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Filmmaker Nick Sasso On Multiple Hats, Muay Thai, and the Importance of Complex Relationships in 'Haymaker'

February 2, 2021
3 min read time

Writer-director-producer and star Nick Sasso's Haymaker is a film that follows Nick, a retired Muay Thai fighter, now working as a bouncer. One night, Nick prevents an assault on a Trans performer which forges a trust that results in her hiring him as her bodyguard and develops into a friendship between the two.

Haymaker was written five years ago when Sasso was living in New York City. "I was trying to get several scripts off the ground at the time. New York is a great place to write and workshop; a great place to be an actor, but it's not always the easiest place for movies to get made," says Sasso. 

"I was a trained actor, but telling stories was always the most important thing for me. With Haymaker, I knew in order to get this off the ground, I needed to take control of as many facets as possible."

The film's inspiration was born from Sasso's experience and training as a fighter. "I've been fighting since I was a kid," he says. "As a fighter, when you watch other fight movies, all you see is tropes and clichés, and I knew I could do it better. The idea for Haymaker sort of hit me one day — I had a friend who had a Trans girlfriend, I was living in New York surrounded by nightlife, I knew the fighting world... Everything just clicked," Sasso says.

"I wrote Haymaker in three days, if you can believe it," he laughs.  "I mean, to really write it, it took six weeks. But for me, the heavy lifting of any script is the plot — and plot without action is tricky, which for me makes outlining the hardest part…. But once that was done, it was six weeks until I felt I had a readable draft and then, like any script, had changes all the way up until delivery."

As a cis-gendered male writing a Trans character was an undertaking he didn't take lightly. "I consulted with Trans folx throughout the entire script," Sasso says. I wanted to be sensitive, and had multiple Trans readers because I didn't want to overstep my bounds. Once Nomi (Ruiz) signed on, we met and I said, 'I want you to actively give feedback throughout this process and work with me with anything that's off' because portraying an honest, truthful character is the heart and soul of what I'm trying to do as a storyteller."

The result: Haymaker's dynamic characters are well developed. Sasso says, "The main character, in a way, was basically the trickiest to develop, because he is the most complex." Sasso was inspired by the relationship in Brokeback Mountain: "I felt like there was so much room for the viewer to bring their own projections on to what [Heath's] character was doing. I wanted openness and not ambiguity — it was an exercise in peeling stuff away. The love connection leaned into the idea of having a muse. The film wasn't about Nomi's character being Trans, the film is about a connection between two very different characters. I wanted to find the things between them as people that wouldn't line up to cause conflict and lean into that.  

To make Haymaker, Sasso took on multiple positions: writer, director and actor. "I have no problem separating the writing from being a producer. I was able to write without fully thinking like a producer, even though there'd be a few scenes when I'd think, 'oh, I'll write it in this location because I know I can get access,' but directing myself was very difficult," he says. "I'd never [directed myself] before. And because there was so much action, rehearsing was a huge part of the process. D.B. [Sweeney] gave me great feedback during the process: "The hardest part about directing yourself: don't be shy about shooting your own coverage." Sasso continues, "You don't want to be a narcissist — I'm not a 'look at me' kind of guy, but you need to find a balance between 'I'm in it' and 'I'm in charge of this story', so there was a lot of humility involved."
Haymaker is an action-packed script with dynamic characters and a solid structure, and Sasso's dedication to filmmaking is incredibly apparent in the film. 
Haymaker is now available in theaters, VOD & Digital.

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