“It is snowing ash,” says Sascha Rothchild when we speak with her. She is in Los Angeles and it’s just after the Californian fires have died down. “My car is covered in ash. And walking the dog you can feel the smoke in your throat. It’s really intense but my house is safe. I’m several miles from it but it is pretty intense and crazy for sure.”
An esteemed guest of the Screen Producers’ Australia annual conference Screen Forever, Sascha Rothchild has never been to Australia, and admits to feeling daunted by the trip to Melbourne. ‘I still don’t understand the time change between LA and New York, so I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when I’m in Australia,” she confesses.
“A coffee in the sunrise and a cocktail in the sunset,” she suggests may be the cure.
Although she has never been to our shores, Sascha Rothchild does have a connection here, specifically Seph McKenna, who headed up the Australian film division at Roadshow for many years and recently finished up his contract with Screenwest in West Australia.
One of the most popular sessions that Sascha will take part in during Screen Forever is ‘When Seph Met Sascha’, which we are intrigued about…
“My first day at Boston College, I moved into my dorm room and he was my RA (it’s usually for freshmen, there’s a junior or senior that lives in the dorm, and it’s a paid job, and they oversee to make sure things aren’t crazy),” Sascha tells us.
“And he was super kind of nerdy. And I was very wild and came from Miami Beach with all sorts of crazy tales and goth clothes. We just became unlikely friends and he taught me how to play chess which was amazing, and we just kept in touch all these years. I was driven, a theatre major concentrating in playwriting, and I knew that I was going to LA and be a writer and that was my plan. And he always wanted to come to LA and work in the entertainment industry as well and so we both ended up in LA. He was a couple years older than me and then all of a sudden, he moved to Australia and I haven’t seen him in 15 years. Now our worlds have collided again.”
Although she has been working as a writer for many years, Sascha’s most recent big break was producing the Netflix smash hit GLOW. “I had been working consistently and selling projects consistently but being a part of GLOW has set me up to have a little bit more control over, hopefully the next thing I do. It has shown the industry that I can be trusted to create something that can last and that will hopefully be liked by many people. So many shows, the pilot gets bought but not go to series or the series goes but then gets cancelled after a few episodes or after a season. Carrie Diaries got cancelled after two seasons, and so to be on a show that is now in a third season just has a really different feeling to it.”
Can she comment about the oft-heard remarks from filmmakers that Netflix throws money at them and is a breeze to work with? “It’s not totally true but I have worked for network television, and I do think Netflix certainly buys shows that they believe in and then they do have thoughts and notes and suggestions, but they trust the creator and let you fight for what you believe in. Netflix has executives that read scripts, give notes, they give notes on edits, they are involved but you can push back and say this is why I want to do it this way and often they will back off and say ‘Great, well we trust you and good luck to you.’
“I think it’s because ultimately Netflix know who’s watching what and they can keep a show or cancel a show depending on the numbers they see, whereas network television it comes down to advertising. Often, the worry is if the show isn’t exactly as they hope it will be that they will lose advertising revenue, and so it’s almost like a defensive game instead of an offensive game.”
Sascha will soon be working on season 3 of GLOW, but in the hiatus, she co-executive produced another Netflix show, Huge in France, starring Gad Elmaleh, and through her development deal with CBS is writing a pilot for an adaptation of a still-to-be-published graphic novel called Super Queen, which will air on CW.
As a writer and producer working across different platforms, does she feel the need to change her style and structure when working on a streaming show rather than a network one?
“Netflix knows how many episodes in a row people watch. One episode isn’t standalone, so a person can go right into the second one, the third one. I think when creating formats for shows, that really comes into play. I love working on GLOW, but there are a lot of network shows that I really love to. Some people are strictly, ‘I’m a network person’ or ‘I will only work in cable or streaming’. But I’m excited about the CW project because I think that they have exciting shows like Jane the Virgin and Riverdale and they’re just a young, fresh, voice that the network also has.
“I know when I write this pilot it has to be a very different feeling to a Netflix show, where you can be a little opaque,” she says before wondering if that is the right word to use.
Apart from the major impact of Netflix and the ‘Golden Age of Television’, Sascha Rothchild has also been witness to the radical changes in Hollywood surrounding gender equality. “What I have noticed is that the #MeToo Movement has made it safe for women to be open with other women and to share their stories in a way that you don’t feel isolated and that by hearing the stories you can then realise, ‘Oh yeah, that guy was creepy, that thing that happened to me wasn’t okay, I thought maybe I was crazy or I thought maybe I had imagined it.’
“You start to be open about experiences. The other interesting thing is salary equality. What’s happened for me and a lot of other women in the industry is we now communicate about what we’re making and we communicate that with our male counterparts as well in a way that it’s usually sort of thought as ‘Oh, it’s tacky to talk about money’, or it’s very personal and private, but if you don’t talk about it you don’t know if you’re making less or if you should be asking for more. Especially for women who have made less for so long, it’s an incredible feeling to say to your friend, ‘Hey, what did you make on that? What’s your weekly episodic rate?’ Of course, we all have agents who fight for us, but I think it’s really empowering, and it was not until the #MeToo Movement that it occurred to me that I could ask my friend how much they’re making, and I could ask my friend ‘Hey have you worked with this guy? Is this guy someone who you would recommend working with?’”
Screen Forever is on between Tuesday, November 20 and Thursday, November 22.