‘Through The Woods’ is a short film by Mike McAleer which stars Amy Ryder, Lindsay Pearce, and Kelly Lester. This is a particularly interesting Indie project for many reasons, including the fact that the leads are all female. The themes explored are voodoo and the supernatural plus the effects of deep depression. As soon as I read the synopsis, I wanted to find out more and once I found out more, I knew I wanted to share it with my online family. As with all Indie projects, it is very important to share the projects you love because that is one of the ways to get the word out to others and have it seen by as many people as possible.
Here is the official synopsis and what follows is my interview with Mike:
Suffering from deep depression after the death of her husband, Marilyn, a middle-aged woman, starts a new life for herself in a
quiet, rural town. Feeling guilty and desperate to reconnect with her long-estranged daughter, her new voodoo-practicing
neighbor helps spark familial reconciliation through supernatural means. But as is the case with all decisions in life, Marilyn
quickly learns there are dangerous consequences to her actions, and she must choose between her daughterʼs safety and her
mental well being.
Q: Some of the themes of your movie are Deep Depression and the Supernatural. Both of these topics have had their share of stigmas associated with them. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to explore these subjects and perhaps remove some of the stigmas?
A: There is no doubt that both of these topics are oftentimes misunderstood in society today. With depression, I think it is extremely difficult to truly understand the disease and empathize with someone affected by it if you have never personally experienced it. Similar to the supernatural, I think we generally tend to write-off people that are “possessed” by symptoms of a mental disorder, despite the unfortunate truth they live with on a daily basis.
Of the stigmas, one associates “brokenness” and lifelong assistance to those formerly afflicted by depression. While I do not know this to be true one way or another, I do believe that these people exhibit extreme strength and fortitude. To be able to deal with such a debilitating disease, especially while surrounded by others that do not understand it, has to be one of the toughest obstacles the human experience can throw at us.
I do feel a sense of responsibility to explore this theme, and I hope for better understanding, but I do not actively aim to sway the audience’s mind one way or another. I want people to come to their own conclusions on their own terms. My goal is to at least get the conversation started.
Q: Do you believe in the Supernatural and Voodoo? If you could harness these to have whatever you wanted, what would you go for?
A: The supernatural… yes. Voodoo specifically… not sure.
I know it’s a cliched and somewhat flawed argument, but I always defer to the concept of gravity when rationalizing the presence of the supernatural. Just because we cannot see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I honestly feel that most people agree with this, but, barring religious iconography like angels and saints and the devil, most people are quiet about the subject. Yes, it’s true that early man is known for placing their inexplicable phenomena in the “hands of the Gods” (now known as science… weather, disease, the sun, etc.), but I don’t feel their ignorance negates the countless firsthand accounts of spirits and the paranormal witnessed in the present day and throughout history.
Voodoo is a religious practice that deals with conjuring spirits that can influence people/events in the natural world. I think the Hollywood system has typically portrayed voodoo as an evil act, but just like every other religion of the world, Voodoo has an equally present “positive” to its “negative.” I don’t subscribe to the specifics of the Voodoo religion, but I do believe in a positive/negative balance… the yin to the yang, if you will.
With that being said, I wish I knew the absolute truth in regard to the supernatural. If in fact it’s all true the way I understand it now, I would of course only conjure the “good” spirits and make them do good things for people… and if they had time, I’d ask them to maybe fund my next film… and help parking enforcement realize the evil that they do to the good people of LA on a daily basis…
Q: Another theme of the movie is Familial Reconciliation. You have said that your own relationship with your parents was detached. Was writing this film cathartic for you?
A: Cathartic is probably the best word to describe all of my work (acting, writing, directing). I am both fascinated by and somewhat terrified of human psychology, and I constantly strive to understand it, especially my own. As a storyteller I get to explore the hearts and minds of multiple characters (all of whom I view as real people), and in doing so I get the added bonus of discovering and better understanding things about myself and how my mind works.
With this film, my main characters and their situations are loosely based on experiences from my childhood. As I talked about earlier, it is extremely difficult to understand depression if you’ve never actually been depressed, and looking back, I think I was exposed to someone affected by depression at a time when I had no way of understanding it. Psychologically we tend to fill in the blanks when trying to understand the motives and behaviors of those around us, so I created a main character that was deeply depressed in order to explore this possibility. After spending time inside this character’s head on the page and seeing these behaviors realistically played out by the actor (Amy Ryder) on set, I was able to find some peace and resolution.
As they say, try walking a mile in someone’s shoes in order to understand them. Whoever “they” are, they’re right.
Q: You explore the concept of actions having consequences in both the Supernatural world as well as in everyday life. Do you believe this is to keep some sort of cosmic balance?
