SXSW 2023 Interview: Writer-Director-Producer Amy Omar Talks Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola (Exclusive)

Breaking Fast with a Coca Cola – Official Trailer from Amy Omar on Vimeo.

Learning the power of religion as a creator of community, and incorporating its spiritual traditions into their identities, is a powerful journey for adolescents. That’s especially true when they choose to incorporate those ideologies into their lives on their own, instead of being influenced by a parent. That’s certainly true for the two teen main characters in Turkish-American filmmaker Amy Omar’s new short comedy, ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola.’

Instead of children of immigrants rejecting the religion of their parents, the teen protagonist wholeheartedly embrace it and want to be a part of something important in the movie. ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’ changes the traditional immigrant religious narrative that’s normally seen in films.

Omar, who made her writing and directorial debuts, and also served as a producer, on ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola,’ based the story on her own adolescent experiences. When she was a teenager, she and her best friend decided to fast for Ramadan (which begins today and lasts until April 21) for the first time. Since their immigrant parents feared persecution in America, they grew up in secular Turkish households in the Midwest and knew nothing about what fasting entailed or the rules required of them. They only knew that they needed to abstain from eating from sunrise to sunset.

‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’ follows two Turkish American teenagers, Özlem and Ada (Lucie Solène Allouche and Günes Sensoy), who decide to fast for Ramadan for the first time. However, they didn’t tell their immigrant parents about their plans, as they decided to leave their religious traditions behind in Turkey. Their parents wanted to instead assimilate into an ethnically and religiously homogeneous American suburb in the Midwest.

So Özlem and Ada, who are desperate to connect with the culture of their ancestors, must hide their fast from their parents. Through strategic planning and a few obstacles along the way, the two teens successfully maneuver around their parents, culturally clueless neighbors and hunger to make it through a day of fasting and evening of feasting.

‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’ had its World Premiere during the Narrative Shorts Program 3 of the Narrative Shorts Competition Screening Section of this month’s SXSW. In honor of the comedy’s premiere, Omar generously took the time three days after the project’s premiere screening on March 11 to sit down for an exclusive interview at the Residence Inn by Marriott Austin to talk about scribing, helming and producing the movie.

The interview began with Omar explaining why she was inspired to pen the script for ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola,’ and how she approached writing the story. “This is actually based on a true story. When I was 16-years-old – I grew up in the Midwest, in Ohio – my best friend, who’s also Turkish-American, and I decided to fast for the summer. We did it for an entire month, and we got away with it; we didn’t tell our parents,” she revealed as she started talking about the film.

“We hid it from our parents because the way we grew up in Ohio, they were very secular; we didn’t have many religious traditions,” the filmmaker also divulged. “I think for our parents, it was more of a defense mechanism, because where we lived in Ohio, it was very Christian. There weren’t many people who were like us, so I think they wanted to hide it.

“So for us, as teenagers, we were really excited and curious about our culture, and wanted to learn more about it. Everyone around us were celebrating different things; they were all celebrating Easter and Christmas, and we had nothing,” Omar explained.

“So I think it was the point in our coming-of-age that we wanted to take a stance and try something out (for ourselves). That was the origin of the story,” the scribe continued.

“Then a couple of years ago, I wrote an essay during the first week of Ramadan, as I was remembering that memory. Then about a year later, I adapted it into a screenplay, and then turned it into the movie,” Omar added with a laugh.

The filmmaker then delved into how writing the script helped influence her directorial style throughout ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’s production. “The whole writing process was super easy. Since I had already written the skeleton of the real story in the essay, when I went on to write the script, I was able to write it over one weekend,” she divulged.

“I wrote it really fast because it was so visual to me. In a way, I felt like I was writing down a dream. I was remembering an experience that I had while I was writing it down,” Omar admitted.

“It’s really funny because a lot of my friends ask me which character’s who; they ask, ‘Which one is you, and which one is your friend?’ I’m like, ‘This is fiction; neither character is based on either person at all,’” the filmmaker divulged.

“The story’s influenced by the events, but there’s still a lot of it that’s not true. The movie takes place over one day, and in real life, there was never any dinner party that happened in the movie,” Omar continued. “In real life, I don’t think that we even reflected as much as the characters do in the movie.

“But there are some parts that are true. It did happen over a summer, and it’s true that we did break our fast with fast food almost every day. So there were those elements that were true,” the helmer added.

“When it comes to directing, this is actually the first thing I ever directed. So coming into this whole process, I didn’t have a film school background, so I thought, I’m going to do this instinctually. I’m going to approach the whole process doing whatever feels right,” Omar noted.

“A lot of it involved me communicating with my actors. After I wrote the script, I met with them several times over Zoom, and we talked through the script together,” the filmmaker shared.

“I thought that was a good approach, as it was very collaborative. I wanted to get their take on what they thought about the script, and if they thought it felt natural and right,” Omar continued.

When she was on set, the director also had a lot of time to improv with the actors. She encouraged the performers to infuse their characters with their own ideas because she “thinks when you write something and bring it on set, it kind of takes a life of its own. Once you’re acting it out, in a way you kind of lose control over it (as a writer-director) because it goes to the actors. But overall, I think it’s a beautiful, natural process.”

Further speaking of the actresses, Omar then delved into how she decided to cast Şensoy and Allouche. “When I wrote the role of Ada, I decided to make her the one who drives the whole idea of fasting and being secretive about it. She’s the character who’s the dreamer and optimist.

“So I always knew that I wanted to cast Güneş Şensoy in that role. She was in the movie ‘Mustang’ from 2015. The movie was very impactful to me because it was the first time that I had ever seen a Turkish movie come to the U.S.,” the filmmaker shared. “It was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination, and I was always very moved by it.

“I loved Günes’ role in that film, in which she was the protagonist. She has this optimism in that role,” Omar noted. “I think she has that optimism in real life, too. So I knew when I was writing the script (for ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’) that I wanted to reach out to her.

“When I was casting it last year, I actually did reach out to her. I messaged her on Instagram and then she responded. I then reached out to her manager, and it all happened organically. It was exciting,” the helmer also shared.

“Then for Lucie Solène Allouche, who played the other main character, Özlem, I worked with a casting director. Andrew Dahreddine. He’s an amazing casting director, and his background is also Middle Eastern. He was really helpful in finding a lot of the roles…he sent me all of the auditions for the background actors, as well,” Omar also shared.

“Lucie had a deadpan sense of humor and really captured the role of Özlem really well. The character has a dry sense of humor and is negative, so she’s the opposite of Ada,” the filmmaker also revealed.

“Her arc in the story is a woe is me, but by the end, she’s into the whole plan. She’s the one who’s driving the reflective conversations,” Omar added. “So I knew by Lucie’s audition that she would be able to capture that, so I knew right away that I wanted to cast her.”

Like the director previously mentioned, she encouraged the actors, particularly Şensoy and Allouche, to improv on set, and bring their own ideas into the story. She further delved into how she approached working with the two actresses to build their characters on set.

“I knew even before I met any of the actors that (allowing them to improv) would always be my approach…I’m really into the authenticity of acting…I’m curious to see what the actors will feel in their roles,” Omar shared.

“When I gave Lucie and Güneş the script before we began filming, I asked them, ‘Does this feel natural to say?’ I haven’t been 16 in so many years, and they’re closer to 16, so I asked them if things sounded too formal to say, and they gave me notes on that,” the writer revealed.

“Then when we were on set, we also did scenes that were completely improvised, which was exciting…I had some fillers in them, because I know there were some points I wanted to include in the story,” Omar added. “When I was 16 and living in suburbia, I did quirky, fun things with my friends, so I wanted Lucie and Güneş to do that in the film, as well.”

Besides penning and helming the short, Omar also cherished having the opportunity to also serve as a producer on the project. She delved into what her experience was like of balancing her directorial and producing duties throughout the production.

“It’s funny; I feel as though I’m wearing every hat, and it weirdly works well with my personality. I’m always thinking about a million things at every given moment, but I’m also able to give everything the exact attention that it needs,” Omar noted.

“In terms of producing, I feel like the biggest thing I did was raise money. That was one of the hardest things about the filmmaking process, and the part that I probably enjoyed the least,” the filmmaker admitted.

“You’re in a position of major vulnerability when you’re asking people for money. I got a film grant, which was really helpful, as it greenlit the project,” Omar emphasized. “But then I had to raise the rest of the funds – $25,000, essentially – and I’ve never asked anyone for money before. That was major producer mode, and it was hard.

“But I feel like after I went through that exorcise I really respect the art of that. I’m glad that I went through that experience because it’s a major part of being an indie filmmaker,” the producer revealed. “You can be a writer-director, but you’re always going to be a financier, too. When you’re this early in your career, you always have to market yourself.”

Omar also continued her producing duties during the short’s post-production. “My background and day job is in entertainment law, and that’s what I was trained in. So I did the music licensing deals and contracts, for instance,” she added.

“Now my job as a producer is to expand and sell the film. So it’s a different skill set, for sure, but I think I’m naturally good at producing because I have the law background. Since I know the business side, I know to think about that, as well,” the filmmaker noted. She also admitted with a laugh that despite having the skills to naturally be a good producer, her “favorite aspect of making films is writing and directing them, as it’s more fun.”

With the post-production on ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’ completed, the filmmaker shared her excitement that the short had its World Premiere at SXSW. “It’s the most incredible feeling. We had the premiere on Saturday (March 11), and it was crazy to see the movie in such a big theater. It was a huge screen; it was at the Rollins Theatre, which was amazing,” she revealed.

“We (also had the short’s) second screening on Wednesday (March 15) at Alamo Lamar, which is one of my favorite theaters. I live in New York, and go to the Alamo a lot there, as well,” Omar enthusiastically shared.

“There’s this exciting moment of seeing your movie for the first time on the big screen,” the helmer added. “It was really beautiful and touching to hear the audience laugh during the screening.

“The Q&A was also incredible. I love giving people the BTS information about what happened on set,” Omar continued. “I also had the opportunity to talk to people after about what they thought about it, which was amazing.

“I heard someone say (the day before the interview) that their nephew, who’s a teenager, was in the audience (at the premiere), and he was debating my movie afterward at dinner. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so cool.’ To create something that’s a conversation starter was incredible,” the filmmaker added.

“I’m excited to also bring the short to other places; I’m going to a couple of other festivals after this,” Omar shared. “I just want everyone to see the movie, and have it be a conversation-starter. I also want it to help people think differently.

“I’m actively seeking distribution, and would love for it to be on a streaming site, so that everyone can see it. I have a lot of friends who live internationally and in small towns across America, and they couldn’t come to SXSW or other festivals. But I want them to be able to see it, too, so securing distribution on a streaming site would be amazing,” the director noted.

“I would also love to be able to expand this story by adapting the short into a feature,” Omar concluded.

Fun Film Fact: ‘Breaking Fast with a Coca-Cola’ is supported by the WAVE (Women At the Very Edge) grant from Wavelength Productions. The short is also a celebration of diverse voices, as the production hired all female and BIPOC department heads.

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