Tisch Alumna Talks Sugar Babies, Shivas and SXSW


Courtesy of Sharon Attia and Emma Seligman

Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott talking on the set of “Shiva Baby.”

Ryan Mikel, Arts Editor

The words “shiva” and “sugar baby” could not be farther apart in meaning. The former is a period of seven days of formal mourning for the dead in Judaism while the latter is, well, I think you know.

As the third fastest growing sugar baby campus of 2018, according to the New York Daily News, NYU is all too familiar with the art of “sugaring,” and Tisch alumna Emma Seligman wants to talk about it. In her short film and senior thesis “Shiva Baby,” Seligman combines the two worlds she knows best – “jews” and “sugar babies.”

“What do I know well?” Seligman asked WSN. “Well, I grew up going to a lot of shivas, and I met a lot of sugar babies at NYU. So, I thought it would be fun to combine those two worlds because I actually know them quite well.”

These two spheres meet in a film that follows protagonist Danielle (Rachel Sennott) as she runs into her sugar daddy Max (Jason Kellerman) at a shiva with her parents and large Jewish family. To Danielle’s surprise, her parents know Max very well. As his personal life unfolds before her lox bagel, Danielle is faced with the reality of her actions.

“Shiva Baby” was one of 22 short films selected from over 3,000 submissions to compete at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. From its witty one liners about “shiksa princesses” to its fast-paced structure, it’s pretty easy to understand why “Shiva Baby” has made such a splash. Critics are calling the film “personable” and “gut-busting,” specifically highlighting its on-screen “baby” Sennott.

A 2017 alumna of Tisch School of the Arts, Sennott hails from the Stonestreet Screen Acting Studio. According to Seligman, Sennott appeared in many senior theses this past year, but she had to have her in her film.

“I thought she was perfect for the role,” Seligman said. “She’s a comedian so her first talent is comedy. That part was pretty easy, but she was also an acting student, so she was excellent at the dramatic parts as well.”

Sennott combines these two realms for an internal yet hilarious performance that captures both the irreverence and naivete of the millennial generation. There is no screwball dialogue for Sennott to chew on. Every expression and frustration is on her face and thanks to Seligman’s personable camerawork, we are treated to eight glorious minutes of it.

The short “short” is the synthesis of an entirely NYU-led production. Across the production’s various departments, Seligman led a crew of fellow Film & TV students from her first-year “Sight & Sound” class to the acclaimed Texas film festival.

“I learned a lot from Tisch and met the best people, and that’s the most important thing,” Seligman said. “Everyone involved [with the film] I trust the most, from my editor Hanna Park to my cinematographer Leyna Rowan.”

Seligman hopes to lead the same team again very soon in adapting “Shiva Baby” into a feature-length film, and we couldn’t be more excited. The sign of a great film is the audience’s audible frustration when the end credits roll. “That’s it?” many audience members asked at the film’s world premiere on March 10 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

Luckily for the auditorium of cinephiles and film critics, there is much more to come from emerging filmmaker Seligman and her charming “Shiva Baby.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 19 print edition. Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected].