Tina Satter is an Obie Award–winning playwright and filmmaker. She has also received the Guggenheim and Pew Fellowships for her work on the stage. In 2019, she made her off-Broadway debut with Is This a Room, a verbatim staging of the FBI interrogation of NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, which enjoyed an extended and critically acclaimed run. She has now adapted the play into a feature film starring Sydney Sweeney, one of the best debuts of the year.


Reality is now streaming on MAX.

Q. The film and the play that preceded it are based around a verbatim transcript of the FBI’s interrogation of Winner before her arrest. When did you encounter that transcript, and what were your first thoughts?

A.  I stumbled upon an article about Reality Winner online in December 2017 (six months after she was arrested, the day I portray in the film) and realized she was this fascinating and important young woman. That article had a link to Politico, where they’d posted a scanned PDF of the transcript of the FBI’s visit to Reality’s home on June 3, 2017, which the FBI had recorded. As soon as I saw what this transcript looked like on the page – it felt so alive to me. As I was reading, I could hear Reality in her own words moving through this moment in her life, and it was so potent and strange and mesmerizing to me. It also had these super weird diversions into conversations about cats and working out. And I really just felt on that first reading of the transcript – this is a thriller! My kind of thriller … a girl in jean shorts goes intellectually head to head with these dudes in her own home.

Q. The film includes some of Winner’s real Instagram posts and photos, but also staged snapshots and portraits with the actor Sydney Sweeney standing in for her. Where did you draw the line between reenactment and actuality?

A.  The baseline was starting with Sydney, totally doing everything that was called for per the transcript as screenplay. But I’d always been interested in including some actual Reality images, and that was always noted in drafts of the screenplay. It felt important to put these real edges of Reality in there and remind people she is real, she did this and lived through what you’re seeing. And [in] the way that the transcript was a record of this day in Reality’s life, I felt that Reality’s social media also offered us a record of who she was up to this day in her life. So then I chose to include actual images from Reality’s life (snapshots and social media posts) a few times when they directly referenced something that was going on or was said directly in the transcript – to be that flickering, heartbeat reminder that Reality was real and draw reference back from the document to her real life.

Q. Winner was in federal prison for the entirety of the play’s run. What was your communication with her during the development of the film?

A.  Reality was released from prison in June 2021 – so a lot of the work on the movie was still to come, and Reality was in touch with me and other people on the film throughout our prep and filming. Once Sydney was cast she spoke with Reality and they developed their own relationship. And then I talked to her about certain details of her house or logistics of the FBI and their cars, etc. And she was always so forthcoming and helpful and funny. And she also spoke with the production designer, Tommy Love, and costume designer, Enver Chakartash, to fill us in more specifically on details of her car and office and outfits, etc.

Q. What is the last film you saw and loved?

A.  Showing Up by Kelly Reichardt.

Q. What qualities do you value most in a character?

A.  Complicated, smart, funny with unexpected personality traits – most compelling to me in female characters.

Q. What’s a project you’d like to make someday, however impossible it might seem now?

A.   A proper 18th century period drama set in New England.

Q. Where is your favorite place to watch movies?

A.   A medium-sized movie theater with good popcorn and candy.

Q. What images would you like to end this interview with?