October Baby, panned by critics and loved by audiences, touches a raw nerve in the American psyche, about a topic so controversial that most women who have actually experienced it will never speak of it. We are talking about abortion, something that’s been polarizing Americans since before Roe vs. Wade. October Baby is about a girl named Hannah who’s medical problems are traced to a traumatic birth. Hannah discovers during a medical exam that she is adopted – she was aborted by her birth mother, born alive, and a nurse at a clinic in Mobile Alabama saved her from death. Hannah goes on a trip to find her birth mother, and along the way finds herself. Sound incredible? October Baby is based on a true story. An unexpected Box Office Draw, this indie movie October Baby managed to open at No. 8 the same weekend as The Hunger Games and, through Sunday of it’s opening weekend, had made $2.8 million, more than three times its production budget.
If you missed the movie, The DVD will be released September 11, 2012, giving audiences another chance to buy the movie and see it for themselves. Rotten Tomatoes ranked October Baby with a 22% approval rating by critics, and 90% approval rating by audience. The movie stars Rachel Hendrix as Hannah, Jason Burkey as Jason, her best friend, John Schneider as her adopted Father, and Jasmine Guy as Nurse Mary.
AMFM MAGAZINE spoke with October Baby’s Writer, Director Andy Erwin, and here’s what he had to say:
AMFM: WHAT PERSONAL INTEREST DID YOU HAVE IN THIS TYPE OF A STORY?
ANDY ERWIN: i think that sometimes as a filmmaker you go out to find a good story but nine times out of ten the good stories find you. So it wasn’t really a topic that we thought about taking on. My brother, who is the writer, heard a girl speak named Giana Gessen who is an abortion survivor and it opened us up to a reality that we didn’t know existed.
We thought how powerful of a way to look at such a touchy topic through the eyes of somebody who is a victim, and not make it a debate about political ends, but simply a person’s story. So we researched it and found out that it – failed abortion, happens a lot. So we decided to make a coming of age love story that had this girl’s journey that found out that she is the survivor of an abortion. So it made for a very powerful context for a good drama.
AMFM: TELL ME ABOUT THE SELECTION OF THE ACTORS
ANDY ERWIN: We have worked with a lot of these actors in different projects before. We wanted a really special talent for the lead role of Hannah, this character of a 19 year old girl who goes on a journey to find stories and answers about her life, somebody you instantly gravitated towards and instantly fell in love with.
Rachel Hendricks, went to art school with my wife and we saw her in a short film that was directed by a buddy of ours Chris Kimlen, and in that film short we were so captivated by her on the screen that we said ‘this girl is talented’. We have been developing her for years. And with this film we said ‘this role is you, you can just hit this one out of the park’ and she did a phenomenal job.
PHOTO: RACHEL HENDRICKS AS ‘HANNAH’
Then we tried to fill in around her with real veteran talent. A lot of faces that are familiar, John Shneider that was on Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville, Jasmine Guy from A Different World, and Lance Nicolas from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. We put a lot of familiar faces around her but it is really Rachel’s moment to shine, this was her very first feature film and her debut.
PHOTO: ANDY ERWIN AND JOHN SCHNEIDER ON SET
AMFM: DID YOU EXPECT THE MOVIE TO HAVE AS GREAT AN IMPACT AS IT HAS HAD?
ANDY ERWIN: I think that October Baby was the little movie that could. For a film this size to get a fraction of the publicity… i mean we didn’t have the budget, we were coming out in the same weekend as the Hunger Games. So it was really a David and Goliath moment and we didn’t know what to expect. So for opening weekend on Google we were trending number 4 while the hunger games was trending number 6 as the most searched term on google. We also had a fraction of the budget for the advertising.
Then we made it to the front of the New York Times and the Today Show. So there was a lot of publicity and a lot of buzz about it, and people being aware of the project. and we opened in the top ten in 400 theaters, which is also amazing. I am really glad to see it register with an audience. But I think the controversy isn’t the point of the movie. The point of the movie was to get people engaged with a good story, to be entertained and to think about something they might have not thought about before. It was not meant to be controversial,but the controversy helped us to gain awareness in the mix of a bunch of powerful films that were coming out at the same time.
