[Warning: Spoilers Included]
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Jon and Andy Erwin knew they wanted to be filmmakers from an early age. The sons of a television and radio broadcaster, the brothers spent their youth hanging on their dad’s coattails as he worked in the radio and television studios. With the release of their first full-length film, “October Baby” on Oct. 28, the Erwin brothers showcase their ability to capture raw emotions that make viewers think twice about a divisive social issue.
Although “October Baby” is mostly known as a pro-life film, viewers have walked out of theaters saying the movie is so much more than simply about abortion.
Protagonist Hannah, played by Alabama native Rachel Hendrix, is an aspiring actress who undergoes a series of medical tests after collapsing following a play in which she has the leading role. While discussing the test results and her treatment, Hannah finds out she is adopted.
Devastated, Hannah embarks on a last minute spring break trip with her childhood friend Jason (played by Jason Burkey) in hopes she can uncover a glimpse of a life she knew nothing about. After being arrested for breaking into an abandoned hospital, Hannah’s luck changes when a sympathetic police officer is able to point her in the direction of a nurse who might know something about her birth.
Hannah tracks down the nurse (played by Jasmine Guy) who delivered her and her twin brother, who died as a result of a “botched” abortion. By far, this scene is the most heart-wrenching in the movie. The nurse gives Hannah details of the abortion and several of the missing pieces that allow Hannah to track down her birth mother.
Although Hannah has no trouble finding her birth mother, she quickly finds that her birth mother, now a successful attorney, doesn’t want to acknowledge her birth. Despite the deep pain of finding a mother who doesn’t want to acknowledge her, Hannah realizes that she has to extend the ultimate gift of forgiveness to her birth mother.
The following are excerpts from interviews with co-writers Jon Erwin and Teresa Preston, as well as co-stars Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey during the after-party of the “soft screening” of the movie premier with most of the cast and crew.
CP: Jon, there seems to be more faith-based movies being made. Is Hollywood ready to release more films with a Christian slant?
Erwin: I think America is definitely willing to watch more faith-based movies; I think a rising tide lifts all boats. I think the level of craft and skill is growing when it comes to faith-based movies. “Courageous” is a great example. What we need is an audience willing to go see them. We’re going to get better and better as we make them and I think we can have a greater voice within culture and the Christian community and within the filmmaking industry.
CP: What was the idea for the movie?
Erwin: I didn’t go looking for the movie, the movie came and found me. I heard Gianna Jessen speak on YouTube and she’s an abortion survivor. I didn’t know the two-words – abortion and survivor – could go together and I was just so moved by it that Teresa and I decided to research the subject. We work in entertainment and we have to make entertaining films. “October Baby” is a “coming of age” story; it’s a love story and an entertaining film that will give you exposure to a real issue. Our goal was to make people think about the issue as they leave the theatre.
CP: You combine some veteran actors in John Schneider (plays Hannah’s adoptive father) with some newcomers. How did the synergy between John and Rachel work on camera?
Erwin: Rachel, I thought, did an outstanding job in her first movie. We had used her in a music video for Michael W. Smith and we wrote the movie with her in mind. Over a two to three year period we developed her as an actress. Honestly, once we wrote the film we didn’t know if she could go there, but she more than exceeded our expectations. She just swung for the fence every day and did a great job. We knew it was important to put some experienced talent around her and John Schneider and Jasmine Guy and everyone else did a great job. It was amazing to see them work together.
CP: What was it like for you and your co-writer, Teresa Preston, to work together?
Erwin: Teresa did a great job and really brought the female voice out in the movie with a level of authenticity and honesty. I think one of the most powerful scenes in the movie was the one between the nurse and Rachel. Teresa wrote that scene and I was just blown away when I read it.
Preston: I think we worked very well together. Jon is a great and experienced writer and I enjoyed working with him. I tend to write down everything that blurts out of my head and Jon is able to take that and cut it down a bit. I thought we worked well together. I’m a stay-at-home mom so we could write separately and then get together on conference calls during naptime and sort of work out dialogue and things like that. I remember sitting in Jon’s kitchen with him and Andy with this big board and a lot of post-it notes, and moving scenes around, writing down scenes and dialogue. It was an amazing experience. It took about 3 months to actually write the script. All in all, we’ve been with this movie for about a year and a half.
CP: What’s next for “October Baby?”
Erwin: We’re seeing incredible numbers so far. The major studios said no to this film. I recall sitting in a Hollywood executive’s office who is a believer and who liked the film, but he told us, “I can’t take the subject matter to my bosses.” It wasn’t about any one particular scene, he just told us the subject of abortion was “off-limits” and that was tough to hear. That’s why we made and produced the film independently. We have several passionate, pro-life Christian investors who put up the money for this film and we’re determined to get it out to a nationwide audience.
CP: Do you feel the forgiveness aspect of the film will appeal to a cross-section of moviegoers?
Erwin: I think the forgiveness part touches people in so many ways. All of us have someone we struggle to forgive so I think just about anyone can relate to that part.
CP: Jason, Is this your first full-length feature film?
Burkey: No, the first one I did was “For the Glory” and I’ve done a few other feature films too, but nothing quite on the level of “October Baby.”
CP: What was working with John Schneider like? Was it really similar to talking to a girl’s dad?
Burkey: It really was. He did a great job but he’s taller than me too so I was a little intimidated. He was super nice and we would goof-off between takes, but then we had to get back to work and go face-to-face in a few scenes and yell at each other.
CP: Did you feel the emotion when you were filming?
Burkey: Yes. Actually, tonight is the first time I’ve seen the film on a big screen and it was definitely different. You notice more things like facial expressions and other stuff on a bigger screen. I don’t think I’ve had a good chemistry with another cast and crew like I did with these guys. I just loved working with everyone.
CP: Since you are in your twenties, do you feel your generation will be attracted to a movie like “October Baby?”
Burkey: Yes, I think they will. It’s got romance, comedy, the road-trip aspect, and I think they’ll be surprised about the story. Before working on this film I didn’t know there was such a thing as an abortion survivor, so that opened my eyes and I think a lot of others will have their eyes opened too. Even if people don’t connect, they’ll at least walk away with a different perspective and they’ll be asking questions.
CP: Rachel, What was it like working with John Schneider? Did it seem as though he was your dad?
Hendrix: I think we fed off each other, especially in scenes when we had to be really emotional and believable. Working with John was great because he’s such as seasoned actor. We helped each other raise the bar and it was fun. It wasn’t so much of a coach as he was a “dad” presence on the set. He has daughters and he could relate to being a dad.
CP: Did you feel the scenes were similar to a real father-daughter encounter?
Hendrix: Yes, he talked to me a lot about his daughters and I talked to him a lot about my dad so we really got to know each other well that way.
CP: What do you think people in their 20s and 30s will think of the movie?
Hendrix: I think people will grasp the forgiveness part of the film. I think our age group will respond because the issues are real to us. For example, leaving home, maybe having an over-protective family, dealing with pregnancy for the first time. I think the message of forgiveness is strong and its not something you experience a lot in a lifetime, so it may be the first time many of them will see a film that focuses on forgiveness and feelings. Secondly, I think because so many of the actors in the film were young, then those in the same age group will respond to the movie.