After three years of development, and the ups and downs producing an indie feature film, Away From Everywhere was shot this past April and May in and around St. John’s, over the course of an ambitious sixteen days.
Written by the guy writing this article and directed by Justin Simms, the film is an adaptation of Chad Pelley’s award-winning novel of the same name published by Breakwater Books. It co-stars Newfoundland and Labrador natives Shawn Doyle and Joanne Kelly along with Canadian-born actor Jason Priestley. How’s that for local?
“To have such stellar actors say they’re interested and want to be in the movie was an incredible feeling,” says Brad Gover, who co-produced along with Barbara Doran and Michael Dobbin. “Working with Barbara was important to me because of her knowledge and experience. We wouldn’t have had such a great development phase without her.”
As for Pelley, the author of the novel says, “I just felt pure, immense gratitude that people wanted to spend the next three years of their life on a book I wrote. Like any writer still growing, I’m hard on myself. To have a group of fellow artists see something in my novel they wanted to bring to life is very encouraging.”
Justin Simms (Danny, Hold Fast, Down to the Dirt) directed the film. “Every movie adaptation of a novel is a kind of love child between the novelist and the director,” he says. “It is a strange combination of the two beings that created it, so we have to let the film be what it is and not judge it based on the quality of resemblance to the people it came from.”
“Every movie adaptation of a novel is a kind of love child between the novelist and the director.” – Director Justin Simms
Despite the dissection and reconstruction necessary for the adaptation process, the film tells the same multilayered and gritty story told in the book. Struggling writer and recovering alcoholic Owen Collins (Doyle) emerges from rehab and reunites with his estranged brother Alex (Priestley), but soon descends into a fatal love triangle involving Alex’s wife Hannah Collins (Kelly).
The film offered Simms a chance to explore territory not covered in Down to the Dirt and Hold Fast, his two previous features. “I was attracted to its darkness,” says Simms. “It had a fearlessness about what it was depicting: love, betrayal, death, family. Very complex stuff emotionally. Old school Bergman-type subject matter. Also, I liked that it was a story about grown-ups. My first two features were essentially about young people coming of age.”
Doyle was also attracted to its darkness and the opportunity to delve into the recesses of Owen’s psyche. “The character was something I hadn’t explored before,” says Doyle. “He’s a guy who’s stuck in his life. He realizes the guilt he feels over a parent’s death is the thing that is preventing him from moving ahead in life. Even though he is aware of this, he doesn’t have any tools to get beyond it. So he tries to seek help in other people to help him get unstuck, to wake him up, to try to experience the joy of life.”
Owen’s search for meaning in his world, and his difficulty connecting with his brother Alex, leads him right into the arms of his sister-in-law Hannah, a character Joanne Kelly views as the antithesis of the one-dimensional female characters too often seen in films.“When I read the script, the thing that struck me about Hannah was that she had a real story, a real journey,” says Kelly. “As a woman, you’re often seen in relation to something: as a Mom, as a sister, as a wife. That’s changing, but we’re sometimes peripheral to the stories. We’re not always represented as the force that drives the narrative, and that can be frustrating.”
When I read the script, the thing that struck me about Hannah was that she had a real story, a real journey. As a woman, you’re often seen in relation to something: as a Mom, as a sister, as a wife.” – Joanne Kelly
As for the infidelity that Owen and Hannah fall into, Kelly views it more from a human nature perspective than a moral one. “I felt Hannah’s reasons for the affair were a universal theme that spoke to me, that she felt marginalized,” says Kelly. “In order to feel complete, in order to feel seen, this is something that she resorted to. I know that feeling of being in a room and just having someone’s eyes pass over you like you’re not there, like you’re invisible, and it’s frustrating. It’s maddening. It hurts your heart.”
Both Doyle and Kelly were thrilled to return home and work on a film where the collaboration was as comfortable as their homecoming. “Another attractive element was coming back to Newfoundland and working with people that I love to work with and working in an environment where it feels like everyone has an equal part in making the movie,” says Doyle.
“I had worked with Justin on a short film in a different capacity last year, and I thought he was great,” says Kelly. “There’s not many times on projects where people are so fluid and bendable and the idea of making the best movie is the important thing. A lot of people are really protective over ideas. I’m thankful the creative environment was so kind and so open.”
With post-production now in full swing, those eager to see the film will have to wait a little while longer. “We first plan to screen at as many festivals around the world as we can,” says Gover. “We have already received interest from a company in Los Angeles about worldwide rights, so it’s exciting for sure. We’re hoping to release the film in the spring of 2016.”
The film offered Simms a chance to explore territory not covered in Down to the Dirt and Hold Fast, his two previous features
“It’ll be exciting to see the story filtered through the lens of other artists, and see what layers of the multi-layered story most spoke to them,” Pelley says. “It would definitely be great to grab some popcorn and syrupy theatre pop and watch this thing on the big screen. I worked very hard for many years to get a first novel published – because getting a first book published is the toughest challenge for a writer – so that moment in a theatre would make all those early years worth it.”
The guy writing this article feels the same.