Inclusion StatementThis is the story of a young woman living amidst the unrest of the late 1960s, and her search for a better life. Told by a female writer-director, the aim is to portray Alex a complex and flawed, but identifiable lead, and in doing so, increase representation of women's stories in the media.
About The Project
Jim Jones once had a sign hung in the Jonestown pavilion which read, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This hung right behind the main stage, so whenever Jones spoke, which was every day, it was always in the line of sight of his followers. Whatever message he had initially wanted to convey (and beyond its dramatic irony following the mass suicide in Jonestown on November 18th, 1978), it seems to have taken on another meaning today.
Much discourse around cults seems to dismiss followers as crazy, fanatical, broken. “Drinking the Kool-Aid”, a direct reference to Jonestown, literally means to accept something without question. There does not seem to be much general knowledge or understanding of what allows cults to operate in the way that they do. My initial interest grew into a fascination when I became entranced by the lives of the followers of various destructive cults. Their stories are as diverse as humanity itself. But what it constant is their search of belonging and acceptance.
In Eagle Rock, Alex Altman is a young woman on the cusp of adulthood amidst the social turmoil of the late 1960s. Her mother has long since passed, she does not get along with her stepmother, her relationship with her father is strained and she is isolated from her classmates. For some semblance of escape, she pours into books, music and celebrity crushes. This constant daydreaming of a life better than the one she knows is what leads her right into Jay’s arms.
Alex is unsure what she wants out of life, but knows it is something more than the small town she lives in can offer her. When she meets Jay, he tells her she is smart, beautiful, and worthy. He waxes poetic about ancient philosophers and the literature she loves. After quickly running away with him, she believes she has finally found what she is looking for. She does not understand, or realize until it is too late, that she is a pawn in a larger game. But as the cult grows, Jay begins to amass more followers, and they ultimately settle as workers at a campground, she realizes what she was told is what is repeated to every woman who joins them, which only makes Alex more desperate to win back his love.
Unfortunately, Jay turns out to be an abuser not unlike the ones the girls who found him were attempting to escape from. But Alex cannot accept this fact, which, while not happy, makes for a real and human response. As an abuse victim myself, such stories of what leads people into cults, and more specifically, the appeal of the leaders themselves, is something that resonates with me. Ultimately, Alex’s blinding desire for Jay is what leads her to participating in the murders of Margaret Kelly, a young, beautiful and successful Olympic athlete, and two others.
By setting this story in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Alex and the others inhabit an America at a societal and cultural turning point. Their music is wholly different from what their parents consumed, tapping into the isolation and disillusionment they felt by coming of age through multiple assassinations, a pointless war, a president they did not want, and a pushback by the older generation to return to the “family values” they had spent the past decade fighting to reject.
Through the short film, I ultimately want to explore how, in spite of her crime, the cult did give her a place where she felt loved and accepted, which I personally believe is something everyone will be able to relate to. The average audience may not be murderers themselves, or even members of a cult, but, by portraying her story with empathy and understanding, we can recognize how men such as Jim Jones, Charles Manson, David Koresh, and many others led their followers to commit unspeakable, but very real acts.
Earlier in the decade, the world had been on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Through television, they were subjected fully to the brutality of the war in the Vietnam. More simply, the values of the older generation, of the more simplistic Fifties, did not resonate with them, and they longed for something that they believed to be true. For the girls, and especially for Alex, Jay’s ideals of free love, of an appreciation for nature and philosophy and the simpler things in life, are the answer they are seeking.
I know what you're thinking.
It may seem like there is currently an influx of stories about cults, especially ones directly about or inspired by the Manson family. But one thing I have found missing in nearly all of them, even in ones I love such as The Girls or Martha Marcy May Marlene, is an attempt to understand the women who not only would pay the ultimate price for their leader, but would commit the ultimate act of taking another person's life.
These stories aren't crazy, deranged nightmares. They are, and will always be, a part of our history. To brush them off as the work of insanity and psychopathy is unfair to everyone, most of all ourselves. Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were just girls, when, in 1969, they became murderers. Girls we could have gone to school with or been ourselves. While what they did on August 8th and August 9th was evil, I do not believe they were evil people.
The society today is more tumultous, more divided and more distant than ever. The comparisons to the political climate in the US are easy, but I believe it goes much deeper than that. We've forgotten how to talk to people, and because of that, we're lonely. A cult gives someone a sense of belonging, and a leader knows just how to make them feel loved.
I believe the girls became killers because of, and not despite, their humanity. And if we recognize this, then maybe, just maybe, this story will be a piece of a conversation to help prevent others from following down the same path.
It is for these reasons and more I believe this is the most important project I have ever pursued, and I very much look forward to starting this journey, but I can't do it wthout you.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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About This Team
Our key cast and crew is a combination of LA and Montana based, and every one of us has impressive backgrounds within our own fields in the industry. We're all very excited to work together on this project. Any other production hires will be Montana based, and our post team will be hired as production nears.
