SXSW 2021: Megan Park talks The Fallout

Jenna Ortega as "Vada" and Maddie Ziegler as "Mia." Photo credit: Kristen Correll.

Megan Park spoke with Solzy at the Movies about The Fallout after learning that the film took home two SXSW Film Festival awards.

Starring Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler, The Fallout is a film that takes on a perspective not seen in the news. While some school shooting survivors are able to turn their pain into change, others aren’t in this position. This is because they are so traumatized that they can barely even leave their bedroom. What we see in this award-winning film are three teenagers forming a bond over their shared experience in healing in their now-changed world.

Minutes before I spoke over Park with Zoom, The Fallout had just been awarded the SXSW Grand Jury Award for the Narrative Feature Competition. Amanda N’Duka, Jake Coyle, and Joanna Robinson were on this year’s Narrative Feature Competition jury. Park was also awarded with the Brightcove Illumination Award by jury members Clayton Davis, Kate Erbland, and Inkoo Kang.

Megan Park
Megan Park. Photo credit: Alex Evans.

How thrilled were you for The Fallout to premiere at SXSW?

Megan Park: Super thrilled! I mean, SXSW was sort of my dream festival for this movie. It just felt like the right fit for it. I was really happy that—because we pushed our production because of COVID, we were very tight on even making the deadline to submit to SXSW. But we made it, luckily, because of this incredible post team. I just couldn’t believe that we even got in. It’s weird, obviously, because it’s virtual. I’ve been attending the festival from Canada but I’m thrilled. I couldn’t be happier. I think it’s such a dope festival.

It’s one of my favorites. What does it mean to take home both the Grand Jury Award for the Narrative Feature Competition and the Brightcove Illumination Award?

Megan Park: It’s psycho. It’s so crazy. I can’t even wrap my head around it. I can’t believe I even made a real movie, let alone a movie that anyone likes. I feel like that’s still processing for me. But it feels amazing. It feels so special. I got to FaceTime the cast this morning, tell them, and everyone’s just so stoked. It feels like it’s such a team sport. I truly could not have done this without everyone from the producers to the cast to my amazing DP to my amazing editor. Everybody was just such an important part of the process. I feel like I should share it with 100 people.

What was the genesis for the script and can you talk about the writing process?

Megan Park: When I write, I feel like I spend most of the time creating the characters in the story in my head before I actually put pen to paper. I wrote this movie once I came up with the idea in two weeks, three weeks, maybe, which is pretty fast. I personally started just getting so anxious to go anywhere in public because of shootings. Obviously, this is something we all think about. I just started thinking, I didn’t grow up in a time when I had to worry about that when I went to school, and I grew up in Canada. I was nervous to write it because I felt like maybe I wasn’t the right person to do so. I also couldn’t stop thinking about how I might respond to this if I was a teenager currently.

I think it was after Parkland that I was like, I gotta fucking do something. I’ve never been in an awkward situation before. Obviously, this is my first movie where I could take something that I was trying to work out of my own brain and trying to make sense of emotionally and turn it into art. As an actor, you insert yourself in someone else’s piece of art. This was my first opportunity to talk about something I really cared about. It just kind of was born out of that desire.

One of the things I thought about while watching the film is how we never see this perspective when school shootings take place?

Megan Park: Right. We know the story of the shooter, the killers, and their family—we’ve seen that. We’ve seen these amazing stories of these young people who are able to take this awful shit and turn it into incredible change. I am personally so inspired by those kids. But we hadn’t seen the survivors who maybe didn’t even experience the violence firsthand necessarily or weren’t personally injured or didn’t personally lose somebody. This type of situation, this trauma never leaves you so what is that journey to heal?

Can you talk about working with the cast and did anyone drop out because of the pandemic?

Megan Park: No. We actually got really lucky that everybody was still available because it was a pandemic. But yeah, the casting process was pretty easy for the most part. I met with Jenna because my good friend, Francia Raisa, who I worked with on this show called The Secret Life that I was on forever, had read the script and really loved it. She was like, have you ever heard of Jenna Ortega? You’ve got to think about her for this part. We met up and we had coffee. Immediately when I met her, I was like, Oh shit, she’s just—I wanted to find somebody who really captured that essence of Vada naturally. She really did and she was so well spoken, wise beyond her years, and really impressive.

