Comedian, Writer, and Director Sandy Honig Is Seeing DoubleScreenshot via Vimeo Comedy Features Sandy Honig
After the end of the Adult Swim television show she wrote, directed a few episodes of, and starred in with her castmates Alyssa Stonoha and Mitra Jouhari, Sandy Honig jumped right into a new project: writing and directing a surreal, comedic short film starring her co-writers Annabel and Sabina Meschke.
Pennies from Heaven follows twin sisters who share two halves of the same name who stumble upon a flatbed full of pennies. Beguiled by their new riches, the pair embark on a zany tryst with another set of twins. The short won the SXSW 2023 Special Jury Award, and Sandy Honig’s next move is turning Pennies from Heaven into a feature film.
The short was released this year right before the Writers Guild of America began striking for better benefits and higher wages for writers after their March contract negotiations didn’t result in satisfactory compensation. In response to asking her availability for an interview, Honig replied via email, “I’m pretty around, considering the writers strike hahah.”
When we did hop on a video call, Honig joined from her car, having just left the picket line.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Paste Magazine: So, let’s start with a timeline—how did making Pennies from Heaven fit around Three Busy Debras before it was, sadly, canceled last year?
Sandy Honig: We weren’t sure if we were going to have another season. So I kind of scheduled [making Pennies from Heaven] being like, “Okay, maybe we’ll have another writers room and this is kind of my opening to make something”—because having a show really does rule your entire life. And so I was really trying to make the most of my downtime between things and then it turned out I didn’t have to. But I was glad we rushed to film it. It worked out really well.
Paste: The first thing I noticed, of course, is: twins. It’s interesting because the Three Busy Debras, they’re not twins, but they’re basically a set. Their identities are all kind of merged and in this short film, the twins literally share a name. So I have to ask you, what draws you to that narrative of shared identity?
Honig: It’s hard to say because this short really was completely about the two of them—about Annabel and Sabina [Meschke]. Because they have such an amazing energy, and it’s so infectious. It’s just so zany, and crazy, and unique—I just was so drawn to them immediately and felt like I wanted to write something for them and with them. They are very different, but in a lot of ways they do function as a unit. They don’t live together, but they hang out pretty much every day. I just am really interested in their friendship, their sisterhood, the way that they are literally like one cell split in half—but they do lead such separate lives.
Paste: That definitely comes across in the short—at first I was like, “What is this world that we’re in? Is everyone a twin?” But then it established, “Okay, so it’s not a world of twins, but there’s a secret twin club, a space where all the twins can have their counterpart but also not be fetishized.” What gave you that idea of progressing in that direction, where twinhood itself would become front and center for all of the characters?
Honig: It’s hard to say because I tend to write visuals first. That’s how I approach things. And I felt like with this, especially, I would go on a long walk and just kept thinking about this idea and wherever it would end up in my mind—like them meeting another set of twins felt natural and the idea it was a bar full of twins felt like such a really interesting visual to me—and also something that I hadn’t really seen before. And then the plot all kind of came into place.
Paste: The ending to your short is so great and plays into a line from the beginning where the sisters are contemplating what they’ll do when they get rich off the pennies and one says, “We can come here and hang out and not work!”
Honig: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite lines. And I feel like in the screenings, it didn’t get the laughs that I thought it deserved, but I guess it is more of “character building” than necessarily a laugh-out-loud joke—but I just thought it was. It’s funny to me the idea: the two of them really just have fun wherever they are and wherever they go. They’re just together having fun, and it doesn’t matter if they’re at the store working or at the store as customers. We’re working on a future version of this right now and playing with the idea of what happens when they do get an opportunity to potentially do more with their lives and how it affects their relationship and dynamic. I’m playing with the idea of how money can change a lot of people’s relationships because they start prioritizing different things over the things that are important to them.
Paste: In contrast to Three Busy Debras, where each had their own personality but it was more uniform and played off the Lemoncurd setting, I feel like in the short, it doesn’t matter necessarily where they are in place—it has a nondescript south-western kind of vibe.
