Filmmaker Nick Sasso On Multiple Hats, Muay Thai, and the Importance of Complex Relationships in 'Haymaker'
February 2, 2021
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.
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.
Written by: Vanessa KingVanessa King is an NYC-based producer, screenwriter, and professor who has worked in development with top-level industry talent for nearly two decades. Her work as a writer has received numerous awards, having earned her recognition from industry bodies including AMPAS/Oscar’s Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship (feature) and Sony Worldwide Entertainment’s Emerging Filmmaker Program (TV Series). In 2005, she co-founded the New York Screenwriters Co-Op, New York’s only free-to-the-public screenwriting workshop with over 2000 active members. Vanessa is faculty at Gotham Writer’s Workshop (NYC) and Staffordshire University (UK), where she teaches both television and screenwriting to students, beginner to post-graduate. She recently was Showrunner of the TV pilot “Two Roads”, a concept she co-created and co-wrote for Sony’s VUE Network. Vanessa is passionate about diversity and inclusion within the industry and was a consultant on Final Draft Screenwriting Software’s Diversity and Inclusion product build. She’s a board member of the Diversity List, amplifying top scripts written by female-identifying and BIPOC writers. She is a judge for the Hip Hop Film Festival, The UCLA Graduate Screenwriter’s Showcase and The 24 Hour Film Festival. She was named one of The Huffington Post’s 13 Women To Watch and for three consecutive years, has been named to Vanity Fair’s “Downtown 100”, a list that recognizing New York’s top networkers in the entertainment industry. Originally from Canada, she lives in New York City.