Taking charge of your destiny as you actively set out to shape your future into the life you want can be both a harrowing and deeply rewarding experience. The new thriller ‘Dawn Patrol,’ which was produced by director Daniel Petrie Jr. and his production company, Enderby Entertainment, chronicles a family that’s on the cusp of fame and fortune, as their son’s surfing career begins gaining national attention. But their lives unexpectedly take a turn for the worst after a tragic accident, leaving them to ponder how they can move forward. While not as nearly distressing as the loss of a loved one, the filmmaker’s professional life also made a drastic change after he began making films like ‘Dawn Patrol’ independently with his company. He had to adapt to the fast-paced world of independent filmmaking, after writing such bigger studio films as ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ in the beginning of his career.

Set in 2008, ‘Dawn Patrol’ follows a family of surfing enthusiasts living in the coastal beach town of Ventura, California, who are relying on their son, Ben (Chris Brochu), and his up-and-coming career to support them during the economy’s collapse. While Ben is determined to prove his talent so that he can travel the world and escape the family’s struggles and mundane life, his brother, John (Scott Eastwood), is content to ride the waves off of Venice Beach and repair surf boards for a living. But their lives and potential for change are put in jeopardy when Ben is unable to accept that his ex-girlfriend, Donna (Kim Matula), has moved on with Miguel (Gabriel De Santi), even though the surfer has no real interest in rekindling their romance.

Days after Ben starts a fight with Miguel, John discovers his brother’s fatally wounded body on the beach. John desperately tries to save Ben, but to no avail, which leaves him and his parents, Trick (Jeff Fahey) and Shelia (Rita Wilson) devastated. Bitter and depressed that their son, who they relied on to financially support them as he advanced in his career, Trick and Shelia blame John for not being able to save his brother. Thinking Miguel lashed out at Ben and killed him after their fight, Trick convinces his remaining son to avenge his brother’s murder. Since the police haven’t been able to find any evidence that implicates Miguel, a purported gang member, in the crime, John agrees to take matters into his own hands. Butinstantly begins to regret his decision, as he ponders whether creating their own justice was the right and moral decision to make.

Petrie Jr. generously took the time recently to talk about directing and producing ‘Dawn Patrol’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he became interested in the drama as he read writers Brian Pittman and Rachel Longs’ script, as he was drawn to their story that chronicles the tragedy of death within families, as well as the terrible consequences of racial and class prejudice; how he was initially afraid of independently shooting a thriller that’s driven by stunts, as he was used to working on bigger studio movies earlier in his career, but soon became more comfortable with the process, as the cast and crew came to the set very prepared and focused every day; and how he was instantly drawn to casting Eastwood in the lead role of John, as he brilliantly embodied the character in his audition.

ShockYa (SY): You directed the new thriller, ‘Dawn Patrol.’ What was it about the script, which was written by Rachel Long and Brian Pittman, that convinced you to helm the project?

Daniel Petrie Jr. (DP): Well, I first read the script at the Austin Film Festival, where I met the writers. They had a name tag on, like we all did, that said they were semi-finalists in one category, and a finalist in another, for a script called ‘Stranded’ (which was the film’s original name).

I got into conversation with them, and I asked them what it was about. They said the story was based in a beach neighborhood in California. I happened to know the area they were talking about, as I had a house near there.

After that initial conversation, I read the script, and was captivated. It’s a story about a true American tragedy, and the terrible consequences of racial and class prejudice. The events are set against a thriller, which in turn is set against a surfing story. I was taken with the story right away, but the script needed some work. So we developed the screenplay over the next two years, and then we set out to make the film.

SY: With the drama’s story being focused on how family and friends interact with, and view, each other, especially during times of that racial and class crisis, what was the casting process like for the main characters?

DP: Oh, it was terrific. Scott Eastwood was one of the first actors we saw, and he was brilliant. We knew he would be the perfect anchor for our cast. I hadn’t seen his name before he came in to audition. When he came in, I said, “He looks so familiar.” My producer told me his name, and said he’s Clint Eastwood’s son. But I had no idea of that when he first auditioned. He was brilliant and perfect for the part. He’s also a semipro surfer, as it turns out. Then finding the rest of the casting was remarkably easy, as we had our anchor. We could think of casting the family, in terms of age. So it was then easy to put a cast around him.

SY: Once you did cast Scott and the rest of the actors, particularly those who played John’s family, in the thriller, were you able to have any rehearsal time together? How did you build the characters’ backstories and relationships together?

