Sometimes the most harrowing and distressing situations can ultimately provide one of life’s most liberating and fulfilling experiences. That’s certainly the case for both the filmmakers behind, and the protagonists in, the new comedy, ‘Recovery.’ While real life best friends and filmmakers, Mallory Everton and Whitney Call are afflicted by the painful effects that COVID-19 has caused the world, they were also inspired to funnel that anxiety into the relatable journey that their characters take in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The comedic collaboration between Everton and Call began when they were nine-years-old. After the onset of COVID-19 last year, their other projects were put on hold, so they decided to professionally reunite. They put their sketch comedy skills to work and make their feature film writing debuts with ‘Recovery.’ Everton and their frequent collaborator, Stephen Meek, also made their feature film directorial and editing debuts together on the movie, which the latter also served as a producer on.
Everton, Call and Meek wrote, produced and directed ‘Recovery’ entirely during the pandemic. Upon its completion, the comedy was chosen to have its world premiere in the Narrative Spotlight section at last month’s SXSW.
‘Recovery’ follows two sisters, Jamie and Blake (Call and Everton), as they celebrate a seemingly good month in February of last year. Jamie just turned 30, and Blake is hopeful that a promising first date she had will lead to a meaningful romantic connection. But their hopes and plans quickly changed just a month later when America shut down, due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
The sisters become increasingly more upset when they receive a call from their Nana’s (Anne Sward Hansen) assisted living facility, and are informed that an outbreak has occurred amongst the residents. So Jamie and Blake decide to drive from their homes in New Mexico to their grandmother’s assisted living facility in Washington state to pick her up and bring her home with them.
Along the way, Jamie and Blake must also contend with several strange and unexpected encounters, including picking up their grandmother’s dog from a seemingly erratic dog breeder they’ve never met before, Evan (Meek). The two women must also cope and grapple with their older sister, Erin (Julia Jolley), who lives closer to their grandmother, and was the seemingly more obvious choice to take care of her.
But Erin and her husband are on a cruise, and don’t believe COVID-19 is as serious as it’s being reported in the media. Her denial of the pandemic’s severity leaves the entire family pondering what’s truly important to them, and how they want to lead their lives in an ever-changing and at-times frightening society.
Everton, Call and Meek generously took the time during SXSW last month to talk about writing, directing, producing and starring in ‘Recovery’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed that they decided to make the movie together after the lockdown began, as they wanted to put their comedic talents to good use to make a project that audiences could laugh at during such troubled times. They also expressed their gratitude that the festival understood their message so much, and wanted to share it with audiences across the world, that they choose to premiere it during this year’s virtual edition.
ShockYa (SY): Whitney and Mallory, you co-wrote the script for the upcoming comedy, ‘Recovery.’ What was the inspiration in penning the screenplay, and what was the process like of creating the story together for the film?
Whitney Call (WC): It was a whole whirlwind experience. Before we started working on the script, we were all working together on a sketch web series (‘Freelancers’) that had a lot of comedic content. But then when everything shut down last year, everything became crazy.
Mallory and I grew up together, so we have a lot of experience of making things together. So we started discussing, what it would be like if we tried to make a movie right now? What could we actually write and film with our limited resources and experiences in making features?
So we started going through our ideas that we had rattling around. We had assumed that this road trip idea would be simple and easy on the production side. (All three laugh.) That might have been our naiveté coming through!
But the script-writing process was really fun. When Mallory and I finally got our brains going again after three months of being at home, we mostly wrote over Zoom together, and then started working together socially distanced in person for about a week. Our natural chemistry allowed us to finish the script in about two weeks, and we felt good enough to then move on to pre-production.
Mallory Everton (ME): We felt that speed was our friend during the production. Since it’s a pandemic movie, and we’re still in the pandemic, we didn’t know how inundated people would be with COVID content.
So once we came up with the idea and felt good about it, we felt we better sprint and get this done as fast as possible. We also wanted to make the film festival deadlines this year.
It was a brutal process. We wrote it in two weeks, pre-produced it in two weeks, shot it in two weeks and edited it in two weeks. (Everton laughs.)
SY: Mallory and Stephen, you also made your feature film directorial debuts on the comedy. How would you describe your overall helming style together?
Stephen Meek (SM): Yes, Mallory and I co-directed together. Again, we had a short amount of time to get a lot of things done. So I would have the shot list, and Mallory and I would go to the location the night before the shoot.
ME: If we had the location! (Everton and Call laugh.)
