Charlotte puts Rochester in the rear view as she runs away from the life she has known. She has never been on her own and doesn't know if she'll make it as her resources are stripped away. She meets diverse women who offer connection, insight, and laughter on the road to Florida and a possible new life.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Lorraine Portman
Main image: Madeline Barr as Charlotte in Falling South. Photo by Diana Matos.
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I originally wrote the script for an actor who lives in Canada. I thought it would be fun to road trip with her and make a movie. And wind up on my partner's fern farm. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been and I don't think anyone has ever shown the fern world on film. My last short film was two women talking over the casket of a dead friend, shot in my living room. My boyfriend had his acting debut playing a dead guy. I love that tiny, contained film that was about an issue important to me. It was a film I was driven to make but it was dialogue driven and more like a small play.
In this film, I wanted to tell a story that was not contained, that was out in the world and also was not dialogue driven but instead based in visual metaphor. I thought of places we might stop between Canada and Florida where we would have friends or family and support and in thinking of places I loved along that route, I thought more and more about how women are like water. We flow around obstacles and like water, will find places to be, to make our lives. And I wrote roles for actors I want to work with or who I thought I could find. The original lead dropped out but I had written a small role for a favorite actor, Madeline Barr, and it was an easy call to ask her to be the lead. We had done a staged reading of one of my plays and I love her work.
So there were actors and locations and then I realized the story was about starting over, which is a very personal story. I've started over a couple times. I wound up exploring very personal moments, pulling from my life and also creating fiction to make this story something that would work as a short film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I think the best films speak about the human heart. Offer understanding of the human heart or the human condition. With FALLING SOUTH I think a big piece of what we walk away with is hope. No matter what our lives look like, we can start over. There is hope. Which I think is important and especially important for women to know. We are not trapped. We can find a new journey and there is often support and help along the way. Even when you don't expect that help or support.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The story is from personal experience, two failed marriages, things that life handed me, and choices I made. Don't let any of that discourage you from seeing the film -- there are light moments along the way. I grew up in a family of people who makes jokes about the worst things. And I think a spoonful of sugar helps every story. There is comedy mixed in the drama. One of the first plays I wrote was very specific and when I shared that play, I discovered that it moved people who read it. It felt like being very specific, writing from my experience, I had tapped something larger, perhaps something universal.
I believe in coming from the person, when we are honest, when we dive deep, we have the best chance of connecting with others and speaking to the universal. I think the woman the film is about could be any one of us. The character is specific and her journey specific but any one of us could be in a situation that isn't good for us, in which we are struggling and don't have support. And there is hope for all of us, we aren't stuck. There is hope.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
There was a first and second draft of the script. Then as we were shooting we discovered things. I asked to shoot a couple scenes in Rock City, which is on Lookout Mountain. They were incredibly gracious and lovely to work with. The gentleman helping us showed us an exhibit of fairy tales under black light that inspired Walt Disney. In literature, heroes travel to the underworld and come back changed. I knew we had to shoot these fairy tale scenes. The protagonist is a woman considering her life with her husband. Very often we grow up thinking marriage and falling in love are a version of a fairy tale but how often is that true? It was serendipitous to be telling the story of a woman considering her life and her marriage and be able to show her considering these fairy tale scenes. To visually create the idea that this woman is wondering if living any version of fairy tale is possible. So that scene was added while we shot.
And then one morning we shot a scene and completely forgot a thing that this character carries most of the movie. A prop was left out. But not just a prop, something important to the story that she carries. A thing important enough that when everything she owns is stripped away, she still carries this item. And we shot a scene and forgot it. So we had to shoot a scene where she realizes she forgot it and then a scene where she runs back to get it.
Film shoots can be crazy, all the bits and pieces that need organizing so things like this happen. This turned out to be a very telling moment in the story. And I'd like to credit our First Assistant Camera for helping to figure out that this was the solution to forgetting the thing -- that she runs back to get it. Blake Synder and other film story people talk about having an all is lost moment -- the scenes we added became our all is lost moment and I think help drive home what this item means to this character.
When we were shooting, we realized that our 25 page script was heading past 25 minutes. But features have a B story and this just has an A story so as much as my crew was like, "Are we making a feature?" I never saw the feature in this story. I never saw a B story that I felt was strong enough to add to the A story. When we started editing, our first cut was 55 minutes. And the editor I work with, our first cuts are never fat. He cuts news as a day job so we don't make long first cuts -- we aim to get it right every cut. 55 minutes is a terrible length. Not short, not feature really.
Festivals most often say they want short films that are 10 or 15 minutes long -- they can program more of them. A great number of 40 minute films could be 20 minutes. I set out to make a 20 minute film that would have a great chance at playing festivals so 55 minutes was a bad place to land. So I cut out what was easy to cut out, trimmed and trimmed and cut shots of trains and we pretty easily got it down to a 50 minute cut that I really loved. But. Same problem. Bad length. The Academy cuts shorts at 40 minutes, so then a lot of festivals will say shorts are 40 minutes and under.
Our goal became to get the film under 40. We had a 36 minute cut but I thought we lost a lot that helped give supporting character layers. Added a minute back in and added credits -- 39 minutes. Two scenes were cut. One was a scene I originally wrote and loved but felt a few shots visually told the story of the scene. The heartbreak for me was that there is an actor I love and admire who was only in that scene so now is only in one shot in the movie. The other scene that got cut had been added in a late draft when an actor was busy trying to get more screen time. It was a fun scene but didn't move the story. I did color these two cut scenes and one is on line now:
Super fun. The women are road tripping and bonding -- but it doesn't move the story forward like the scenes we kept in. In the end, every shot has to tell the story.