DP: We had a very tight schedule, so we had very minimal rehearsal time with the actors. They had the opportunity to read the script, and then I spoke with each actor individually. But there was little rehearsal time on the day were shooting the scenes-the actors had to come fully prepared and ready to go, and they absolutely were.

SY: Besides directing ‘Dawn Patrol,’ you also served as one of the film’s producers. As both the director and a producer, what was the process like of filming the movie independently?

DP: Well, I was terrified of shooting on a tight schedule, because I came up in the studio system. Rick Dugdale and I founded Enderby Entertainment as an independent film company, so that we could make movies at a price that’s most likely to protect the investor. It’s one thing to have that idea, and another thing to actually face it as a director. I have never directed a film in that short of a schedule.

I also worried about whether the crew could handle having so many location changes during the shooting days. But our crew was led by our ace cinematographer, Edd Lukas, who worked very fast. So we never felt rushed, because the crew naturally worked so fast as they were setting up.

So I could create a space on the set where the actors felt as though they had plenty of time to prepare. I was initially concerned about whether the actors could handle shooting 10 pages every day. But everyone rose to the occasion. The actors were terrific, as they were very prepared and focused. They could go from filming a very emotional scene to shooting a much lighter sequence, as we were filming way out of sequence. So we would shoot a scene with a character who was dead, and then film a sequence in which they were frolicking around a couple hours later.

SY: What was the process of filming ‘Dawn Patrol’ on location in Ventura County, California, where the story is set? How does filming on location help create the authenticity of the story and the characters’ relationships?

DP: I enjoyed filming the movie on location, but it doesn’t have its challenges. We were shooting in actual locations, in bungalows, that are quite small. So it was difficult to get the camera, as well as the entire cast and crew, into the rooms we were filming in. But the authenticity the process gave the film made up for any inconvenience.

SY: With many of the characters in the film being surfers, including John and Ben, and there being some violence in the film, what was the process of crafting the physicality and stunts?

DP: Well, the Latino performers who start the fight with John, Ben and Trick on the beach are both actors and stuntmen. They really interacted with our main actors, so the actors in the scene did everything. So their experience made it much easier to film, as they worked hard to make themselves safe.

SY: ‘Dawn Patrol’ is now playing in theaters and On Demand. Are you personally a fan of watching movies On Demand? Why do you think the VOD platform is beneficial to independent films like this one?

DP: I think it’s terrific, as it’s the way of the future. The day-and-date On Demand release allows movies like ours that are truly independent films, and don’t have men in suits or superheroes to be seen. It gives these independent movies attention in the marketplace.

SY: The drama’s screenplay originated out of the Austin Film Festival’s Screenplay Competition, before you acquired it with Rick for Enderby Entertainment, like you mentioned earlier. What did it mean to you that the film then had its World Premiere in Texas at the festival? What was your experience of bringing the movie to the festival?

DP: It was great. The film originated at the Austin Film Festival, like you said, so it felt as though we were coming full circle. I was so delighted to be there with Brian and Rachel, the writers, and get to celebrate them. I frequently volunteer at the festival, because it celebrates the vitality of the screenwriters to the filmmaking process. All the actors also fell in love with Austin, so it was a great time.

SY: With ‘Dawn Patrol’ featuring a story about the contemporary struggles of racism, revenge and the reconciliation, particularly within families, what do you hope audiences can relate to, and take away from, the film overall?

DP: I think that if people take away one thing from the film, it would be the tragedy of preconception, prejudice and taking things as they seem, without really looking into what they truly are overall.

SY: Moving forward with Enderby Entertainment, are you interested in continuing to produce independent films that showcase these important societal and emotional issues?

DP: Absolutely-we’re genre neutral, so we don’t have any limitations on what we’ll make. We’re absolutely committed to the independent model. Even our bigger films focus on these issues. Our latest production, which will be next year’s release, is called ‘Go with Me.’ It’s with Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, Alexander Ludwig and Hal Holbrook. It’s a bigger cast and a bigger budget, but it was also done with the same independent spirit.

SY: Besides ‘Go with Me,’ do you have any other upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss, or are interested in pursuing?

DP: I’m interested in a wide range of projects. I’m in the very early stages of trying to map out a potential television series. I love working in the longer form storytelling format. Our company also wants to make films internationally, as well as in the United States.

Interview: Daniel Petrie Jr. Talks Dawn Patrol (Exclusive)

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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