Honig: Yeah, we really wanted it to feel like the middle of nowhere.
Paste: It definitely came across, and it did feel like the twins were the ones who imbued the scenery with character. It would be interesting to see how the money comes in between them and maybe develops that.
Honig: In my head, I was like, “Oh, do we have to do that thing that every movie does where the characters get in a fight, they separate, but then they inevitably come back together?” It feels like it can be so trope-y and predictable. But in examining what the story is really about, it’s about their relationship and how they need each other. But it’s hard to really show how much they need each other without seeing what they’re like when they don’t have each other.
Annabel and Sabina are so emotional, and their relationship is so important to them, that even when we were writing the scene where they get in a fight, or if we’re rereading it, they get really emotional about it. One time we even read it in silly accents so we wouldn’t get too upset about it. Because it really does feel like extensions of them and their real relationship even though it is so heightened and silly.
Paste: That story arc—they have to break apart and come back together—it’s like a romantic comedy trope. It sounds like this feature is almost like a platonic romantic comedy—or a familial romantic comedy.
Honig: Or it’s like buddy comedy, like a lot of different—it is kind of rom-com-y, I guess.
Paste: Or maybe that’s just me being sexist because that is like a buddy comedy.
Paste: So how did you meet Annabel and Sabina? Were you working on other projects together before?
Honig: They were in the audience of a show that I was doing, and I was talking to them before the show—we had a mutual friend—and I just thought they were so funny and so cool, and they dress really cool. That’s something that I also like—I think that a lot of people do have a hard time telling them apart, at least in the short. But in real life, they look so different to the point where I wasn’t even sure that they were twins. I wasn’t even positive they were sisters. I was like, “They could be cousins.” I don’t know because they dress really different. Their hair is very different—just very different styles. I think one of the reasons they are so independent and different is because they didn’t know that they were identical twins until they were about 11. They just weren’t sure. I guess their mom had never asked the doctors, then she called the hospital and found out that they were identical.
A lot of the other twins that we met filming the short, they really do operate as a unit. A lot of them live together, share a phone number, share social media accounts, some of them date the same people. And I think because [Annabel and Sabina] were raised really to be individuals, and forge their own identities, they don’t really do that as much. But yeah, the twin dynamic is really interesting. Have you ever seen the show Extreme Sisters?
Paste: No, I haven’t.
Honig: Extreme Sisters—best show on television. It’s a reality show on TLC mostly about twins. There’s always like one set of non-twin sisters each season—there’s only two seasons—but watching that show is unbelievable. It’s incredible. Like, they really are extreme sisters. Annabel and Sabina are so different, but I feel like it did kind of give me a big insight into the twin dynamic. And we were all watching it together—Annabel, Sabina, me, and my brother—my brother produced the short, and we’re a year apart but everyone kind of assumes that we’re twins.
Paste: I was going to ask if you had a sibling close in age like that—trying to pick apart your logical makeup. Maybe that’s why you’re so interested in twins, because you’ve always felt like he’s your fraternal twin.
Honig: Yeah, we did kind of feel like that. Although, I don’t really know where the twin obsession came from—but I did find, recently, drawings that I made in elementary school where I would invent sets of twins, draw them, and give them names. So I guess it’s kind of been a lifelong fascination. And I’m sure it’s also an Olsen twin thing, growing up being obsessed with the Olsens, or you know, Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan. I also always pride myself on my ability to tell the Olsens apart. They’re actually fraternal—they’re not identical.
Paste: I don’t want to ask you too much about the writer strike—because I know it’s probably a sore point.
Honig: That’s where I’m coming from. [gestures out window] I’m in the car. [laughs]
Paste: I mean, it’s necessary and good it’s happening, but it still sucks.
Honig: Yeah, it’s just a bummer these studios refuse to pay the people that are making the things that they make money off of—so we’re out there every day.
Be sure to check out the short film Pennies from Heaven on Vimeo.
Brooke Knisley is a freelance journalist and comedy writer. She has balance issues. Let her harass you on Twitter @BrookeKnisley.