SM: We’d talk about what we wanted to do and the coverage we wanted to get. We talked about all the aspects of getting the movie finished.
WC: Then we’d shoot the next day.
SM: Yes, we’d shoot the next day. We flew by the seat of our pants for a lot of the movie. (Everton laughs.)
But some things really came together seamlessly. Like on the second day of shooting, we were supposed to shoot in one location. But then it fell through, so we got another place, and found a new setup. The scene involves my character, and we found this sliding door and little window in this ramshackle-looking house, which informed my character. We were able to rewrite parts of the movie the day we showed up. So a lot of our locations came down to good fortune.
WC: We were able to make the film by being adaptable and flexible.
ME: The only way to get this type of project done was to be flexible, especially with the locations. We filmed the movie in Utah, and started and ended the road trip there. We have so many different locations here; we have mountain looks, as well as red rocks and desert looks.
So we thought, if we work with what we’ve got, we might be able to make it look like we went to more locations than we did. So we did our best to find a few very different and distinct locations to make it seem as though our characters were actually moving across the country. But we were really just in Utah the entire time.
SY: In addition to writing and directing ‘Recovery,’ you all also star in the feature. Why did you all decide to also star in the movie? What was the process like of working together to create your characters’ backstories and arcs throughout the production?
ME: There’s almost like a split personality feeling that happened. On some days, we were completely concerned about whether our performances were coming through. Then on other days, we were questioning if our shots made sense. All three of us were constantly shifting between jobs, and there was a lot going through our brains! (Everton laughs.)
WC: That’s were Stephen really came through. Mallory and I were on camera the whole time together, so we were wondering how the story was coming along.
So she and I really relied on Stephen to be in the director’s seat in many moments, and he would remind us to put ourselves back into the situation, and think about the feelings and energy. He would give us a lot of good prompts to get back into our characters’ minds when we started getting too much into our other hats. So I give a shout-out to his process of directing.
ME: He was wonderful, and stopped us from getting too wooden or boring.
SM: You two are so natural together. The stress of the shoot would sometimes get a little too intense, but we had our fingers crossed that everything would work out. They also rehearsed every car scene so meticulously, to the point that we were able to get full 15-minute takes of them doing a scene. That made the film work really well.
WC: When you only have four days to shoot 40 minutes of material, we knew we’d better know things front and back!
ME: There’s almost nothing better to me than working with these two because we’re such good friends. We’ve spent so much time together, both in front of the camera and crowds, that we’re able to work so well together.
We know what we can get out of each other, and where we really shine. It was such a collaborative process between the three of us, and we tried to get the best out of each other. I feel so lucky that I was able to work with such close friends that I truly respect.
SY: Brenna Empey served as the director of photography on the film. What was the experience like of working with her to determine how you would visually shoot the comedy?
SM: We leaned very heavily on Brenna, who’s just phenomenal.
WC: She’s a genius.
SM: We’ve worked with her on so many different projects prior to this one, and she’s a godsend. She was able to give us those two weeks and our B-unit week. She brought so much experience and an artistic eye to the project.
After Mallory and I went around the Utah Valley, we found spots that we really liked within a four-hour radius. Brenna would immediately know what would look really good on screen. She really framed everything up really nicely.
WC: Our gaffer, Brett Weidmann, was also really helpful, as he helped keep things safe and manageable. Like for the party scene in the beginning of the movie, he dressed it so beautifully, and gave it a pink tint. That showed how everyone had rose colored glasses before COVID hit. I think Brenna and our lighting team helped bring our vision to life.
SY: ‘Recovery’ (had) its world premiere in the Narrative Spotlight section at SXSW this year. What does it mean to you that the movie (screened) during the festival?
WC: It’s been so cool! We made this movie with the intent of getting it done by the time festivals are taking submissions, as that would light a fire under us to get it done and say we made a movie.
Along the way, we had so many fortunate interactions…So many things happened that made us think, maybe this can actually happen, and we can relay the message that we intended to include in the film, which is, didn’t this year suck? So let’s all feel connected and uplifted in this experience.
When we then got our acceptance letter from SXSW, it was very unexpected! (Call and Everton laugh.) It was one of our dream festivals to get into, and to have them say, ‘We get the message you set out to make, and we want to highlight it and get people to see it,’ was amazing. So we were excited that we not only got in, but that they also got what we were trying to do.
ME: We really just wanted to make something that wasn’t a huge bummer. It was a relief that we were working on something that allowed us to laugh about and through it. We also hope that it’s a relief for other people as they watch it, as well.