Reality Director Tina Satter Speaks on Her Film Debut, its Historical Details and Cast | Dallas Observer

Film and TV

Tina Satter Directed the Sydney Sweeney Film Reality Like a Play

Sydney Sweeney (second from left) leads the cast in Reality, about a former U.S. intelligence specialist sentenced for leaking an intelligence report.
Sydney Sweeney (second from left) leads the cast in Reality, about a former U.S. intelligence specialist sentenced for leaking an intelligence report. Courtesy of HBO
The new HBO film Reality tells the story of Reality Winner, a former intelligence specialist who was given the longest prison sentence ever imposed (63 months) for any similar crime after allegedly leaking an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Reality depicts the interrogation of Winner — who is played by Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney in the movie — which took place on June 3, 2017, when she came home from running errands to discover FBI agents outside her house. Much of the film takes place within the span of the day, inside Winner’s Augusta, Georgia, home, which is where the Kingsville, Texas-raised woman was living at the time.

The movie was adapted from a stage production called Is This A Room, which was originally directed by Tina Satter. Satter also directed the movie and wrote its screenplay alongside James Paul Dallas.

Satter says that she wasn’t paying close attention to Winner and the events that took place as they unfolded in real time, but she came across the transcript from the interrogation and began reading more about Winner’s life “about six months” after the fact.

“When I started learning the details of her life," says Satter, "I was really fascinated with who she was. [Reading the transcript] was like hearing her voice as she went head-to-head with those men, and what was unfolding at her own house in that transcript just really fascinated me. It was like this confluence of this really fascinating woman, and then she went through this moment with such poise and integrity.”

Reality, which is currently available to stream on Max, marks Satter’s film directorial debut after directing plays such as Ghost Rings and Ancient Lives. She approached Reality the same way she would approach one of her stage productions — by blocking and directing the scenes in sequential order.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sweeney said that while she enjoyed filming via this particular method, she “never had that experience before, because usually everything is done out of order.”

Satter, however, tells us that this particular method was vital in order for the actors to maintain the emotions necessary to carry on the scenes.
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Tina Satter made her film directorial debut with Reality, the story of Reality Winner, a former intelligence specialist who leaked government reports to the press.
Courtesy of HBO

“Some of those conversations, once they get into the deep interrogation part in the backroom, the agents keep bringing up similar things,” says Satter. “To keep that emotional trajectory for each of those actors — Sydney, Marchánt Davis and Josh Hamilton, who are playing the agents — it felt really helpful to just try to go in order as much as possible, so they'd have that build.”

The film was shot over the course of 16 days on Staten Island, New York, in a home re-created to look like Winner’s Augusta house. Production had to pay mind to a few details, such as switching the license plates on cars to correspond to the film’s Georgia setting.

The room in which the interrogation took place was re-created inside a building in Yonkers, New York.

The real Winner served four years of her prison sentence before being released in 2021 for "exemplary behavior," and will remain under supervised release until November 2024. She now lives near Corpus Christi, where she works as a CrossFit instructor.

Winner worked with Satter during the film’s development.

"She was in touch with our production designer, Tommy Love, who really wanted to make sure the locations and the details of her car and house were accurate, Satter says. "We had a lot of pictures, but there were some things we wanted her to weigh in on.”

The director notes that Winner was very “hands-on” in the process.

“The thing I love about Reality is that she keeps it real,” says Satter. “I'd be like, ‘Can we check in on something on a Thursday?’ and she'd say ‘I have CrossFit that day, but I can talk to you on Wednesday or Friday.’"
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez

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