Entertainment

Troian Bellisario & Jorey Worb Made Bite For Anyone Who Needs It

Their new film depicts the heroism of overcoming trauma.

Content warning: This post contains discussion about an act of sexual assault.

“A rainbow house of cards” is how Troian Bellisario describes the kaleidoscopic, fragile world director Jorey Worb has constructed in their new film, Bite. In the devastating 15-minute short — which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on June 8 — the tenuous peace Bellisario’s character Alexa has achieved through empowering Post-it reminders and an affirmation clicker shatters when her dentist sexually assaults her.

“That’s the crazy thing about the world that we build for ourselves,” Worb tells NYLON over Zoom. “I can wear all the colors in the world, and I can believe all the things I want to believe, but I need to feel it really inside. And I also do think that the way that we talk about trauma and mental health has been really dark and depressing in the media, and we have to shift that.”

Ahead, Worb and Bellisario talk about depicting complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) onscreen, why Bite isn’t a #MeToo movie, and the heroic act of overcoming mental-health issues.

How did you and Troian make the connection of wanting to work on this together?

Jorey Worb: It’s very natural because Troian and I are very close, and we met as friends. And then on Jan. 22, 2022, this happened in my dentist’s office [when] I was assaulted. I had been to rehab for complex PTSD, and I thought I was over it. And then when it happened, I called Troian to try and start to process it, and I told her I was writing a script, and then she came on as a mentor. Troian is an amazing director, and it was the first thing I was ever going to direct.

As we got closer to production, I had someone else cast, and I just realized that the only person I wanted to play this role was her. And every step of the way, Troian isn’t only an advocate for a million and one important causes in the world, but she’s really an advocate for people who have something to say in the world.

Troian Bellisario: It really went from just being friends at first ... and then when she had it as a script, it was like “Can you take a look at this?” And then it was like “OK, let’s talk about what we need to direct this.” And then eventually it was just kind of like “Would you act [in] this?” And every step was just like, yes, yes. Yes, let’s just keep working together and bringing this message to life.

Alex Raiman

Jorey, what feelings drove you to write the script?

Worb: Listen, I think anyone who’s ever overcome or been through any trauma might have different experiences, but they have the same feelings. So for example, I went to rehab [at] a place [that] was a couple of other girls and guys like me. And then the U.S. government actually sends all their Army vets who are on disability to this rehab in Arizona. And I was like, my feelings are nothing. But on the last night, they asked me to do a big speech for everybody. And the kind of speech that I was asked to give is that even though the ... events might be different, the feelings that we feel — sadness, anger, fear — [are] the same. And so the thing with me and Bite was this is autofiction. The way that the hand on the breast is, Troian knows it’s exactly the way that he moved his hand when he assaulted me. And the way I tried to move my arm because I didn’t want to be too much and push him off me. And I was frozen because it was a trauma response. So those things were incredibly accurate. And so what I was driven by is how do we unify this experience for people and let people know that no matter what they’ve been through, they’re not a victim.

And how did you choose the kinds of reactions from the people around Alexa after she’s told them the news? Did those also come from your own life or were they an amalgamation?

Worb: I did make a call and say “Hey, this just happened to me.” And they said, “I’m so sorry, I need to go.” And then someone else said, “Well, it’s just your breast.” That wasn’t my brother [like in the film], but these are things that were said. And I think there have been so many #MeToo movies — this isn’t, for me, a movie about #MeToo. This is a movie about the cycle of abuse. And so for me, depicting the exact things that happened after abuse was really important because I believe that we have to start the cycle of forgiveness in the abuse cycle. We need to tell people what they’re doing is wrong, and that at the end of the movie, the dentist apologizes in his own way, which Troian knows because she’s heard the voice note of when I stood up to the dentist outside his office. “If you want to touch women’s bodies, you have to ask” is a line I said to the dentist.

Bellisario: I’m so grateful to have those voice memos ... because I think a lot of my job was just kind of almost interviewing you and asking: “What were you feeling at this moment? What was your thinking behind this? What happened next?” And so it really became not a re-creation but a re-conjuring of the circumstances, so we could explore it again and dramatize it. The biggest thing for me was what do you do with these feelings. You can address them for yourself; you can go to rehab. But what do you do knowing that that person is still out there in the world? I think that’s what you set up so beautifully in the end of the short when his next client comes in. I think that was kind of like Jorey’s call to action for herself and making the piece.

Alex Raiman

How did it feel to see Bite officially out there?

Worb: It’s like when you have a little bird inside and you start to let it fly — the response from the industry has been so great. But there was one girl who came up to me after [the premiere] and said “I was actually assaulted last week, and I didn’t tell anybody.” It’s the one person that sees it who’s been through something who needs it. That’s why this film was made. And now, luckily, I’m on DM with her and texting with her. I believe nothing in this world happens by mistake, and life doesn’t happen to us — it happens for us. And we can try to let people know that there are big opportunities for life changes and transformations in these moments, and that though it’s hard, there’s a community around you always. ... Troian is a like a big sister to me, really. And we are celebrating in this moment together because we know that life is hard and that we can do it no matter what. When you believe that everything in life is just an opportunity, there’s nothing you can't do in the world.

There’s that line about how heroes aren’t made without scars that the dentist says first in a trite way. Why did you decide to have him say it?

Worb: I’m happy that landed with you. There were a lot of people saying to cut that line, [that] it’s cheesy. And I was like, “It’s the entire point of the movie.”

Bellisario: I think it would’ve been cheesy if it had been my line, but ... that’s what I think is so wonderful about it. Here’s this person who is saying this very amazing, empowering statement, and he’s saying it right before he assaults somebody who has also just admitted “I have complex PTSD.”

Worb: He probably believes he’s a hero in his own world, and he has probably had his own abuse that’s happened in his life. At least that’s what I've made up about this guy, because I don’t believe people are bad innately — I believe people go through things and they have adaptations. Trauma isn’t the memoir and the story of what happened to you. Trauma is how you’ve adapted to it.

Alex Raiman

Why don’t we talk about the visuals of the film? Because I think it’s kind of funny that everything is so saturated and happy and bright, but then you have the actual content of the story. What was the thinking behind that?

Bellisario: I want to put it out there that Jorey is that many colors, that many patterns, that many incredibly beautiful icons everywhere. And that is what is so incredible about her because she has so much inside of her. She is in recovery from trauma. She is dealing with complex PTSD. And meanwhile, everything on her body is the brightest, most beautiful rainbow sunshine that you've ever seen. ... And she was like that is the world that Alexa presents, and it is so carefully woven together because she hasn’t quite dealt entirely with what’s going on inside of her. And so when she has this experience at the dentist and it all fractures, it’s like you can really see the schism.

Worb: I want to envy the people who overcome things. ... And so we need to show and tell these stories in a way that people can envy the people who overcome things. I know it’s our film, but I’m like, “She’s cool. I want to be her.” And ultimately, costume and production design are worlds we build to show that life is how you see it. And to build the life you want to see for yourself.