We all have daydreamed back to a certain point in our lives and wondered where we would be if we had taken a different path? Maybe you could have gone back and taken a chance at something new or told that person how you felt? Split is a six-episode mini-series from creator, editor, actress, and writer Yael Shavvit which looks at one character from two different sides of their personality. 13-year-old Sammy makes a decision after a high school audition. From there, we follow Sammy, the super-confident actress whose relationship is falling apart. On the flip side, there’s Sammy, a theater assistant who dreams of having the spotlight and finds her way to the truest version of herself slowly, but surely. The show will remind you of those cozy prime-time sitcoms that make you laugh, leave you on a cliffhanger, and maybe draw out a tear or two.
The series was the winner of “Best Episode” at Chicago’s Blow-Up Arthouse Film Festival. Split also received 10 Award Nominations, including “Best Series,” “Best Director” and “Best Lead Actress”. I spoke with Shavitt about making the series, her creative journey, and some specifics regarding the all-female production team.
I wanted to talk to start off by talking about your journey as a creative. I read while you were operating satellites for the military; you started a newspaper on base well. At a young age, did you know that you wanted to be an actress, writer, and editor? How did you kind of come into that?
Yael: I knew that I wanted to be an actress since I was a kid from a young age. I went to an art high school in Israel, and I studied theater there. I had an amazing experience and really loved it. Then, I went into the military, which is mandatory when you are an Israeli. In the military, I operated satellites. It was a bit of a break for me from artistic things, which I didn’t know that I wanted to pursue.
Once that chapter in my life was complete and when I finished the military, I actually made a documentary with my mother about my grandfather’s story. That was a big project that took a few years. When we finished that; I was finally able to go back to pursuing acting. That’s when I came to New York for acting school, and I decided to just stay a little while and see how I like it. I love living in New York. There are so many artistic projects and opportunities always happening here. I’ve been here for almost 10 years now.
What were the movies and plays you watched that really inspired you to kind of go on your path?
Oh, I’m sure there were many. When I was younger, I really loved Back to the Future. I love time travel and I enjoy magical realism, which definitely found its way into Split. It’s interesting because after it was made, I sat down with the director Molly McGaughey one day. We were trying to come up with the comp or elevator pitch. Obviously, you know, we often mentioned Sliding Doors because that helps people get the structure of our series right away. For the other half of the comp, we suddenly came up with Kissing Jessica Stein. Once we did it, it hit a specific point for me. That’s definitely that is something that’s close to my heart. It was something that I watched as I was coming into my own, and it makes total sense to me to describe it that way.
I definitely got the Back To The Future vibes a bit when I was watching. Watching Split really embodies the New York spirit. Scenes take place in local bars and a New York-style apartment. Was it essential to capture that New York essence in the series?
I attribute the look mostly to our director, Molly McGaughey, and our Director of Photography Samantha Pyra because they had a visual vision. They collaborated on the series. I think it really comes across within the colors scheme throughout and how it was shot. We definitely wanted it to have a New York feel, but I think it has maybe a bit of a magical version of New York. We filmed a bunch in Astoria and also in Manhattan. Not only that, but we were just looking for the beauty; both in the exterior shots and in our interior location.
The overall story has two sides of a distinct character. Sammy is an enormous ball of confidence and knows her path almost to a fault. Samantha is a bit more subdued. She knew knows where she wants to go, but doesn’t really speak up for herself. They go on two different journeys and when you arrive at the end of the series, it’s almost like they flipped. Even down to their appearance and how they wear their glasses. When you were writing Split, how did you manage to because everything ties up nicely and beautifully?
Thank you, I love all the details you noticed and pointed out, A lot of rewrites. I spent about two years just working on the script before I even approached anyone to come to join the team for production. It was just going through it again and again and finding those things that tie everything together. Little details that help the viewer know which version of the character they’re watching. Also, helping sort of shade those differences away towards the end without giving away too much.
