The Making Of Drought In A Deluge: A Coming Of Age Story
Two filmmakers from the Cape Fear region will get to see their first full-length feature film on the big screen for the first time Saturday night. It’s part of the 2020 Cucalorus Film Festival, and as WHQR learned, Drought was born in a series of downpours.
MP: On day six, I got the worst phone call you could get, you know, where I got a call from my uncle that my mom had unexpectedly passed away.
That’s Megan Petersen.
MP: It was horrible. Like there's no other word for it.
Petersen is co-creator, co-director, co-executive producer and she plays one of the leads in Drought.
Hannah Black is the other co-creator, co-director, co-executive producer, and writer.
HB: And I play the lead Sam in the film.
You can see why their production company is named Same Page Pictures.
Not long after Petersen lost her mother, a different kind of storm stopped production. It was 2018.
HB: We were in day 12 or 14 of filming and Hurricane Florence was projected to hit our city. At the time, it was a Category Four.
They stopped production – not knowing if their locations would even be there when they returned.
MP: I think it's really timely even right now that really terrible things can be happening and really wonderful things can be happening at the same time. It's okay to feel all those feelings and be grieving and celebrating at the same time.
And there were wonderful things. The two women met in a local acting class. They became friends – and then best friends. Neither had gone to film school. They didn’t know how to produce a film. But they knew they could write better parts for themselves than anything coming out of Hollywood.
HB: Most of the roles that we auditioned for were small, you know, um, blonde two and nurse one, you know, um, but even, so those, it is like they’re typically an object, um, or they're just there to help the lead male look good. And so I think that in itself was just something where we wanted to create female characters that it's, it's not even about the guy, it's just about who they are as a human being.
MP: In my experience, most of the time the description of the character for females is very physical in description -- most of the time talking about weight or height -- can't be taller than your male counterpart -- that kind of thing. Where, when you read the male descriptions, it's about their character. Like, it's about who they are as a person.
The two had encouragement – lots of it. Their acting teachers showed them a talk by filmmaker Mark Duplass in which he encourages people to go out and make films with their friends on the weekends.
MP: All of a sudden I get a text message from Hannah that just had 13 exclamation marks.
The filmmaking duo, the Duplass brothers, were running a contest that would award the winners funding and executive producing.
MP: We were like, what? Okay. So we looked into it and it was for a competition called the Hometown Heroes Rally through a platform called Seed&Spark, which is for creators by creators to raise funds for their projects.
It was a natural fit, says Petersen.
MP: All of their values of filming something in your hometown to give jobs to people where you live, to highlight stories that are in geographically different regions was the heart behind this rally. And that was our heart behind making the film too. And so it was a crowdfunding rally.
Petersen and Black had to raise $24,000, and if they landed in the top ten of having followers on the platform, they would get the chance to pitch their film to Mark and Jay Duplass.
MP: And we got 30 seconds to pitch to them. 30 seconds in a video. So we went for it and we pitched our hearts out. And then they announced the winners live on November 4th in 2017.
And, yes, they won. But now what?
HB: We got some books. But really it was just a lot of research and going into it blindly. Megan and I have always taken it one step at a time because the learning curve on all of this was so huge. So really it was just like, okay, now we need to figure out our budget. Now we need to do our strip board. What's a strip board? Look up what a strip board is, you know?
They credit the support from the Duplass brothers and pure naiveté with helping them focus on the next right step.
MP: When you have no idea what you're doing, that's really overwhelming. It's too much. So we would, like Hannah said, just take it bit by bit. Okay. We need to cast the movie. So let's cast and we need to find locations. Let's go find locations.
They had other experts join them to help with logistics, legal issues.
It almost seemed too good to be true -- the way things were falling into place.
And then Petersen’s mother died and Hurricane Florence walloped North Carolina – leaving the region so flooded that Wilmington won the distinction that year of being the wettest city on the East Coast -- remember -- while they were making a film called Drought.
Petersen left to deal with her loss.
HB: But she was so wanting to finish this film and so passionate about it. I think also that her strength coming back on -- I'll get emotional -- her strength coming back on inspired everyone else to put their best foot forward. And it really created this pretty strong family of filmmakers, some of us not ever, you know, filling those roles to stepping up and, and doing it so beautifully. So Megan is definitely a huge inspiration, I mean, yeah. Strongest person I know. For sure.
The family of filmmakers she’s talking about are all local.
MP: Everyone on our cast and crew is from Wilmington -- not without a national search. We did a nationwide casting and crew call. And we found, I don't think we're biased. I think just, just that Wilmington is really talented. We're really proud of that.
Black and Petersen also saw their filmmaking passions expand into other areas.
MP: I think I really like producing. I really like directing.
HB: I love writing. I love it.
They both say, though, that acting is still their first love – which, as leads in Drought, they also got to explore in a feature film. Like the story of the film’s production, the film itself is a coming-of-age story centered on a family. The youngest brother, Carl, is on the autism spectrum.
HB: It's 1993 in a small Southern town that is going through a pretty bad drought. And Carl is very knowledgeable about weather. It’s something that he's really passionate about. He's predicting a storm to hit further west in the state and he convinces his older sister, Sam, and their estranged older sister, Lillian, and best friend Lewis to go on this adventure in this ice cream truck to chase this storm. But of course, along the way, they really learn more about family and forgiveness.
The message of the film, say Black and Petersen, is that “normal” is a fiction and forgiveness is possible.
MP: For people that feel different or have been told that they are different, realize that there really is no such thing as normal and to provide a place that there's acceptance for people that are on the autism spectrum or people that have left their family and are trying to come back, um, for forgiveness.
Part of the Cucalorus lineup, the film screens at UNCW’s Curbside Cinema at 8 pm Saturday, November 14th. For more information, follow the link below: