Culture, Uncategorized

Interview with Tova Hopemark, Director of “ALRIGHT ROBOT”

The Jewish studies scholar-turned-filmmaker discusses her award-winning first film, ALRIGHT ROBOT , what writing for film has in common with academic writing, and why she made a comedy about depression, in this interview with writer-producer Hannah Rothblatt.

In her debut film, writer and actor Tova Hopemark (née Markenson) portrays a lonely woman whose robotic voice assistant attempts to befriend her. As the film progresses, its protagonist – a depressed Jewish millennial named Jessica – connects more with the robot than with the “real” people in her life.

The film has been streaming at festivals across the country and has won awards for Best Screenplay and Best Leading Actress. On account of it now being available on YouTube, comedy writer Hannah Rothblatt interviewed Hopemark about her process. 

When you were writing this short, did you set out to write a comedy about a woman’s depression? I didn’t set out to do anything in particular. There have been other times that I would try to do something with my writing and it usually turned out pretty badly. The process for this piece was more organic. During the pandemic, I watched so much comedy. It was a life saver. I still have a lot to learn about comedy, it’s such an important art form – and a mysterious one! – and hard to do well. It’s so fun to make people laugh. And it’s so fun to laugh! In the end, I thought that if I’m able to make something that makes me laugh then dayenu, that’s enough. 

Tova Hopemark as Jessica in ALRIGHT ROBOT

You have studied writing in different forms, especially coming from a PhD. Are there any major differences in transferring those skills to the screen? Parts of the process are similar. You have to have the discipline to show up every day and stick with it – even when it’s not fun and you’re in the messy middle and nothing’s working. And then there’s the project management aspect…finding ways to share the work, get feedback, and make revisions. And it’s good to get familiar with a genre and know where your project fits into a larger whole. But I experience writing for film as a lot more fun than academic writing. I don’t need to cite people, I don’t need to check 10 million different sources. Overall I’m drawn to writing and making work because I really want to connect. For me, writing is so much about connection, and it’s fun that the film already has had a much bigger audience than my academic work.

What interested you in a character who is living and working alone, but becomes more and more interested in having a connection or a friendship with a robot and more and more disillusioned with the actual humans in her life? The emotional impetus for the story was connected to my experience during the pandemic, when so much of life was mediated through technology. I found it really dissatisfying. I felt like I was doing all the things that were “supposed” to make me feel good – like online yoga classes and phone calls with friends – but none of it felt as good as when I was physically with other people. It’s been amazing to hear how many people who have seen the film are curious about the robot which I was not expecting.

Apart from the Robot, Jessica’s only other interactions with other are with her boss (via zoom) and her friend Amber (on a phone call).

I don’t know if this is improvised but one of my favorite jokes from the film is when the Robot is recounting the story from NPR about the Holocaust survivor who has forgiven her Nazi captor. I love that Robot is trying to help, trying to be a friend, and he’s trying to connect in this human way but like completely gets it wrong in that moment. It just completely throws you over the edge. I really like that moment too. It’s very dark. The podcast part was not improvised, but my line “The Holocaust, that sucked” was an improv.

Your background is in studying Jewishness and theatre. In the film, there are a lot of beautiful details about Jewishness and Judaism and Jess’s connection to it. We see in the very beginning the sign that says “chai” which in Hebrew means life, we have that joke about the Holocaust, and then there’s also another joke about the health of Ashkenazi Jewish women and their loneliness. How do you feel like Jess’s Jewishness and her identity as a Jewish woman informs how she experiences the world, if at all? I think for this character, Jewishness is not at the center of her identity; it’s not a priority, but it’s there. With the Holocaust bit, I did start thinking more about the intergenerational trauma that she’s not even aware of which may have been passed down. I think I’ll always be drawn to writing about Jewishness because it’s part of who I am.

ALRIGHT ROBOT encourages viewers to reflect on our evolving relationship with technology. Can tech help us navigate emotional struggles that are so deeply human?

Say it’s about a year later: Where is Jess now? Is she okay? And where is Robot? Is he okay? The basic principle of screenwriting is kind of awful in that you sort of have to abuse your characters. You have to throw rocks at them and make their lives really difficult because then it’s interesting to see them overcome these obstacles. So my screenwriter brain thinks that maybe things don’t go so well for a while, but in my heart of course I hope that Jess leaves her job, I hope she gets into therapy, I hope she gets onto antidepressants, I hope she reconnects with the friend she speaks on the phone with, I hope they really reconnect and have a good heart to heart and can repair their friendship. And in terms of the Robot I just don’t know! The conversation about AI has really blown up since I started thinking about this film. I am kind of curious to explore if other people have this same Robot device and see how they interact with it. Right now it feels most creatively satisfying is to leave it as an open question in terms of is the robot helpful or not. 

Tova Hopemark is an actor, writer, and scholar of performance. She recently played a type A new mom (BABY BUMPS), a quirky religious fanatic (FROM THE FLESH), and a grieving mother (HISTORY OF NOW). Her play about queer pregnancy premiered at The Tank NYC as part of the International Human Rights Festival. Tova is an alum of Harvard University’s Mellon School of Theatre and Performance and Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Drama. But really, she’s proudest to have received the award for “least likely to engage in petty drama” in the 12th grade.


Hannah Rothblatt is a writer/producer from New York City. She has produced content for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Ken Burns and a myriad of thought leaders and brands. Previously, she wrote for two Upright Citizens Brigade sketch comedy teams, developed the Ladies Get Paid podcast and worked on Comedy Central shows Broad City, The Daily Show, and South Park. Hannah has experience as a documentary researcher, political messaging consultant, and date night sitter.

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