High school archery champion Lauren has just landed in Paradise Trails, a brutal juvenile correctional facility in the wilderness, after hospitalizing a boy in self-defense. But when Lauren learns how deep corruption runs at Paradise Trails under the pernicious rule of warden and bow-hunter Bob, she plots her escape, with the aid of rebellious inmate Rebecca.
Interview with Director Valerie Weiss
Main photo: Lauren (Bailey Noble) backs away from an armed Michael (Michael Grant Terry) during her escape from Paradise Trails.
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
The studio sent me the script and I loved the action and strong, female protagonist. I also loved that archery was the centerpiece of this film. The action felt very balletic to me. My dream is to direct a big, gritty, realistic dance movie in the vein of the original FAME, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, or even CHICAGO, so I was particularly drawn to the graceful action choreography.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
It is rare to see an action movie with a female protagonist and even more rare to see such moving, authentic and grounded performances in one. My goal was to make the drama as intense as the action so you would really empathize with these characters.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The universal theme of the film is about trusting your strength and your power even when an individual or system is trying to undermine you. The actors and I talked a lot about how subtle and subversive an enemy can be when trying to manipulate you to think they are on your side. I had the good fortune to work with such tremendous lead actors - Bailey Noble, Jeanine Mason, Bill Sage, Michael Grant Terry and Kurt Fuller. Each of my actors found a way to bring this out through their complex arcs and and nuanced performances. In my own life, being a female director, and a female scientist before that, I have experienced the same opposition of a system that says that women -- by virtue of the numbers of those being hired in these industries-- are not as strong and capable as their male counterparts, yet we know we are and we prove it over and over again. Not losing sight of your internal power just because someone else is dubious is a central theme in THE ARCHER.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Once I was attached to direct, I developed the script to have the themes I described above. I wanted to remove anything that could be construed as exploitative of women, because we don't need to see that anymore - we never needed to see that. I wanted to make a film strongly grounded in a resonating theme and a message larger than the film and both the writer and the studio were supportive of my taking THE ARCHER in that direction.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We had 3 sold-out screenings at SXSW Film Festival last week and received great reviews, one calling it one of the best features at SXSW. Audiences are loving it and agreeing that is a really uniquely nuanced yet harrowing action film.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
No, actually, it was exactly what I had hopeful and wrote about in my Director Statement before we made the film. It is very gratifying to know we pulled it off!
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Bigger audience and also visibility for female directors, and strong female protagonists, especially in action films.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
The movie was made by a studio but they are open to selling it as well. I think recruiting the right distributor and passionate journalists to amplify the film's important message (it is inspired by the real-life Kids for Cash scandal) will go a long way to getting our film seen and hopefully garnering the kind of big awards that make the careers of our deserving cast and crew.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I want this movie to get a wide release and have people talking about it and have it break out the way other indies have in recent years like SHORT TERM 12 and MOONLIGHT. The performances are exceptional and we haven't seen an action movie with this kind of heart and nuance before. I want big things for the movie because so much passion and grit by the whole cast and crew went into making it.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
The film certainly has political overtones. I hope it will ignite a discussion about the dangers and abuses of the private prison system, especially for juveniles.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am directing television (CHICAGO MED, SUITS) and developing my next few features. You'll have to ask the others about themselves, but I am sure it is something fantastic! We had a great team.
Interview: March 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
Director: VALERIE WEISS
Producer: RUTH DU
Writer: CASEY SCHROEN
About the director
Award-winning filmmaker and scientist, Valerie Weiss has directed three feature films, an American Girl Special for Amazon Studios, and will be directing upcoming TV episodes of NBC's Chicago Med and USA's Suits. Her work has been called "daringly light" for the way it embraces controversial topics in an enchanting way and spans the genres of action, thriller, drama, sci-fi and comedy. RogerEbert.com calls her second feature, A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET, “Emotionally raw and uncommonly observant...By turns endearing, unsettling, and ultimately moving, [it] is a triumph of empathetic filmmaking."
Valerie’s third feature, THE ARCHER, is a feminist coming-of-age action film best described as “Thelma and Louise” meets “First Blood” and will premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival. Holding a Ph.D. in X-ray Crystallography from Harvard University has uniquely enabled Valerie to transform abstract material into compelling visual stories. Additionally, Valerie has a tremendous gift for eliciting moving and authentic performances, no matter how extreme the circumstances. Valerie is a member of the Directors Guild of America, an alumnus of the AFI DWW Program, a participant in the WeForShe DirectHer Program, the inaugural Fox Bridge Program and is repped at Gersh and John Bauman Management.
Key cast: BAILEY NOBLE, JEANINE MASON, BILL SAGE, MICHAEL GRANT TERRY, KURT FULLER, GRACE VICTORIA COX
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Distributors, Journalists, International Film Festival Directors
Funders: MAR VISTA ENTERTAINMENT
Made in association with: MAR VISTA ENTERTAINMENT
Where can I see it in the next month?
VAIL FILM FESTIVAL, FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL, BENTONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL, AND OTHERS TO BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY