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[SXSW ’21] An interview with director Megan Park on ‘The Fallout’, authenticity, and high shcool

Real talk.

The Fallout made quite a splash at its South by Southwest premiere. The film was named the Best Narrative Feature and won director Megan Park the award for Best Director. The story centers on a terrible tragedy at a high school and how it affects the children there. AIPT spoke with Park shortly after the awards anouncements were made.

AIPT: Before I even begin with the questions, some congratulations are in order. The Fallout won for best narrative, and you also won the Bright Cove Illumination Award for best director. You’ve set a very high bar for yourself.

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Megan Park: I’m never going to be able to make another movie. No, thank you. It’s so exciting. It’s surreal.

AIPT: So, how would you describe The Fallout?

Park: I would describe The Fallout as a look inside Gen Z’s mind, specifically three teenagers who are struggling to cope after a shooting at their high school and the three different journeys and paths they take in their process to heal and discover a new normal after surviving such an event.

AIPT: Why did you decide to write about a high school shooting?

Park: That’s a good question. I am not in high school. I’ve never been through a high school shooting, but it was something that I couldn’t stop thinking about. They make me sick, it gives me anxiety, terrifies me every time I see another one happened in the news. It felt like the hole in my chest kept getting bigger and bigger.

And I was really scared to talk about it because I was like, I haven’t been through this, I’m Canadian. Maybe I’m not the right person to do this, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how I might react if I was 16 right now. And I feel like I would be like Vada and really struggle.

I was so impressed by these amazing kids who are able to speak out and literally change the world. But I was wondering, I was like, I feel like I would not be able to do that. And I’d feel s--t about myself because of that. And I wanted to explore that because I imagine that there’s a lot of kids who feel that way.

AIPT: The shooting is never shown, not even in flashbacks, but it’s heard. Why did you decide to go in that direction?

Park: I didn’t want the movie to be triggering for anybody who had been through something like this and I didn’t want it to be graphic or gory. I also didn’t want to glorify the shooter. It’s not about that. I wanted to really have the audience feel the gravity of what’s happening, but it not be too overwhelming that it makes people have to turn away or look away or be viscerally triggered by that.

That was really important to me. So it was a real conversation. It was a real conversation internally as I was writing it. And also when we were filming it and also with the sound design of it. It was a conversation every step of the way.

AIPT: The sound design is really interesting because there’s lots of moments in the movie where it’s completely quiet. Why did you decide to do that?

Park: I love movies like that and give you kind of room to breathe and I’m not afraid of it. And so luckily my editor, Jenny Lee was amazing and really was okay with that too. And our sound designer, Brian was incredible and it was just something that everybody was down to take a chance on. And it felt like also, especially after the shooting, it’s such a overwhelming experience, especially auditory experience. And so we really wanted to give the audience room to breathe after that and really live in the silence for a while and build it back up from there.

AIPT: How difficult was it to write and direct this movie?

Park: It was challenging. I didn’t really realize how much I was taking on when I started, which maybe was a blessing, especially during COVID, that was really hard. It was hard to just be directing it with a monitor in a back room behind a face shield and wearing two masks and not be able to communicate with people directly.

It was really difficult, but at the same time we had a really great team. So I had to just trust a lot, and I was like, it sounds great on my AirPods, I hope it sounds great on Dolby. It was taking a chance on a lot of things like that.

AIPT: Vada is the main character, but you deal with so many different sides of grief with the others involved. Why did you decide to touch on so many characters and feelings?

[SXSW '21] An interview with director Megan Park on 'The Fallout', authenticity, and high shcool

Park: You know, I feel like the way that I write, I come up with the characters first and then it just comes after that. And I just felt like these were three different perspectives that I personally wanted to explore that I hadn’t seen before or that I felt like I hadn’t seen before.

And so it just started around that. And I think it’s important also for young people to see that everybody deals with these things in different ways and that’s okay, there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

AIPT: You do a really good job of capturing the emotion and the high school feel. How important was it for you to convey that?

Park: The most important thing, that was my North Star, was how can this feel as authentic as possible to this generation’s high school experience? So that was something that I really tried to tap into and really tried to keep as authentic as possible first and foremost. I wanted every line of dialogue, every moment of interaction to feel hopefully as authentic to these characters’ reality as possible.

AIPT:: Did you draw from your past, from The Secret Life Of The American Teenager?

Park: I feel like that was a whole different world, back then so not really, but I definitely feel like when I was younger and I was reading a lot of high school scripts, I would often feel like this isn’t how I would actually talk, not Secret Life, but just other things. And I feel like I really wanted to make sure this felt authentic to this generations and this moment in time.

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