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Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein: “Never start to feel entitled to anything. Be grateful for every opportunity”

Diversity is really important to us. We’ve made some progress on our own sets with hiring women and people of color, but not nearly as much as we would like. We always get more out of our creative process by including people with new ideas and contexts. There are so many stories and perspectives that […]

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Diversity is really important to us. We’ve made some progress on our own sets with hiring women and people of color, but not nearly as much as we would like. We always get more out of our creative process by including people with new ideas and contexts. There are so many stories and perspectives that have not been represented in commercial film, and it is dull to see the same stories and perspectives over and over again. In recent years, so many of the breakout films that actually innovate and add to the film landscape were created by or focus on women and people of color. The top of our 2018 list included Sorry to Bother You, Suspiria, Get Out, You Were Never Really Here, and BlacKKKlansman.


As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein of Launch Over. Sophia and Michael are filmmakers, writers, artists, and musicians. They are best known for their horror and sci-fi feature films filled with sociopolitical metaphor and a frequent emphasis on identity, dogma, and the representation of women in film. Their films have screened at more than 50 film festivals worldwide and have earned numerous awards for directing, writing, acting, music, and production.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

We both grew up in different parts of New York State. We loved filmmaking but thought it wasn’t such a viable career path, so we both focused a bit more on music with our lives for a while. We played in bands and toured for a long time before really switching full-time to film.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

The big switch to film came through music videos. We had done several videos for our bands that were quite successful. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling’s “Episode 1 — Arrival” was a TIME Magazine best video of the year in 2011 and The Motion Sick’s “30 Lives” was selected for inclusion in Dance Dance Revolution games. The successes of those two videos, especially, got us interested in making more. We knew we had to find a way to keep the costs down, and we already knew we both loved filmmaking, so we just started buying gear and making our own videos and eventually, feature films.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It is really just an absolute dream to be able to walk into a beautiful movie theater and watch something we’ve made on the screen. We never imagined anything like that would happen, and now we’ve traveled all around the world and had an opportunity to share our films with all kinds of audiences. We also love Q&As and the opportunity to discuss our films with interested people after screenings. We got into this because we love film, so there’s nothing more moving than being on the creative side of it. We also still go to see movies in the theater 2 or 3 times a week, especially repertory screenings, so we love the consumer side as well.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Getting better at filmmaking is really just finding new mistakes to make every time and trying not to make the same old ones. The funniest thing that ever happened to us on set, at least in retrospect, was during the filming of our Euro-70s-style lesbian vampire film, Blood of the Tribades. We had a scene in which a villainous character had a “special” part of his body cut off. It flies through the air and one of the protagonists of the film shoots it into a tree with an arrow. We went for the first take of the arrow part and our prop person tossed the body part into the woods a little too enthusiastically. We searched and searched, but couldn’t find it. So, we just about gave up and decided to deal with inserts of it another time when one of the actors decided to take a crack at searching. He stepped into the woods and screamed. We thought for a moment that he had gotten hurt and started running toward him. It only took a few seconds to realize that he was now running out of the woods being chased by an entire swarm of wasps. We all ran away. A couple of cast and crew were stung quite a few times. Wasps are very persistent and everyone was running around pulling their clothes off to get rid of the wasps that had gone under their clothing. Very thankfully, no one had an allergic reaction or was hurt very badly. It was a very upsetting experience at the time, as we never want to put anyone we work with at-risk, but now in retrospect, we’ve all come around to laughing about it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Our fourth feature film, Clickbait, recently came out on VOD, so we are promoting that. We’ve got a few feature films in the works including a documentary for the Women in Rock Oral History Project, a mockumentary about rival actors, and a tribute to early slashers.

We also have a few short films on the festival circuit. We produced a horror-comedy short, Half-Cocked (trailer), about two scientists who learn how to raise the dead and grant eternal life, but they haven’t really thought out the consequences of their breakthrough. We made a short film that is somewhere between a documentary and mockumentary, Umbilicus Desidero, about our friend Neal Jones, who lost his belly button in a surgery.

We are producing a short film called Shiny Diamonds and pretty involved in production on a few other shorts that should be hitting festivals in 2020.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity is really important to us. We’ve made some progress on our own sets with hiring women and people of color, but not nearly as much as we would like. We always get more out of our creative process by including people with new ideas and contexts.

There are so many stories and perspectives that have not been represented in commercial film, and it is dull to see the same stories and perspectives over and over again. In recent years, so many of the breakout films that actually innovate and add to the film landscape were created by or focus on women and people of color. The top of our 2018 list included Sorry to Bother You, Suspiria, Get Out, You Were Never Really Here, and BlacKKKlansman.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. What appears to be, never really is. There is a lot of cultural subterfuge around success, both financial and critical.
  2. Make your own opportunities. We know many, many people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to one aspect of the trade — acting, for example. They just hope that their skill will get them noticed. The successful actors we know team up with other creatives to be deeply engaged in making and promoting work. They don’t just show up on set, say their lines, and call it a day. Many, many actors are starting their own production companies and building content they are proud to be part of around their own talents.
  3. Work with the resources you have. So many of us are chasing money to make our dream scripts into films. We do continue to chase those dreams, but we also make sure we can keep creating by developing projects around what we have access to. Our second feature was partially developed because we had family access to a sheep farm.
  4. The less you have to rely on others, the more you will accomplish. We love collaboration, but we also know that sometimes, we have to rely on ourselves when it comes down to it. So, we each learned how to do virtually every job in pre-production, production, and post-production at least competently.
  5. Unless you’re really, really, really sure you want to do it, never shoot off 180-degree shutter angle. One of the biggest mistakes in filmmaking is overusing the “Saving Private Ryan effect,” either because of an error or a cliche style choice. It won’t age well!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Never start to feel entitled to anything. Be grateful for every opportunity.

You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It’s hard because there are so many important issues and movements, but we try to be the best “leaders by example” we can be. We’ve worked hard to demonstrate that you don’t need to lead the life you are expected to lead. A lot of people feel trapped because they followed the universally accepted path of least resistance. If we can encourage people to find their own way, that would be great. Also, if everyone could only shoot movies with a 180-degree shutter, that would be great!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

We’ve had an enormous amount of support and help at every single stage. Some of the people in Boston, where we lived before moving to Los Angeles, who helped us and did projects with us early on were essential to sending us on this path. Ted Cormey directed one of our first major music videos, which got on a TIME Magazine best of the year list was a great example for us. He patiently let us look over his shoulder and ask dumb questions about filmmaking. Everyone at The Boston Underground Film Festival and The Brattle Theatre was tremendously helpful in developing our career in film. You could really almost ask us who we are grateful for helping us out this week and every week, it’s probably someone new. The path is filled with assists.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We’ve heard many times that failure and rejection are the only ways to learn lessons. We expect constant, unrelenting failure and rejection. Outside of our private space, everyone only sees 1% of the time in which we’re successful with something. It creates the misleading perception that we succeed far more often than we actually do. If you’re the kind of person who gives up after the 1st, or 2nd, or 50th try, you won’t get far.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Nicolas Cage is one of our favorite actors, and it’s obvious that he just loves film and is extremely well-versed in its history. We’d love to talk with him about German Expressionism.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on essentially all of the social media platforms under our names and with our production company, Launch Over. We love staying in touch with people via social media and love reading about everyone’s growth, accomplishments, and successes!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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