Hollywood isn’t the easiest place to be a woman. The celebrity infatuation, competitive nature, and constant dissection of the female body breeds an environment in which you can never be too rich, too thin or too famous. Filmmaker and actress, Sophia Savage knows this all too well. Whether it’s fighting off creepy directors or fighting for that next big part, Savage lives and works in the real life horror movie that is Hollywood. That’s why her new film, Victim Number, is so hard to watch.
The psychedelic horror short, directed by Savage, starring herself and actress Amanda Adrienne, is a 30-minute fever dream shot with handheld cameras in an airstream. The claustrophobia and obsession is palpable, as we watch characters, Layla and Devon, completely unravel. Part satire, part crushingly real, Victim Number is the end result of every ‘girl moves to LA to make it’ cliché, the deranged step-sister of the Hollywood Cinderella, a biting critique of womanhood in the film industry à la Bret Easton Ellis. Savage’s reimagination of the overdone failing actress trop is, in itself, a feminist manifesto about losing and regaining control. Though Victim Number remains a dark portrait of being a woman in Hollywood, Savage’s self-awareness turns shame into success, pain into power and femininity into freedom.
Watch the BULLETT premiere of Victim Number, and read Sophia’s conversation with Amanda, below.
Sophia: Why were you interested in being part of this project?
Amanda: I remember being in a funk about the industry—all my agent could get me auditions for were things like ‘bikini girl.’ It felt like all I had been working toward as an artist was naive, wishful thinking—I didn’t get into acting wanting to be ‘bikini girl.’ What inspired the film, for you?
S: I had wanted to film something entirely inside an airstream for a while—the sense of claustrophobia seemed exciting to me, and the challenge of keeping a story interesting inside such a small space made me want to prove it was possible. I feel like people are always spewing the ‘rules of filmmaking,’ and if I can demonstrate a big ‘fuck that’ through my art, then I want to. Talking to you about our actress woes inspired me to merge the airstream idea with this feeling of being trapped as an artist, with so much left unexpressed. After writing the script, I realized there was opportunity to use genre tropes while also being subversive with horror assumptions, like using the handheld found footage style. With the camera in their hands, they control the power-tool that usually objectifies and disempowers them with a traditionally male gaze—but it also becomes a weapon they use against each other. It’s empowering in a twisted way. […] Our culture, and the patriarchy have done such a number of women’s minds that they really struggle to support themselves and each other.
A: How does Victim Number compare to your previous work?
S: This project is different from my other work. It felt like a skin I needed to shed, a tantrum I needed to have. I didn’t know if this exercise would result in a watchable film, but I think we tapped into something that needed to be explored, even if just for us to exercise some demons.
A: I needed this character whether I knew it or not, and it gave me a new sense of freedom as an actress. I feel like I reclaimed some of my lost empowerment as a woman and as an artist through the project. That’s not to say that Devon is an ‘empowered woman,’ but she is definitely fighting to reclaim herself. The more we delved into the characters, the more I saw them dealing with the same struggle in different ways—a very universal human journey fighting to not be a victim anymore. Do you ever feel trapped by the cliches associated with being an actress?
S: Yes I feel trapped, and I definitely feel a need to rebel against everything. I have to speak my truth and manifest it in my actions, in how I earn a living, in the type of content I create, just to feel a sense of peace within myself. Sadly, that’s a rebellious thing in America, and isn’t always met with support. It’s probably why people say the film is so hard to watch.
A: That’s always a good thing, to me. The film deals with themes of sexism and sexual assault, and we live in a culture that still largely shames and blames victims. This is a totally different approach.
S: I am glad people are uncomfortable. Someone told me they felt complicit in the violation because of how we used the camera, and that sitting still through parts of it made them realize how audiences are not as passive as they believe themselves to be. Someone else told me to cut the film down to 5 minutes if I wanted it to have any chance of getting it into a festival. Choosing not to submit this film to any festivals, and to keep the uncomfortable long takes intact, feels great. It’s being in integrity with my own creative process and voice, instead of pandering to a system that doesn’t believe it can afford to be radicalized. It’s no coincidence that as the lines between film and TV, art and commerce, reality stars and political leaders are being blurred even more, we are hemorrhaging in our capacity to support dissident art. I’m not saying Victim Number is more than a small exercise, but I feel there is value in it simply because it’s saying something I feel I’m not supposed to say.
A: Do you think things have gotten better for women in the industry?
S: Being a female filmmaker still feels like being Snow White in a glass coffin—the ceiling is suffocating, and we’re choking on the apple. Even with increased awareness around the statistics and more initiatives trying to address the problem of access, the needle has barely moved. I am aware some frustrated women have resorted to having female-only crews, perhaps to make a point, but I think it’s absurd and counterproductive. But I don’t have a better solution. As an actor, the number of your Instagram followers has become more important than actual talent, so if you happen to be good at self-promotion, then yes, it’s become easier. I fired my last agent because they were pissed when I turned down a contract role on a soap opera—they told me I was aiming too high. But as soon as I fired them, I booked my first lead in a feature film. What’s the worst situation you’ve been in?
A: During a callback, a director propositioned me to sleep with him as part of some sort of initiation process—I could be in all his movies, he would get me a better agent and so on, but if I ever told anyone, he’d deny and I’d never work in this town again. The role I was auditioning for was for a stripped, and he had recorded me dancing in a bikini. I don’t have a problem exploring sexuality or nudity through a character, but it was in the context of what followed that made me feel especially violated. […] I told my agent what happened, and she reported him, but nothing ever happened—his movie still got made. What about you?
S: I did a short film in which I played a sugar baby/Instagram girl. In the contract, we agreed there would be no nudity. But they got an actual Instagram girl who was acting in a scene with me to pull my shirt and reveal my breast during a take. I didn’t freak out, I just waited until the scene was over and said, ‘Obviously, we aren’t going to use that.’ Months later, I found out the film had been released without them telling me, they used the shot of my breast. I argued and tried to get them to change it, but they refused. […] They are part of the problem we’re trying to speak out against in the film.
A: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
S: I am a feminist. Sadly, new waves of problems have arisen as an unintended side effect of the feminist movement. The male-female divide is a collective problem. The patriarchy is a very complex thing to uproot without causing some devastation and growing pains. We now see feminism being co-opted by hashtag consumer culture, given token meaning instead of serving as an impetus toward greater human equilibrium. On the surface, things have improved for women. But a woman ran for president, and look how we treated her—that says a lot. Beneath the faux feminism, the Taylor Swift bullshit, the Instagram posers and #goddesses feeding their own narcissism for miscalculated empowerment—the same problems still exist. […] In my own life, what feels truly feminist is to no longer shrink or shame myself because I make other people uncomfortable with my opinions, strength, or femininity, and to have compassion for those that are still lashing out in pain. To own our shit, without shaming ourselves or blaming others—that feels really powerful.