Director Margaux Susi joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about her work on the short film, The Sperm Bank.
Written and created by Rob Scerbo and Jeremy Culhane, the film shares a story of a young man recently diagnosed with cancer who takes a visit to a sperm bank.
For those who haven’t seen THE SPERM BANK please can you share a little about the film for our readers?
The Sperm Bank is based on Rob Scerbo’s real-life cancer diagnosis and what happened immediately after. No, it wasn’t chemo or radiation. He had to go preserve his sperm. Can you imagine being in so much pain, trying to process the fact that you might very well die, and then being told to go jerk off without lube? Yikes. Our story follows Rob’s experience while he was at said sperm bank.
What attracted you to the story?
We’ve all seen cancer films. They are a dime a dozen. What I hadn’t seen was one about someone who had their whole life ahead of them and one that explored that with such absurd comedy. This is right up my alley. I’ve always been drawn to slightly irreverent comedies. Life is messy and complicated and absurd. And that absurdity is sometimes funny! It’s okay to laugh at it! When we use comedy as a way to explore all the shit we don’t want to face head on, it’s just easier. Process however you want. Grieve however you want. It’s all part of the human experience.
You have managed to draw a brilliant line between comedy and drama. What process did you use to achieve this?
The script is so funny on its own and all of our actors are widely talented. Most come from an improv background so there was never a shortage of alt lines or hysterical bits. Watching Rob and Jeremy interact in real life is a comedy show already so give them the framework and all I had to do was let them play. Shout out to our incredible editor, Michael Scotti Jr., who helped craft the pacing of the short which sings because of the timing.
In regards to the more dramatic parts of the film, I’m very comfortable exploring the darkness of a situation. I was asking Rob to go back into a time in his life where his thoughts were incredibly complicated and grim. This wasn’t easy and I have so much respect for him for going there. We both trusted each other and decided to take the leap. I’m thrilled that we could go from an insane masturbating montage to a very real conversation about mortality and somehow it all worked and is moving. It’s pretty damn cool.
Did you feel pressure knowing that you were telling a true story?
When I first met Rob, I immediately felt like we had been friends for years. He is open, vulnerable, loving, and wickedly talented. This was his real life story about cancer and life and mortality and he was trusting me to help tell it. No pressure, right? Then you add his best friend, co-writer, and another one of our brilliant actors, Jeremy Culhane, who was with Rob every step of the way during his cancer treatment. I was the outsider coming in and I was honored beyond belief. I couldn’t let them down. It wasn’t an option.
How did you work with the actors to bring out such brilliant performances?
I was honestly blessed with an insanely talented cast. They did so much of the work for me. The best thing about them all was their willingness to play. I would say, “let’s try X” and they would just jump. There was so much trust between us all.
Do you think the landscape is changing for female directors?
I think so! When the push for diversity first started, it felt like productions were almost forced to hire us. Now, it’s really damn satisfying having watched all these women kill it and everyone responding like, “Woah, we should continue hiring them!” Yes! You should! Art will always be elevated when there are different points of view. Almost half of the world is female-identifying. There is no reason it should be any different behind the camera too.
THE SPERM BANK will screen at Tribeca Film Festival on June 17th.