Once she was attached, we started reading other people for the parts. I had a pretty specific idea what I wanted and although the character was written as a dancer, the character of Mia, I kind of in my head was like, it doesn’t have to be somebody who can dance. Obviously, we don’t see them dance. We did because Maddie is a great dancer. We added those Instagram videos in but it was more of the idea of this character who used another art form or another way to express what she was feeling. I even told the casting people, I’m down to change it to somebody who sings or plays an instrument, it can be whatever. Maddie came in and read and she was just, again, inherently such a Mia that I was like, Oh shit. We got the two girls together and they really hit it off.

The same with Lumi, who plays Amelia. She sent it a self-tape. It was her first movie. She had never done anything before. I was like, this kid is something so special. She was the only person that we came in to bring chemistry with Jenna. It was just magic. When you can find that magic, you just stick to it. It was pretty easy process.

What was it like to work with Shailene Woodley again but from behind the camera this time around?

Megan Park: Shai is a very close friend so part of it’s always weird to me when I was like, Oh, yeah, Shai’s famous and she’s an incredible actress. It’s just another side of it that is so weird to me. She was great because she read the script. We’d actually worked together. She had read the first script I’ve ever written, which was the CBS pilot and loved it. She was doing a feature that she wanted me to do a rewrite on. We had a great synergy sort of doing that together and so she wanted to read The Fallout. She read it and the therapist didn’t even have a name originally. It was just Therapist and it was actually a smaller part. She was like, “Can I come and play the therapist?” And I was like, Oh, my G-d, sure. Do you want to? That would be rad.” She was like, “Please, I want to do anything.” So I was like, “Okay,” and so it was so sweet. We kind of beefed up the character when she was attached and gave her name.

She was so sweet and so generous. She called Jenna the day before to sort of introduce herself before they—because it was the second day of filming. They had those heavy scenes. She was just so generous, brought flowers to my trailer, checked in with me every day of the filming and every day of the post. She’s just been one of the number one supporters of this whole process, which is so kind.

This is your feature directorial debut. When did you decide you wanted to go into directing and what made this film the one?

Megan Park: I’ve been slowly transitioning to doing directing and writing over the last four or five years but people just didn’t really know about it yet. I kind of got my feet wet doing some music videos and commercials. And again, I’d written a pilot that was optioned, and the script for Shai so it sort of just a natural progression, I guess. I did a short film that won the grand jury at Austin Film Festival a few years ago. I was kind of like, Oh, shit, okay, this is something I really enjoy and it’s happening. It sort of took on a life of its own. This was just sort of the first feature that I’d written and that was my idea. It wasn’t a rewrite. It was something that I felt I was ready to take on as a director, too.

Now it’s a SXSW winner.

Megan Park: Yeah, that’s weird. That’s super weird.

What were some of the challenges that came with directing a film during a pandemic?

Megan Park: It was really hard. I feel really grateful that it wasn’t my first time being on the set because that would have been super challenging. I was basically forced to do all of my pre-production virtually. I didn’t even see most of the locations before I showed up, only via photos, which was tricky. I had to direct most of the movie from a back room with my own monitor because everybody had to be in different pods with the double mask and a shield on. It was tricky. It was also hard to not have the time with the actors in person to prep and do breakdowns. We did everything over FaceTime. It’s different. I couldn’t get them together to hang out. It was really challenging.

Doing post—coloring a film from my laptop, mixing a film with my air pods. I had to have a lot of trust in the experts who were so good at what they do. And luckily, we had an incredible team. It was a lot of deep breaths and letting go for sure. My editor is in New York, Jenny Lee, and we never met. We did the whole thing over six weeks over Zoom. It was a lot of trust and it was challenging. I also just felt lucky that we were even able to make it at all given COVID and all of that. A lot of people couldn’t film movies so it was a blessing. It’ll definitely be easier the next time I make a movie, I hope.

What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

Megan Park: I get asked that question a lot. It’s tricky because I never set out to try to force a message down anyone’s throat with this movie. I do hope that it shows a different perspective of the after effects of gun violence, violence of any kind, and sort of the healing process and what that can look like. I hope it serves as a reminder that we’re not talking about a problem that we figured out the solution for. This is something that is very much a problem, especially for young people in America. I hope it’s a gentle reminder that maybe somebody that this isn’t a problem that’s gone anywhere, it still very much exists.

The Fallout holds its world premiere during the 2021 SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Feature Competition.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.