Rising to fame as an actor, most known for her role in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” Megan Park recently made her feature film debut with the coming-of-age drama “The Fallout.” Both written and directed by Park, the film premiered at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival and was released on HBO Max on January 27 of this year. But getting to the finish line was not without hesitation for the writer/director, who was unsure whether she, born and raised in Canada, was the right person to tackle the film’s intended subject matter — namely, the ongoing gun violence epidemic in the United States.
SEE our video chat with Jenna Ortega (‘The Fallout’)
“[It] definitely scared me at the beginning, because I felt like, perhaps I was not the person to even begin to have this conversation,” she tells Gold Derby in a new webchat (watch our exclusive video interview above). “But after just being unable to not talk about it and not put it down on paper, I was like, there’s no right or wrong person to have this conversation. I just need to get it out.”
Even though the film is rooted in the aforementioned real-life epidemic, it still notably features an original story. It follows high schooler Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) as she navigates the devastating, emotional fallout from a deadly shooting at her school and the ripple effect the latter has on her relationships with friends and family. When asked whether the idea was always to tell the story through the eyes of survivors, Park says that her main intention was to show a perspective she herself had never seen before, underlining, “I certainly didn’t want to shine the spotlight on the shooter or make [the story] graphic or triggering in any way.” She continues, “I couldn’t stop thinking about, if I was a teenager right now going to school in America, how I would feel if I had been through something like this or even felt this anxiety that it might happen. And that’s truthfully where the story originally came from.”
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In terms of preparation, Park describes that she consumed a lot of media and documentaries about school shooting survivors before penning the script. “But I didn’t want to get one specific person’s story in my head when I initially wrote it, so I kind of just wrote it from the gut,” she, however, divulges. “Then, after the script was written, I did have several different people and organizations read it… just to make sure that it was authentic,” clarifies the writer/director. After reaching out to and having conversations with someone from Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the U.S., as well as family members of survivors and actual survivors, she then made final tweaks to the script, she explains.
While Park did not attend film school, and grew up in a house without a TV, having acted since she was in her teens was the only education she could have had ahead of stepping into the role of director for the first time on this film, she reveals. “I had this incredible education… in working with actors, working with all different types of directors and all different personalities of actors and methods,” she details. “It has benefited me so much in that I can really quickly figure out what an actor needs and what they don’t need. And… I’m not like afraid of talking to actors — I think some people can kind of be intimidated by [it] and I really enjoy it.”
The ability to speak to actors, in turn, lent itself to setting the overall tone. “I think that was really essential to figuring out how to set the tone for not only the fun improv scenes — and how to allow space for that — but also certainly for the more difficult scenes and the emotional scenes,” highlights Park, “because that’s not just like when the cameras rolling, that’s setting the tone for in between scenes, for the whole day, for the build-up [and] rehearsal before — there’s a lot that goes into that and figuring out how to make that go as smoothly as possible.”
The film ends with Vada receiving a notification about a school shooting that occurred in Ohio and claimed the lives of 12 students, and having a subsequent panic attack. “I had a lot of people push back on me on that ending,” discloses Park. “[But] I knew there was no way this movie could ever end any other way — because this is not a problem of the past, as we all know, this is currently a problem… So, for Vada to be triggered and reminded that this problem is not over was the most important message for me to leave the audience with — and to see how this trauma will never leave her. It will never leave any of these children. And this is something that is so horrifyingly relevant.”
In our chat, Park also shares the responses she received from audiences upon the film’s release. “When the movie came out, it was really incredible to get a lot of messages from high school students and kids who felt like this was very real to their experience. And a lot of conversations came up about trauma hierarchy and things that were really interesting to hear about from actual kids who had been through this.”
At South by Southwest, the film earned both the grand jury and audience awards for narrative feature, as well as the Brightcove Illumination Award for Park herself, who was honored as a filmmaker on the rise.
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