I also love that it is an LGBTQ love story where I feel this show’s message is going to be really helpful to people. Be who you are, love who you want to, and embrace it all. Samantha is awakening within herself. She meets her version of a character named Emma (Kristin Parker) and realizes she likes her. Even though she’s into this mundane relationship with her boyfriend who doesn’t seem like he really gets it. On the flip side, Sammy makes rash decisions and screws everything up in her version.
Yeah. Not great choices, haha. I knew pretty early on that I wanted them to date people of different genders in each world. That was really fun for me to explore. I think of Samantha just because of how the path of her life went. She just comes to her own a bit later. So, she’s becoming aware of things that maybe Sam had realized much earlier in her journey. Then, I also loved playing with “well what happens when one version of the character makes the other version significant other because we know they have the potential to be in a relationship, but we’re also getting the meet for the first time.
There’s a part at the end of Split where Sammy becomes a mentor. The younger character recites the poem back to her from the beginning, and she gives him pointers. Everything comes full circle I like the duality of Sammy learning to be selfless and Samantha loving who she truly is.
I hope so. I think that’s a beautiful message. I definitely wanted to put Sam on a and hopeful path. Think of others more and not only focusing on herself. Also, just having that perspective when she meets someone who is about to embark on a journey that is similar to the one she embarked on when she was young. Being able to have that perspective and tell him that’s going to be alright.
There are instances in the show where auditions happen. Depending on the character, each handles them in a different way. Did you draw from your own experiences as an actress and pour it into the show?
You know, auditioning for actors, is such a big part of what actors do. I know that as an audience; we are used to seeing actors when they actually have a role in something. But a lot of actors, most of the time, what they do is audition. That’s a part of their job. I think people who are not in the industry sometimes have the perception that you audition, then the best actor gets the role.
I wanted us to sort of highlight the perspective of pick someone, someone, it’s very subjective. You pick someone who is the most right for the role, in the opinion of the people behind the table. It’s not like the Olympics. You don’t get a 9.6 and the person who got a 9.8 is the one who gets the role. So, just putting that into perspective a little. It was something that I wanted to get across.
Another thing I like about Split is that it feels like a classic sitcom. There’re transitions that happen with the music in between as you go through scenes. You exit out of the main song, sometimes with no music or an acappella of the title track. Especially when you decide to end on a cliffhanger. How did you find Molly regarding directing?
I was going into pre-production for the pilot, which we shot first. We shot that separately, and I had a different director attached briefly to the project. Then she had to bow out. We were already moving towards shooting days, and I suddenly needed to find a new director. It was quite stressful, but then I had seen some of Molly’s work online. I didn’t know her, but I really liked her work. I had reached out, and we met up and really hit it off.
When we started working together, I knew she is just the perfect fit for this project. Such a wonderful fit for me as an artist that works really well together. Her vision for the project definitely elevated the whole thing. Both of us grew up in the 90s. We love 90’s music and shows and I think some of that influence the style of Split. In figuring out, as you mentioned, sometimes going into that song acappella, those things came about with our sound designer, Guy Shavitt. He started putting his touch on everything and devising and what would be the best way to go into that song; both at the beginning for the title sequence and then at the end.
‘Split’ has an all-female production team as well. I’m not saying that a guy couldn’t tell the story, but with ‘Split,’ there’s a great understanding of the humorous and emotional aspects of the story. Even some lighting choices and camera framing – it all comes together because the production was this way.
Mm-hmm. When I set out to find what I thought of as my core artistic team, I knew I wanted them to be women. I felt like it was the right fit for this story to be told by women. Also, because I wanted to work with women filmmakers. So, once I had the director, producer Hannah Hancock Rubinsky, and Samantha Pyra, I thought, “what if we try to form an onset crew that’s made of women?” It was actually not that hard, and we ended up with an all-female or gender non-conforming onset crew. It was such a pleasant experience to be on set. Plus, everybody was very good at their job. So, I think that combined with what you’re saying as a sort of giant experience to tell the story.
My last question to you the burning question, Who do you resonate with more; Samantha or Sammy?
I think I have elements of both of them in me. I’m definitely not either. I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle. I have moments of Samantha and moments of Sam in my life, but I like to think that I’m a little more balanced.
Watch SPLIT now on Amazon Prime.