think we had over 6,000, which was no easy task. But Kirsten, myself, and my co-producer (and also fiance,) Vince Yearly meticulously went through everyone. In the end, we had a really robust and eclectic group of people who were each a pleasure to work with.
Then of course, there were the challenges of rehearsals during the pandemic with a cast of over 30 people. I once again lucked out with a friend of mine whose parents had a house with a large enclosed backyard in mid-wilshire (so a central point that everyone could get to,) and we were able to use that space for a few weeks. I want to say the most challenging aspect of shooting during the pandemic was covid, but I don't know if that’s true. I’ve always felt as an indie filmmaker, you have to be quick on your feet and be able to take any punch that’s thrown at you. So the fact that we had pretty much all the typical problems of set nipped in the bud before we even began made dealing with a worldwide pandemic a lot easier. Plus, one of my best friends helped head the local covid response in D.C., so she created a comprehensive covid-safety plan specific to our shoot and the needs of the cast/crew. Maybe the hardest aspect of this was taking a risk and trusting everyone around you. We emphasized covid safety pretty hard from day-one, but once people are on their own, you just have to trust that they wouldn’t go out and risk the safety of the entire production. But, as a testament to everyone involved we had a cast & crew of 60+ people on a 10-day shoot and no one got covid.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a director and which genres do you prefer to work on?
Cliche response: I will work in any and all types of genres. My top two are drama and comedy, but beyond that I’m really interested to see what happens to the mini-series. My favorite two pieces of 2020 were The White Lotus and Bo Burnham’s: Inside. Then 2021 I loved Mare of Eastown and 2019 was Watchmen. I think there’s so much you can do when you give a filmmaker the space to build a story without the pressure of turning it into an entire tv show. And I really admire shows that embrace this and then don’t try and bastardize the original product by making a super quick superfluous season 2 just because they think it could be a cash cow. I would love to make something like The Comey Rule or Dopesick or even The White Lotus, a social impact mini-series drama.
How can cinema change the world and have an impact on society?
I think the last time you asked me this my answer was “How CAN’T cinema change the world,” is the better way to ask that. I was just watching a segment on the PBS newshour where they interviewed teenagers and asked them about inclusion in tv shows and movies, and their answers were spot-on. The LGBTQ+ kids talked about how shows like Glee or Loki helped them come to terms with their own sexuality, a few hispanic kids were talking about how much J-Lo and Shakira doing the halftime show meant to them… I recently did a Q&A where the host said something pretty racist: that filmmakers need to remember their films have to be marketable and that the only black people that make money are Will Smith and Cuba Gooding Jr., so we shouldn’t try and push the envelope if we’re trying to get ahead. And what I wanted to say was, “That is the stupidest f*cking thing I’ve heard.” What I did say was, as filmmakers, we have an obligation to make the change we want to see, no matter what it costs us.
A film that changed the world for me was Run Lola Run, that was the first film I saw as a kid where I watched a strong yet vulnerable female lead just try and figure her sh*t out for 90 minutes and stumble through life and that was okay. Pretty much all the women I’d seen on screen up to that point were stupid, or just “soooo career obsessed, they could never get a guy, aww shucks,” or a slut, or a stereotypical mom, really 2-dimensional beings that gave me, as a young woman, no one to look up to. Run Lola Run was the first film that not just showed me a woman character I could actually relate to, but a style of filmmaking I wanted to do. The music, the quick editing, color, using multiple film mediums to tell the story, (all things I do in Birth Control now that I think about it haha.) Films can have a profound impact because they’re one of the few things that can get literally every single type of human to sit down, shut up, and watch the same thing as everyone else in the room for however many minutes. Not even our political leaders can do that. You don’t have to be Nelson Mandela with every project you make, but I think if you’re given the opportunity and blessing to actually make a film, you should at least try and do something positive with it, and I don’t mean it has to be a happy ending, but offer the audience an answer to some of the truth that they’re looking for.
What is your next film project as a director?
Well personally, I do a lot of commercial work, so I’m constantly in rotation for doing branded social media commercials, but as a theatrical director, I’m developing three shows with my management team to pitch to networks. One is the How to Hack series, so I’ve got How to Hack Voting Rights, How to Hack Climate change, things like that. The other is developing a pilot I already shot in 2015 called Weedland that I am super excited about, and the other is making a TV show out of a feature film I made in 2010 called True Perfection, so right now I’m kind of a writer monkey, churning out story bibles as much as I can while freelancing non-stop and also doing festival runs with How to Hack Birth Control. Which speaking of, is going to be screening at a lot of festivals through 2022, so if you’d like to check it out go to www.birthcontrolhacks.com/watch to see when it’s playing virtually and at a theater near you. If you’d like to keep up with me you can go to my site www.sassymohen.com, or follow me on FB @sassymohenfilms or on Instagram @sassymohen. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you guys here at LA Indies again and for everything you’re doing for independent filmmakers