A TEENAGE RUNAWAY AND A WIDOWED FATHER EACH FIGHT TO TAKE MATTERS INTO THEIR OWN HANDS TO REDEEM THEIR DARK PAST.
As a writer, observation has always been my key to unlock a good story. Growing up in Iowa, I always observed friendly conversations about the weather, the football team, and so on. You ask someone how they’re doing and the answer is typically “good” or will respond with a funny anecdote that diverts the question, or a pleasant smile and a hearty laugh. It looks functional, almost too perfect...
Then you read the newspaper headlines and start to feel the real story... High school football coach arrested for beating his wife; The valedictorian overdosed on heroin; Friendly neighbor kills husband... the line between truth and deceit becomes blurry in our two different observations of character.
Do we really know what’s simmering beneath the surface?
Clearly the headlines don’t reflect the faces and preconceived notions of the people we think we know. East of Middle West chooses to explore this paradox, by engaging the audience into the experience of how the personal turmoil we keep hidden will manifest unless dealt with.
I was inspired to write East of Middle West after the director, Brian Lucke Anderson, pitched an idea of a news headline he read. I instantly felt a connection with it. There was a clear opportunity to write in a style that explored the human connection in how we deal with our skeletons that we so desperately try to stuff in the closet.
This is a film of forced self discovery, a confession that guilt is a universal feeling, at times generational, yet we feel isolated within it. We wanted to show the complexities of what happens when someone knows they have done wrong, and the identity that forms from this belief. It is a sincere story in which the audience witnesses how three different characters choose to confront and remedy their pasts.
My approach in writing this film was to follow the subversive theme of our main characters. Instead of having a couple argue about their marriage, they fight about what kind of milk their daughter should be drinking. Everything’s uncomfortable just below the surface. That internal contradiction we harbor inside of us.
When Brian and I started working on East of Middle West we were intent on creating a film that exposed the fragility of human nature. Our hope is through observation, the audience will feel empathy towards broken people searching for their freedom, externally or internally. I believe by showing these commonalities we have in our dark moments, it may lead to an openness with each other that brings more moments in the light.
Victoria Ruvulo was driving home from her nieces’ recital one night, only to have a 20 lb. frozen turkey fly through her windshield and crush her face. On that same night Ryan Cushing was out on a drunken joyride with some friends and made a choice that forever changed his life… he throws a frozen turkey.
What surprised me most when I first heard this story wasn’t the fact that a woman almost died by a teen’s drunken mistake, but when the boy was facing a 20-year prison sentence for attempted murder, Victoria chose to do something inconceivable. She forgave Ryan in court and spared him from the crushing sentence. This story of forgiveness inspired me as much as it troubled me. It got me asking questions such as:
Is forgiveness truly possible for everyone?
What holds us in resentment?
Who is the hardest person to forgive?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2017, these questions had now taken a creative life of their own. I called my long-term writing partner Mokotsi Rukundo and pitched him the idea. He instantly took to it. Two years later, after several scripts and a proof of concept, we had money to start filming.
My approach in telling this story was for there to be a level of familiarity for the audience. From the setting to the lighting, to the actors’ performance. I wanted the audience to feel that they’ve passed through this town, or knew that couple, or maybe, they’ve been that kid.
Making this film was a journey in itself. We hired the crew, cast, and finalized locations all in less than 2 weeks prior to principal photography. We were able to make the film in 21 days with 21 company moves. To say this was an ambitious film would be an understatement.
This story is a journey expressed both inwardly and outwardly, and it would have been impossible to express that truth without having such extremely talented actors and crew. I hope that this film helps showcase the delicate nature of forgiveness and inspires the audience to
empathetically explore the complexity of human nature.