The Spread chats to Daniel Sorochkin, the writer and director of the acclaimed and award-winning short film Check Please, about his origins and his future.
Daniel’s short film Check Please was recently selected as Vimeo’s “Short of the Week” after a very successful festival run where it was nominated for best short film at SOHO International Film Festival NYC, Daniel Sorochkin was nominated for Best director in Widescreen Film and Music Festival and the film won the Craft Award for Screenwriting at the First Run Film Festival.
When did the decision to become a filmmaker occur for you, who made you want to choose it as a career path?
In my military unit, in the Israeli Defence Forces, we had conventions twice a year, which always had some fun and entertaining element to them. I knew a bit of editing, so I offered my officer to make a funny short film about our unit. My officer liked the idea, and my film was screened at the conventions in a theatre for the hundreds of soldiers in my unit. It was really satisfying to hear all the laughter during the screenings and the positive reactions of soldiers after. The soldiers loved my film because it brought comic relief from our everyday work. After that convention, my officer asked me to make four more films; one for every new convention I attended. Making those films, I had to take learn and explore a few aspects of filmmaking: writing, directing, editing and producing. I fell in love with the whole process and decided that this was something I want to do for a living.
Do you think there are some military disciplines that carry over into your work as a director?
It’s a tricky question. The general military discipline probably helps filmmakers in general and not only directors. For example, disciplines like: always being on time, being able to handle stressful situations, being on top of things, etc. are very helpful but not specifically only to director. I was also not a commander, so I can’t really give insight to the difference or similarities between a leader in the military (commander) to a leader in filmmaking (director).
On the other, the IDF has a lot of very different units that do very different work, and my unit and my personal work has probably help my director’s skills. I was a psyhco-technic analyst, which means I would sort and evaluate future soldiers. Since you encounter future soldiers of all background and personalities, you kind of have to learn how to communicate with them smoothly and efficiently, making them feel comfortable and understanding the world they come from. I think that skill definitely carried to how I try to communicate with my cast and crew.
The setup to Check Please is a fairly unique situation, what was the inspiration for it?
The idea of Check Please came to me as I was trying to think of a short that is contained to one location. When brainstorming for a location, a restaurant came to mind. I then asked myself what is the most dramatic or exciting thing that can happen in a restaurant. The best idea I thought of was a marriage proposal. And since storytelling involves conflict, I thought it would be fun and funny if an engagement ring ends up at the wrong table. I decided to build the story and characters around that concept.
There’s a heavy Woody Allen vibe to Check Please, was that intentional? Who would you say are the main stylistic influences for the film?
So interesting. Although I’m a fan of Woody Allen, I’ve never thought of that.
For the cinematography, Oren Soffer and I looked at a few films. There was not one in particular. We wanted to create a warm romantic look. We took ideas from Skyfall and Intolerable Cruelty.
Aside from the music there is a very New York feel to Check Please and its rhythm; do you feel like New York’s in your filmmaking DNA now?
Glad you feel that. I love New York City and its vibes. I like the rhythms and pace of this city and the variety of its characters. Check Please for me definitely has that vibe. My New York characters have a perfect idea of how they want their day and lives to be like, just like I feel real New Yorkers live their lives. The characters are also relatively straightforward in their dialog and approach, which I feel is a New Yorkers thing. The pace of it all is rather high. The characters are not interested in getting what they want right here and right now. I think the New York DNA fits this story, and that’s why I chose to make it that way and I’m definitely a New Yorker in my DNA. But, I don’t know if every film I’ll make needs to have that vibe. It just depends on the story I suppose.
Every actor fits their role perfectly, how long was the casting process?
The casting process probably took about a month, doing regular casting sessions that I directed. I got about 600 submissions for Check Please by actors for the four main roles. It was hard to screen so many applicants by their reels. I saw some amazing talented actors. I eventually auditioned about 20 actors for each role.
Bryan Manley Davis and Amelia Brain were great in their first auditions, and when I saw them in the callbacks, playing the lead couple together I knew I had to cast them. Clicking immediately, they made me feel like they were a couple for real and for a long time. As for the bratty Hannah character, I had no doubts. Emily Dennis cracked me up in the audition. She was the second actress to audition for Hannah and none match her. She was an easy pick. For the antagonist Mike, I casted a really funny actor, but unfortunately, for personal reasons, he had to drop out. I quickly started looking for a new Mike, watching dozens of reels online, until I stumbled across Jacob Trussell’s reel. He came to audition and was clearly perfect for the part. I was really lucky I ended up having him as my Mike. As for the waiter character, Stephan, my course of action was clear. I initially invited Matthew Porter to audition for the lead character, Ben, because I wanted to see a range of options for Ben’s character. As soon as Matthew opened his month I knew he was brilliant, but not the right casting for Ben. I decided that I’m going to skip any Stephan character auditions and offer it straight to Matthew.
Before being selected as Short of the Week, Check Please has had a very successful run at festivals and picked up a slew of awards. What was the most exciting reaction to the film for you?
Getting the acceptance emails is always exciting. But there’s nothing like the first few screenings. With every project, I feel like the first few screenings are probably the most exciting, as you don’t know if there will be any positive reactions. Since I mostly do comedy, I know very quickly if people like my film. When I was in my first festival screening in Flickerfest, Australia, with Check Please, I was very nervous. Fortunately, I had such a fun and exciting experience when people really reacted and laughed at every moment of the film. When you can feel the audience is engaged that’s the best feeling you could have, especially in the first screenings when it’s not your friends that are watching.
What’s next for you?
I have a short script called A Grain of Sand that I’m super excited about. The short will serve as a proof of concept for a feature script I’m developing.
I’ve directed a half hour comedic TV pilot called Shady Pines. It’s about a crazy nursing home.
I’m planning to submit the pilot to festivals and try to find distribution for it. The writer/creator of the pilot and I collaborated on writing the outlines of all the rest of the episodes of season one. [You can view a teaser here.]
I directed a short mystery-drama called Lola and Dallas. I’ve started sending it to festivals. It’s about an unusual pair on the run that are forced to find solace through each other when home is not an option. I’ve also started sending it to festivals. [You can view a teaser here.]