Alone in a rundown house miles from anything, Sarah has only herself to face the harsh reality of life in the post-apocalypse. Until out of nowhere her sister shows up… and just as she begins to deal with the fact that she might not be the only one left on earth, a strange man shows up. Do they trust him? What exactly is out there, past the empty fields that surround the house? Beautifully shot and captivating, JC Schroder’s FOREVER’S END teases the audience time and time again with what may or may not be going on. Is Sarah, alone for so long, now going crazy at the reappearance of her sister? Who exactly can she trust? This is one of those movies that pulls you in with gripping performances, then twists you around at the very end, such that you have to watch it again almost immediately. And it looks like a million dollars. Seriously, I’ve never seen an indie film with this lush of a picture (and it doesn’t hurt that the cast is gorgeous either). I had a chance to speak with writer/director Schroder a week ago about his film, one that I had the privilege of pushing for and programming at Austin Film Festival and which yesterday debuted across streaming and cable VOD platforms.
“I had a different movie that was actually funded twice, about a year and a half before it ended up doing this movie, says Schroder about the events leading up to the filming of Forever’s End, “the last time it happened we were literally two weeks out from shooting the movie.” After two years to get that film funded, then eight months to get it re-funded, Schroder was understandably ready to move forward with something he was sure ‘would go.’ A friend pushed him to just find a way to make a film with what he could get together, and just do it, rather than dwell on the previous attempts that somehow had fallen through (attempts where the money was actually already in the bank, so to speak). Schroder decided to pursue another idea he had, one that was set in a similar post-apocalyptical worlds as what he had been working on, but on a much smaller scale. “Conceptually speaking, it has a few bits and pieces from two or three other feature scripts that I’ve written in the past, but never got made,” the director says.
The director took to the new standard to raise funding for an independent film, Kickstarter, although in this case, it did not play out as one would expect. “Kickstarter campaigns only succeed when you have massive numbers of followers and an online presence already,” he admits he knew even before he started the process, “which I did not.” At the time, Forever’s End was little more than a pitch, based around a theme and two actresses that Schroder knew he wanted to use – two actresses that had previously auditioned for the same role in the feature that had come so close to happening. Lili Reinhart had been the one he had actually cast, and Charity Farrell had been the runner-up. When the feature was left behind, Schroder reached out to the girls almost immediately. “I knew I wanted to work with both of them,” he says, “so instead of figuring that out, I shot a short film with them.” This film, For Today, is a ten-minute dramatic piece about two teenage girls in foster care (unfortunately not available online yet). After that, he built a two and a half minute pitch film for kickstarter around them, which is arguably the best ‘failed’ project on kickstarter. “A new investment company that was looking to for indie movies to fund saw our pitch,” he explains, “they decided to fund the film outright.” They opted not to fund it through kickstarter, because they wanted to do a more traditional investment deal. In the meantime, Schroder sort of just let the kickstarter campaign languish, he already had what he needed. “If you google ‘Forever’s End kickstarter,’” he laughs, “you will see a failed kickstarter campaign for a movie that has been produced and is going to be released.” In fact, filmmakers should check out the original pitch video as a great example of what to do when trying to raise crowd sourced funds..
After the initial joy of being able to announce to the cast and crew that the film was a go, and would shoot in six weeks, he settled down into the reality of where he was: the film still had no script. “We had to shoot those dates because that’s when everyone was available,” he says, and the script was written “cover to cover in fourteen days.” Schroder quickly points out that the idea had been formulating in his mind for four to five months prior, really ever since the failure of the almost-feature, so when he sat down to write, it all came out pretty easily. “My movies always start with characters, and build from there,” he says, before making what he admits is a dangerous comparison. “I like the concept of M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier work,” Schroder says, “in that Signs is the story about a family, and a father trying to overcome the loss of his wife, but then it has aliens.” He has nothing to worry about, despite his later stumbles, I agree those first few Shyamalan films are near perfection (and I will support Lady in the Water to the bitter end – it’s only half way through The Happening his entire career falls apart). “He takes a very human and personal story,” Schroder continues, “and then gives an element that makes it unique and makes it bigger.” The writer/director wanted to do the same thing with Forever’s End, having the issue of PTSD fresh in his mind after several previous projects. “I wasn’t aiming to make a policy piece,” he says, “so combining those two elements, the idea of PTSD, and the apocalypse — a girl in the world alone — where can that take you?” Forever’s End became a story about a girl trying to overcome the loss of her father… in the apocalypse.
One interesting factor on the script was what Schroder already had planned. “I was able to write the script from page one to the end, already knowing the exact amount of money I had to work with,” he says; “that’s a very unique situation because I knew what I could afford and what I couldn’t afford and I was able to write a script that played to the benefits of what I knew I was able to do.” He also had the most important members of the cast, although strangely that did not have as much influence on the writing as one might expect. “Oddly enough, I didn’t think about it very much,” he says, “ I didn’t actually decide who was going to be playing which role until after the movie was already written. In my mind I knew that either actress could play either role.” In fact, the final determining factor came down to scheduling. “In the short film that I had done with them previously, a much lighter film, the roles are actually reversed,” Schroder says, “Lili played the more upbeat happy protagonist and Charity was the irritating angry sister.” He wrote for a simplified but unspecific location, trying to keep the conceptual scope, and the city scenes for Cincinnati, where he knew he would be able to get what he needed. The script he produced a month before filming remained remarkably intact through the entire process. “Everything that is in the first draft of the script is in the movie,” he says, “not every line of course, but every scene is there.”