There were people who strongly pushed for cutting the film to a more "programmable" length -- 15 minutes -- and I came to think, sure, anyone could cut a film down to five minutes even, but what is that story? I set out to tell THIS story and I really love the film we made, which I think tells a beautiful story. With scenes out and scenes in, a film that tells the story I set out to tell.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We've been programmed in 17 festivals so far, so I think one message is that even if you have a long film, if it works, it will find festivals to call home. The actors as an ensemble and then Madeline, Marlyn, and Erika have all been nominated for their work. Marlyn won a Best Supporting Actor. My Director of Photography has won a Best Cinematography award. It is immensely satisfying to see the work of my cast and crew recognized.
There is a line in the film that Eve says to Charlotte that is the heart of the film, and people consistently tell me it is one of the most beautiful moments in the film, which is lovely.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I've been surprised that many men have connected with the film. So I dig that the story speaks to not just women and that was a surprise.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hope more people will find us at festivals and after our festival run find us online to discover the work of the cast and crew, to perhaps see a part of the world they haven't seen before, and perhaps connect with our message of hope. Perhaps to connect with people looking to produce films.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Festival directors and audiences. This film feels complete and is going to festivals. Producers who would be interested in feature screenplays would be great to connect with. And filmmakers who might hire the cast and crew, who are all fantastic and looking for more work.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would love for people to know they aren't stuck, wherever they are in life. And to understand women more, what can be sadness we carry with us, and also that we define who we are, not the world around us or what we have or haven't done. I hope audiences would be open to going on this journey, the story of our film, with us.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How did you pull off shooting this film during a two thousand mile road trip and Hurricane Matthew?
How do you hire and cast? I hire and cast the world I'd like to live in. Diverse, inclusive, women in key roles.
Would you like to add anything else?
Thank you for taking the time!
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Madeline Barr is developing a play called NIGHT WITCHES about the first group of women fighter pilots, a group of mostly very young women who flew in WWII. She is also cast in a movie shooting in Colorado in January.
Diana Matos, DP, is always up for shooting more indie films, and is now based in Miami.
Our editor, Jay Pennington, has worked on STAR TREK CONTINUES, which is on line. And we love it. He edits news by day and indie films by night. Or the other way around when he's on the night shift.
Jonathan Chambers is raising money to produce one of Lorraine's feature scripts.
Xavier A. Santiago is producing a feature and has more projects coming up.
Lorraine is writing a genre script with James V. Hart and Stacey Frank. She is working with writers developing their scripts for Samaco Films. And writing feature screenplays.
Interview: November 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Length: 39 minutes
Director: Lorraine Portman
Producer: Xavier A. Santiago, Lorraine Portman, and Jonathan Chambers
Writer: Lorraine Portman
About the writer, director and producer:
Lorraine Portman is an award winning Playwright, Screenwriter, and Filmmaker. She taught Playwriting and Screenwriting for ten years at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Florida. She holds a B.A. in Theater from Smith College and M.F.A. in Film from Florida State University. Lorraine also attended the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. She has written and directed seven short films and a feature.
Xavier A. Santiago is an award winning producer, actor, director, and writer. His company, Saint Productions has produced commercials, documentaries, and films, in addition to serving as a consultant for other projects, including long and short form television productions. Companies such as Animal Planet (Discovery Communications), Mahatma Rice, Carolina Rice and others only scratch the surface of his experience. Currently, Xavier has a series and several features in various stages of production.
Jonathan G. Chambers is President and Executive Producer for Hyperactive Dreams, a feature film and television programing development company. He has produced or managed more than 900 projects in the film, television, and advertising arenas involving everything from celebrities, exotic animals, green screen to watercraft, helicopters, special effects, stunts, and more. Hyperactive Dreams in based in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Key cast: Madeline Barr, Marlyn Mason, Erika Ervin, Eric T. Miller, William Hudson Rhotenberry, Neil Tyrone Pritchard, Ashley Larsen
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): More film festivals, producers who might be interested in producing feature length work, audiences
Social media handles:
Funders: Friends and family of Lorraine and Maddie, and the majority was out of pocket
Where will the film screen in the next month? High Falls Film Festival Sat. November 4 at 3 pm. The Little Theater in Rochester
In The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Falling South plays Sat. November 11 at 12:30 at Savor Cinema, Fort Lauderdale and then Sunday, November 12 at 1:00 pm at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood.
Falling South will play in The East Lansing Film Festival in the "Not So Short Films" program which runs Saturday, November 11, 4:00 pm, Studio C
Sunday, November 12, 2:00 pm, Studio C 1999 Central park Drive, Okemos, Michigan
Falling South is in the very first Clifton Film Celebration in Clifton, Virginia. Falling South is in a program of short films Noon on Sunday, November 12th. The festival will be in the Clifton Town Hall.
At the EyeCatcher Film Festival, in McAlester, Oklahoma, Falling South will play in a program starting at 1:30 pm on Saturday, November 11 at Fat Mary's Lounge.
FALLING SOUTH will play in the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival on Friday, December 1 at 5 pm in a shorts block called The Traveling Sisterhood.
And in the Chandler International Film Festival in January.