Peter Hedges and Mary-Louise Parker on ‘The Same Storm’ filmed remotely in the early days of the pandemic – Forbes | Episode Movies

Writer and director Peter Hedges The same storm was filmed with a star-studded cast using iPhones and laptops during the intense early days of the COVID-19 lockdown. The film, which is in theaters now, follows 24 characters as they search for connection during the spring and summer of 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, with the election looming large in the background. The cast includes Mary-Louise Parker, Elaine May, Rosemarie DeWitt, Alison Pill, Judith Light, Sandra Oh, Raul Castillo, Noma Dumezweni, Brittany Bradford, Raul Castillo, Raza Jaffrey, Camila Perez, Rhenzy Feliz, David Zaldivar, Moses Ingram, K. Todd Freeman, Danny Burstein, Jin Ha, Joel de la Fuente, Joshua Leonard, John Gallagher Jr., Cory Michael Smith, and Ato Blankson-Wood.

The cast filmed themselves in their own homes and inhabited characters struggling with isolation, illness and fear. Some characters blend into each other’s stories, and their stories cover topics from parents trying to homeschool, to siblings fighting over election, to essential workers struggling to stick together.

Forbes spoke to Peter Hedges and Mary-Louise Parker about the creation process The same storm. We spoke about their challenges making a feature film during such a strange time and how they protected everyone before vaccines were available.

Risa Sarachan: This film captured that time in all of our lives when we all felt desperate to connect. Can you tell me a little bit about how you went about creating it?

Peter Hecken: On April 30, 2020, six weeks into lockdown, I was privileged to see an MCC Theater Benefit on Zoom. It consisted of Marisa Tomei and Oscar Isaac reading Alan Bowne’s play Beirut. It was one of the first significant examples of artists persisting despite the pandemic. Both actors gave such raw, real, vulnerable performances. Not only was it incredibly moving, but it inspired me (and I’m sure many others too).

I couldn’t sleep that night and started writing what I thought was going to be a play. With the help of many remarkable people, we developed some of the scenes via Zoom. Everyone who contributed The same storm shared a deep pain of doing something in a meaningful and safe way. Some of the actors in our cast and I share a long history – Mary-Louise Parker, K. Todd Freeman and I all went to college together – Alison Pill and John Gallagher, Jr. were in my first film Pieces of April. I had previously worked with Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston and David Zaldivar. The other 17 leads are either artists I’ve long admired, or those who auditioned for me or met with me because of their reactions to the script. During the casting, rehearsals, and shooting of the film, I was never in the same room as the cast or crew. Just this week I met some of them in person for the first time.

Sarachan: Mary-Louise, what was your experience shooting this film?

Mary Louise Parker: I have known Peter for 41 years and worked with him extensively in my early twenties doing tight budget theater but had never worked with him on film. It was a great honor to be part of his vision to create something unique and deeply human. During this time, so many have been deprived of the chance to comfort one another in the simplest possible way, and for me, making this film has not only given me an expanded understanding of that, it has given us all a great sense of comfort.

In our early twenties and even teens, Peter and I and our friends would perform in basements and living rooms on a budget of $75 or less, and having those experiences where I fell in love with acting made that experience such a sweet one and matching privilege. I was completely blown away by the cast he put together – every scene had an amazing, heartbreaking or hilarious moment, and knowing that these actors put themselves into it was so moving.

I love every performance and could watch Elaine May and Danny Burstein blow my mind and break my heart twenty more times and never cease to be amazed. I had one of the highlights of my life as an actor working with the incomparable Elaine May, and acting with your heroine over Zoom and making it feel like the perfect experience is something I will be eternally grateful for.

Sarachan: How does it feel now watching it and knowing the outcomes of so many unknowns that have been around in 2020?

hedges: It’s surreal to look at in a way because there was so much we didn’t know then that we know now. But most of all it’s exciting for me to watch The same storm because every performance by our 24-strong cast is exquisite. I marvel at each of them emerging with such ferocity, vulnerability, and humanity from their own homes under less-than-ideal circumstances. Their humility, lack of vanity and generosity towards one another amazes and inspires me. And while the film is, if you will, a snapshot of those unsustainable days of the peak of COVID, it is even more an exploration of how the human spirit can rise above it.