Schroder went in production with knowledge few filmmakers have, he had been a film festival programmer for several years. “I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of indie movies, thousands even,” he says, “98% of which are total utter crap, so one of my primary goals was to make sure I didn’t do that.” I know where he is coming from myself, of course, most films at this budget level look… well bad. They are often poorly shot, have murky sound and drag on endlessly because no one can cut their own films effectively. “We spent close to 50% of the entire budget on post production because I knew that’s where it needed to go,” Schroder says, elaborating further that most of that even went to “sound — sound design and music.” He explains: “it was a very very intentional choice, and it was made early on. … Horrible sound is one of the most obvious problems with low-budget movies.” Schroder planned to shoot the film himself, and having experience shooting other projects, he knew, from a visual perspective, he could get what he needed to make it look good. From a post-production standpoint, some of the biggest drawbacks I’ve seen from every other movie is sound,” he says, “sound and music. Crappy music in a movie will ruin the film. That was a lesson learned from having programmed film festivals. I was well aware of what most people screw up on and I was actively trying to avoid that, knowing that I was making an ultra low-budget movie.” Schroder also didn’t want to fall into another pitfall many indies find, everyone on the film got paid. “Nobody was paid a lot,” he says, “but they were all paid what they needed to cover their time, to cover their expenses.
When the film was finished, Forever’s End began it’s long journey to distribution, debuting at one of my favorite film festivals, Dances With Films in Los Angeles. “I had never been so nervous about a screening,” says Schroder, “I had never had any kind of response, there were no test screenings for this film, with the exception of getting either accepted or rejected from film festivals – and this was the first festival we had submitted to.” This was also the writer/director’s first released feature, although he had executive produced or co-produced other indie features. “I never went through the whole process with them,” he says, continuing, “it was really bizarre to be on the opposite end of the equation, because I worked with so many different film festivals for so long.” With a feature, and with investors behind it expecting a return, he says he felt “absolutely and completely scared to death.” Because Schroder had essentially wrote, directed, produced, shot, production-designed and any number of other titles on the movie, he says: “I really have nobody to blame but myself if it sucks.” It doesn’t. It’s actually a surprisingly fresh take on a post-apocalyptic setting, about as far from a mad-maxian-wasteland as one can imagine. The film focuses on relationships, with two spectacular performances from the lead actresses for have such a rapport that they almost feel like twins, let alone sisters. I saw the film one extremely late night on a Saturday, and rewatched it the next morning to make sure I had caught all the details. The story feels deceptively simple, but any film in which trust and insanity plays such a big role is bound to be packed with revelations and twists. Add to that, it is just breathtaking to look at, and the sound and score really feel like a much higher-budgeted film. The pacing, especially for a contained thriller, is a rare highlight for indie film. “I did hire an editor to do the final cut of the movie,” Schroder says, although he had done the initial cut himself, “I knew I’d been so involved I had lost all objectivity.”
After the Forever’s End festival run, Schroder had a number of distribution prospects on the table, including Austin’s own Devolver Digital DIGITAL. However, it was their second attempt to reach out to Schroder that actually made the difference.
“They had emailed me like once before and because I had gotten so many emails at that time I either didn’t reply or I forgot about it,” he says, “and they were like ‘hey, we’re still interested in your movie, have you chosen somebody yet?’” By the time they had actually contacted him the second time around, they had already put out a film by a filmmaker friend of Schroder’s so he was able to get the thumbs up from someone he trusted. “I am probably ridiculously cautious with any deals I make with people,” says Schroder, but Devolver Digital was exactly what the filmmaker was looking for. “There are a lot of distributors out there that all do the same thing,” he says, “most quote unquote independent distributors out there are really just aggregators. They can get your movie onto platforms, but that’s not the same thing as distributing your movie. I had almost a dozen different options of aggregators, but I was hoping for something more. I wanted someone who was actually going to care about the movie, going to want the movie, and was going to care enough to actually work for the movie.”
Devolver has had a lot of success with indie games and has been carefully been growing their film roster with smart films that can appeal to and expand the market they already have. Films like the VW road trip doc CIRCLE THE WAGON, the gritty indie dramedy King of Herrings, and the fried-fish contest mockumentary THE GOLDEN SCALLOP all had successful runs on the festival circuit but remain too quirky for a traditional release. These are well-crafted films by true artists who are making films because they want to make films. Forever’s End fits right into this mix. Devolver Digital co-founder Mike Wilson says “Forever’s End is a perfect example of a film that takes advantage of the lack of constraints that an independent filmmaker has, once they realize that there is little chance of mainstream appeal. Too often indies fall into the same story/archetype traps that Hollywood films have to play by due to big budgets and creative by committee. Forever’s End does not… it takes its viewer on a unique ride that is both unpredictable and satisfying; a reminder of why we bother to work to uncover indie gems.”
“They’re more selective about movies,” says Schroder, “they weren’t just picking up anything and throwing it on platforms. They were picking movies that they liked, that they felt that they could do well with.” Schroder also thinks Devolver Digital represents the next phase of distribution. “All filmmakers within the Devolver Digital community talk to each other,” he says, “ we have Devolver Digital Groups where we can share information and resources. They are so much about the filmmaker and how everybody can help everybody succeed, it’s a completely different mindset.”
JC Schroder’s FOREVER’S ENDD is available now across a ton of platforms courtesy of Devolver Digital, a company to which every filmmaker should be paying attention.