Eleanor Wells - Writer/Director
Eleanor Wells was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was a lover of film, writing, and storytelling from an early age. She has written and directed several short films, including Feature Presentation, about three lonely people in need of connection who find it at the movies as well as Tales from the Airwaves, a Mercury Theater-esque radio drama. She fell in love with the classics as a teenager, and is especially interested in portraying other eras. She firmly believes storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have to empathize with and understand the lives of others.
Brooke Goshtigian - Producer
Brooke Goshtigian was born and raised in the greater Boston area. When first was choosing a major at college, she didn’t even know film was an option. She decided to go to UNH and pursue accounting. She quickly learned that she was never going to be happy sitting in a cubicle every day, and decided to do something she loved by enrolling at Emerson College’s Visual and Media Arts program. She combined her artistic nature with strong business skills to pursue a career in producing for film and television. Her resume now includes jobs at Spike TV, Skydance Media, Boston Casting, and the Boston Cannons Professional Lacrosse team. Her dream is to be able to someday work for or own a film production company in Boston and pursue either filmmaking or sports media production. Her favorite movie is The Departed.
Dylan Arruda - Assistant Director
Dylan Arruda is currently in the Jr. Executive Development program with W.B. Mason. He graduated magna cum laude from Stonehill College in 2018 with a B.S.B.A. in Marketing and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies – Film Management. He has been passionately writing, directing, editing, and collaborating on films since a young age. Dylan’s previous credits include being the Assistant Director on Tell Me Why and Director of Photography on a handful of short films including Time Prisoner and Persephone. He also loves to sketch, compete in video games, write poetry, and spend time with his puppy, Odin.
Conor Soucy - Director of Photography
Conor Soucy will be joining Eagle Rock as the Director Of Photography. While he normally sports the director's hat, Soucy wanted an opportunity to focus purely on visual storytelling. Having worked on films since the age of 7 when he bought his first camcorder, Soucy is an obsessive when it comes to crafting images. "With an adjustable shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and hundreds of cameras/lenses to choose from (not to mention lighting) it takes a lot to craft the right shot, BUT there is a right way to do it!" Soucy's prior films include the Sci-Fi short Time Prisoner and the 1970s drama Tell Me Why. As a writer/director, Soucy is often timid to take roles on other projects. "I can't watch a movie with poor writing, never mind work on one! But when Ellie presented me with the Eagle Rock screenplay I was impressed by her knack for telling a compelling story, and I wanted to join the team."
Baylee England - Assistant Camera
Baylee England is pursuing writing and cinematography for film. She has worked on a variety of short films, three of which being student films from Montana State University, one being her own short film, and one an independent film. She has experience as a writer, camera operator, script supervisor, grip, editor, and assistant camera operator. In Fall 2017, she worked as an assistant camera operator and editor to local documentary filmmaker Jason Burlage for a series from Mountain time arts about the importance of irrigation canals in sustainable farming. Baylee was also part of the main crew for BZN, Bozeman’s inaugural international film festival in Summer 2018.
Katie Theel - Production Designer
Katie Theel was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she first met Ellie on a film shoot in high school. She left Wisconsin in 2014 to pursue her passion at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, where she focused on production design for film. While at USC, Katie had the opportunity to design a number of short films and music videos, which gave her a springboard to start a freelance career after graduating. She especially loves designing period pieces because of the opportunity they provide to delve into researching another time and place and the fun challenge of creating a world that's not only creative but accurate.
Jason Bodily - Sound Mixer
Jason is a filmmaker currently living in Bozeman, Montana. Born and raised in Boise, Idaho with his two sisters and two brothers, he developed a love for film while taking broadcasting classes in high school. He recently graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman Montana, with a Bachelor’s in film. While in school, he became proficient in all aspects of the filmmaking process, but developed an affinity for sound mixing and editing.
Paige Henderson - Alex
Paige Henderson is an actor and writer. She is a founding member of Liminal Space Players theatre company and recently completed production on Vellaipookal, a Tamil feature film to be released in India and select US cinemas next year. An avid traveler, Paige is happy to have recently found home in Los Angeles, where you can see her performing with her improv team Fly, Pelicans. Check out more at www.heyitspaige.com
Maggie Mae Fish - Reporter
Maggie Mae Fish is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles. She most recently wrote and co-starred on the DreamworksTV show Matty Paz is a Noob, and has worked with Cracked, Machinima, JASH, and Frederator. She studied Theater and Film at Northwestern University and likes to think she would never actually join a cult.
Amber Mason - Marcia
Amber Rose Mason grew up in Virginia City, Montana. She started acting at the age of 10 at a local professional summer theatre. She worked for over fourteen years in summer theatre. Amber graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in acting and costume design. She spent 3 years in LA pursuing her love for film. On returning from LA, Amber became a part of AEA and has been on two national tours with the Montana Repertory Theatre. She continues to work in film, with several shorts and a feature currently on the festival circuit. Amber works on a ranch and trains horses in southwest Montana.
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