Sarachan: What did you learn about making a film this way?

hedges: patience and much more. Since this is a multi-protagonist story, there was a unique opportunity to explore multiple POVs. We found a way of working that allowed me to do big swings script-wise while also building in a process to question/refine/edit the writing with the actors. We didn’t shoot any scenes until the actors felt the scenes were complete. This subtle, thoughtful way of working makes the film feel more co-authored than my previous films. I hope to repeat this process in future projects.

Sarachan: What were some of your biggest challenges in making the film?

hedges: Ensuring the safety of everyone involved. We shot in late August and early September 2020 when we were months away from having access to a vaccine. So the only way to make the film safe was to make sure none of us would or could expose another actor or crew member. This required intense planning, great care in sanitizing and safely setting up props, asking the actors to operate their own cameras, hang up lights and don the clothes we sent.

Another challenge was finding ways to communicate privately with actors. We were never in the same room. So between takes I would call one of the actors in the scene, then I could call the other one. We spoke offline. Often a shot like this would be exquisite – the kind of work you deviate from in a traditional film – but we would have to do additional shots if we missed a technical problem. Many of these scenes were emotionally draining, and yet the actors performed and gave it every time.

One of the best parts of traditional filmmaking is at the end of each day when we get to stare, hug and high five in the Craft Services tent. On The same storm, the day of shooting ended and we turned off our computers. In a moment we were all suddenly alone. Then I would have a series of gratitude calls. It felt so strange, both of them being so deeply engaged and yet so physically distant.

Parkers: It was scary when all the lighting gear and cameras arrived at the house because I’m someone who struggles with any technology and setting up and shooting scenes in my closet was definitely the biggest challenge, but one that gave a surprising sense of accomplishment .

I felt privileged to serve Peter’s vision to create a kind of time capsule on film, a record of all of us entering new territory, sometimes blindfolded, and the essential instinct to hold hands and take a breath , freed. Knowing Peter so long and so well gave us the advantage of shorthand. I know if he’s looking more or less in a moment it’s because he has a bigger picture that I can trust. In a way it was a phenomenal blessing to be able to shoot in my own home – I could lie on my own bed between takes or pet my dog.

I was reminded of how important the crew is to making a film, but also realized how much I love going through this process with limited resources. There are times when you have everything you need, and a room full of brilliant contributors doesn’t encourage creativity. With the exception of maybe two projects, my best memories as an actor are not projects with big budgets and unlimited resources.

Sarachan: Do you feel it’s being worked on? The same storm helped you gain a new perspective on other people’s struggles during COVID? Those who were in “different boats in the same storm”?

hedges: manufacturing The same storm completely expanded my capacity for compassion and empathy for others. It taught me about the tremendous unknowability that exists between people. As I wrote and as we shot, that became more and more clear to me Everyone was affected by the pandemic to a greater or lesser extent. Everyone had a story. in the the same storm, we could only tell a dozen or so of them. But since making the film, I’d like to think that I’m kinder and more able to listen.

Sarachan: How has the reaction been so far?

Parkers: I think some people might be initially shy about seeing a film about a time that was so incredibly tough, but everyone who sees it and who I speak to is not only amazed by the film, but also by the thrill of watching it looking amazed. Moises Ingram and I stood outside one of the theaters in Telluride and asked complete strangers to see the film because there were some people who weren’t thrilled to see a film about something they wanted to forget – but I remember I would like to thank these two sisters in particular for convincing us to see the film. We got them tickets and they were in tears afterwards, so excited about the experience and we watched them exit the theater, put their arms around each other and actually dance down the street. It sounds like a movie moment you’d make up, but I swear it happened.

This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.

The same storm is now in theaters and cable VOD.

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