Absolutely! The first law of motion (also the title of one of my favorite books by K.R. Moorhead) is the first thing that comes to mind when I try to explain my thoughts in this area. Basically I think our actions/inactions carry weight. Each choice we make leads us in one direction or another at a constant velocity until acted upon by another force (an action or inaction). There are definite consequences to our actions, but instead of viewing actions and consequences as good or bad, I view them as neutral. How we perceive these consequences dictates their good and bad values.
In short, everything we do on a daily basis has consequences. One should make choices based on their desired consequence. A “bad” decision can be corrected by performing a U-turn of “good” decisions!
Q: Even today, films with strong female leads are rare. Does this put extra pressure on you to make it extraordinary?
A: Among other factors, I definitely felt pressure to make Through the Woods extraordinary in order to effectively portray strong female leads that were not the typical Hollywood “lesser characters or sex objects.” I wanted them to be dynamic. I wanted to make them memorable. I wanted them to be someone we all know despite their extreme circumstances. I also wanted to accomplish this in a genre that seems almost impossible to change… horror! (Although I refer to my film as a supernatural drama, there are horror and thriller undertones throughout.)
Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Aronofsky’s Black Swan were two strong influences while crafting this screenplay. Both explore the pathology of strong, dynamic, female leads that suffer from mental disorders. I think what’s unique about my film, however, is that my main character recognizes from the start that she has this problem, and she desperately fights to overcome it in order to salvage a relationship with her daughter.
Q: Do you and the film have an online presence? If so, where can we find you and more about the movie?
A: Yes! We have an official IMDb title page. Also, please, stalk us here:
Twitter: @mistermcaleer @_physiognomic_ @michaelcoulombe @laurasaurusrex @lindsayhpearce @thesingingceo
Check out the teaser here: www.vimeo.com/mistermcaleer/ttwteaser
Q: Will there be any fundraising campaigns that people can get involved with?
A: Oh, now you ask… haha
I ran two fundraising campaigns for Through the Woods during pre-production and post-production on Indiegogo. I did not reach my goal either time, but I still call the campaigns a success, and I think those that see the film will be impressed by how much my cast and crew (especially my director of photography, Lauren Haroutunian… look her up!!) accomplished with such a limited budget.
With that being said, my team and I are more than open to the idea of some motivated investors out there that want to help get this film out to all the major festivals!
Q: Have you begun casting? Who would be your dream leads? Did you write the characters with any specific actresses in mind?
A: The film has already been shot and is just about done with post-production (just a little more sound tweaking). My three female leads were Amy Ryder, Lindsay Pearce, and Kelly Lester, and I cannot believe how lucky I was to find actors that were so strong and perfect for the roles I had written.
I often write roles with somebody in mind (not necessarily actors), but with this script I only had a partial “dream list” for my lead characters. I definitely wrote the 300 year old, voodoo-practicing witch character with Sally Kellerman in mind. I know that sounds kind of rude, but I swear I mean no disrespect! I had the privilege of watching one of Ms. Kellerman’s cabaret shows at Vitello’s in Studio City, and I was immediately drawn to her energy…almost as if she actually did put a spell on me. I was so impressed with her, that I went home and re-wrote this character to match her exactly. Through a mutual friend I got the chance to ask her to be a part of this film, but she was already booked on something else. This was a little upsetting, and I thought I would never find another match for this role… and then I saw Kelly Lester perform on stage in Spring Awakening, and I knew I was back in business!
My main character, played by Amy Ryder, was actually written with nobody specific in mind. Even when it was ready to cast the film, I had no idea who I even wanted to play the role. As an actor myself, I never really understood it when directors claimed they “don’t always know what they’re looking for in casting, but they know it when they see it.” Now I do understand, as I really had no idea, and then I met Amy Ryder, and I “knew it when I saw it.”
The main character’s daughter, played by Lindsay Pearce, was written with a young Maggie Gyllenhaal type in mind. I needed somebody who could appear hard on the outside with subtle vulnerability. I also saw Lindsay Pearce in Spring Awakening, and I knew she had this amazing quality… and she was perfect for the role!
Q: What’s up next for you and ‘Through the Woods’?
A: Well, the immediate goal is to get it out to the festivals. I’m hoping to have its world premiere here in LA, but I also want to hit up the European markets as well. It is currently in consideration for the Burbank International Film Festival.
I wrote this short as a prequel to an already-written feature in hopes of obtaining investor interest, so that is the big picture goal. Hint, hint… angel investors, inquire within!
Through the Woods – Teaser from Mister McAleer on Vimeo.