Sarah-Violet is a filmmaker who most recently co-created the critically acclaimed TV show Search Party. GAL wonders: does a filmmaker have time or the desire to read? In the past several years, TV shows have gained strength – tighter, more realistic plot lines, challenging characters, and overall more compelling (often satirical) narratives – mimicking the emotional intensity generally reserved for long form film or for books themselves. Did video kill the radio star? Does TV kill the novel? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? (sigh). GAL thinks when each form grows, it forces the other to take a look at itself and evolve as a response. Read more, below!
Girls at Library: What was the first book you read that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Sarah-Violet Bliss: Well, as I’ve said before I really don’t read that much, but I’ve cited Lolita by Nabokov.
GAL: Are you a fan of nonfiction?
SVB: Well, honestly my reading mostly is self-help type of stuff, and I really like interior design books and texts about TV and that sort of stuff
GAL: What’s your favorite self-help book?
SVB: Well, it’s going to be one of my three recommendations, but I’ll say it now as well, it’s Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Although Brené Brown probably wouldn’t love hearing that book be classified as self-help. She considers herself, as I’ve seen her many times herself say, a researcher and storyteller. But that book is really powerful.
GAL: What makes a story or narrative compelling?
SVB: Complicated characters who you empathize with, but who you also see something not-so-flattering in them that you recognize in yourself. You know, interesting characters put into tough situations, basically.
GAL: How do you create your own stories? Do they come from real life? Do you have a very specific writing process when you’re creating a script?
SVB: Yeah, there’s definitely an observation of real life in there and my internal life, and of you know, kind of adding some extra drama. Like, imagine if I was put in this crazy circumstance. Or what would that feel like if this person I know, who’s a different personality type than I am, was put in that place as well...I think it’s interesting how everyone kind of wants the same things, you know, they want love and shelter and water, and everyone just goes about getting those things very differently, and in the most fundamental ways we’re all the same, but vary in different tastes and textures.
GAL: That’s such a lovely way to put it—infinitely variable in tastes and textures. Do you have a current or forever favorite book? Or play or script that you’ve read
SVB: Yeah if I can say a play, I would say Chekov. I love Uncle Vanya. I really love characters who suffer [laughs], and they’re kind of of their own suffering, and make huge, clumsy mistakes when trying to take ownership of their lives and it won’t go their way. And I love everything that Chekov has written as short stories, as well. I feel very connected to Chekov.
GAL: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a filmmaker? And why?
SVB: I always liked writing. I wrote stories and plays for a really long time. It wasn’t until after I graduated, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, that I kind of had an epiphany. Though even as a senior in my film class, it felt very like, “Ooh this feels right.” But I still didn’t really think that I had a doorway into it, and it didn’t occur to me that I could try to figure this out until after college. I thought about what I wanted to do next after graduation. I had majored in theater and creative writing and was thinking about acting. But I didn’t really feel like I wanted to be an actor. I like to act, but I don’t like the actors’ lifestyle. And I was thinking about writing, and I was like, I don’t actually love plays. I do really like plays, but I was like, I really love film and TV, and it just hit me, like my whole life I have just know I would be a little more passionate about my opinions on movies than my friends were, and they’d just be like, I don’t know, I liked it! I was then like, oh they have film school. So I applied [to NYU] and while I was there it was like, “Yes this all feels exactly like what I’m looking to do,” and that was kind of my break in. I ended up meeting people who I work with today and all that stuff.
GAL: What is the power of story? Please describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
SVB: I mean, the power of story is feeling like you’re not alone in the world, and that there is hope. When someone can really articulate a feeling that you’ve experienced before, or a situation that you’ve experienced before, and you hadn’t quite found the words or even realized that there was even something happening in you, and then you read something or see something that illustrates that and kind of holds your hand through that, that is incredibly powerful. I think that it’s an easier way for people to—not easier, but people might be able to change, if they see fictional characters make mistakes and are able to recognize that in themselves and see it, then they might feel empowered to change if that makes sense. It’s not as a direct as, “You did this bad thing.” It’s more like, “Look at this situation that’s a different situation than the one you’re in, but really see the parallels.” And then people can have epiphanies and feel inspired by that. You know, with the current political climate, it just becomes clearer to me that facts really matter less than emotions, and everything about this election was emotional, and that’s the way to speak to people, through their hearts, and that’s the thing that’s important and powerful.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot?
SVB: My bed [laughs].
GAL: If you were going to recommend a book to Clare, what would you recommend she read?
SVB: I mean, Brené Brown’s gonna come up three times—[laughs]
GAL: That’s ok! I think it’s actually good because it hammers the point home that the person reading this interview will have to try one of her books. There’s no escaping it.
SVB: Yeah! She has plenty, but the one that I first read and really connected with was Daring Greatly, and I feel like probably as I was reading it, I was sending passages of it to Clare.
GAL: Parts of Search Party remind me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Did you ever read that book?
SVB: I read most of it while we were writing season 2, because it was very relevant to what we were writing. And then because we were writing, I didn’t spend that much time reading the whole thing. So then I ended up reading just like, the Wikipedia page to see the plot turns, but yeah, I am familiar with the book. I read the first half and then I cheated on the second half [laughs].
GAL: She’s a great writer! I know you don’t have much time, but it’s worth a read sometime.
SVB: Yeah! It was totally good. I was just like, I need to know what happens!
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” which is dedicated to books she returns to again and again to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. Which books would be on your sanity shelf?
SVB: I would probably have—I really like this book that I have called Passionate for TV Shows. It’s just pictures of all my favorite shows and then a bunch of shows I haven’t seen, and I just find it really nostalgic and nice to look at and remember.
GAL: What’s your favorite TV show that’s on right now?
SVB: That’s a good question. My favorite TV show that’s not on right now is probably The Comeback and Getting On. I’m trying to think what’s on right now that I’m obsessed with. Well, I love Curb Your Enthusiasm, even though I haven’t seen this season, but that’s a big one that I love. I really love, like I said, these kind of tragic characters.
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
SVB: I’m not crying, there’s just something in my eye.
GAL: Ok. And if you could recommend three books for reading and the reasons for your choices.
SVB: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown [laughs]. The thing that’s so powerful about it is how she talks about the importance of vulnerability, and that people who are full-hearted recognize that vulnerability is really special, and that you can’t avoid it! It’s the birth of everything great. On the other side of vulnerability is all the great stuff in life. The book makes you appreciate your own things that maybe you would consider to be weaknesses, but are actually just part of being a sensitive person. I recently read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? which is just really, really funny and fun. It’s a mystery about a girl whose mom has gone missing and she’s figuring out what happened to the mom basically through emails. The mom obviously did not fit into the culture of Seattle, which I don’t know anything about other than through this book, but her daughter goes to this private school and Bernadette just can’t do anything right among the mothers and teachers in that world. Bee figures out where she is through all these emails, and it’s just so funny and a satire about like, polite email culture. The Disaster Artist, I have nothing to do with that movie I really LOVE that book deeply. Also, Styled by Emily Henderson. It’s an interior design book, and it just gives you really good tips about creating vignettes in your home, and figuring out what your particular style is and how to make it. You want people to come into your home and think, this is so you!
GAL: How would you describe your style? What is “So Sarah-Violet”?
SVB: I really like things to be cozy but also kind of sparse. When I took the test in that book, my interior style is “zen,” but something that she talks about in it, is that there’s your style along with the polar opposite of it and neither should be ignored. The opposite of zen is “glam”. When I look at a room full of glam I hate it, but it’s good to incorporate some glam stuff into your zen environment. So I have this crazy panther lamp that amongst all the other, like, gentle, neutral colors looks really fun and cool. I also have a bunch of humorous objects, books, and framed pieces littered around my house. Do you know the cartoon artist Liana Finck?
GAL: No, I don’t think I do!
SVB: You should follow her on Instagram, she does really great cartoons, I bought one and framed it. She has a ton of really spot-on, smart cartoons. In my recommendations, I would recommend following Liana Finck on Instagram.