AMFM: WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE FILM?
ANDY ERWIN: I feel like… especially if you have seen October Baby,… it doesn’t feel like a politically charged film. It is just this girl’s story. But i do think that it is a hot topic. My point as a filmmaker is not to convince anyone of anything. My point as a filmmaker is to shine the spotlight on an issue that i feel like it needs to be talked about. And then if i can get people to the table from different sides to talk about something that is an important issue then i have done my job. It is just to stir the pot a little bit. And i think that is what October Baby does, it engages you emotionally, and if you can engage a viewer’s emotions you can challenge them to think. And i think that at the end of the movie it gives you a lot to think about.
PHOTO: JASMINE GUY AS ‘NURSE MARY’
AMFM: IT’S A DIRTY LITTLE SECRET FOR A LOT OF WOMEN IN AMERICAN , PROBABLY MORE THAN MORE THAN MANY WOULD LIKE TO ADMIT, SO IT TOUCHED A RAW NERVE.
ANDY ERWIN: I think so, and that was a pleasant surprise too because we didn’t want anyone, no matter where they have been touched by this issue to feel condemned, or made to feel bad about what happened to them. We wanted it to be a healing movie and Shari Rigbee, who plays the mother in this story, during the process of us casting this, we found out her story and that she was a post abortive woman and she shared how that affected her since she has never really shared that on a broader scale she wanted to take this part and be able to be a little bit more vocal about it. So this movie loud a lot of women who i think were struggling with the issue to feel like they weren’t alone and that they had a point of connection to the story. That it wasn’t one-sided.
AMFM: ABOUT THE ONE SCENE AT THE END WHERE THE MOTHER IS FORGIVEN…IT’S VERY TOUCHING. AND AS IT TURNS OUT, A REAL CATHARTIC MOMENT FOR SHARI, THE ACTRESS WHO ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED AN ABORTION EARLY IN HER LIFE. I WANTED TO ASK ABOUT THE ATMOSPHERE ON SET WHEN YOU SHOT THAT, WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS WHILE SHE WAS PERFORMING AND YOU WERE FILMING?
ANDY ERWIN: That scene was definitely very special. We knew going in that that would be a special scene because we found out about Shari’s story and it really is at the heart of the movie. The movie isn’t about abortion the movie is about forgiveness, that is a topic that we can all relate to. We all need to be forgiven by someone, we need to extend forgiveness to someone. But particularly because it touched so close to home for Shari, it is a real treat for me as a director. I am a man, I don’t feel like I really have a right to speak about this issue. But having a very strong woman like Shari, who is an amazing actress but also a very wonderful person, gave me a chance to pick her brain. I said ‘ok I want this to feel authentic, I want this to feel reverent, and I want it to feel very very real. And what can we do to make this a safe environment for you to be able to go there?’
PHOTO: SHARI RIGBEE AS HANNAH’S BIRTH MOTHER
So we kept it quiet on set in between takes, there was no talking. After the first take, there was such a release of emotion on her part that she really couldn’t stop crying, and I had to have my wardrobe person, Anna, come on set. After each take I told her to just go hold her for a while. Shari would just sit there and cry and let Anna hold her for about five minutes before she regained her composure and was ready for the next take. So it was a very big emotional release for her to see that note on the table and to feel that forgiveness, and i think that because of that, that is why people connect with that little scene. Shari’s Part doesn’t take a lot of screen time during the movie but it has by far, outside of Rachel, been the most talked about role in the movie.
AMFM: WHAT’S NEXT?
JON ERWIN: John and I are developing two or three ideas, and we think we know which one is going to be next, and we are going to announcing that very soon. We are working out some of the details of it, and working out the rights for it. It is a powerful story. I think that the audience can trust that no matter what kind of story we put on, that at the core of it, it is going to be a very real and touching story of redemption and triumph of the human spirit. Those are the things that really attract us. I think that the family can trust that it will be good wholesome entertainment but it will be real. I feel like you don’t have to compromise with either one of those. We will be announcing what the next movie will be very shortly and we will be going into full production and we are very excited about it.
AMFM: WHAT HAS CHANGED FOR YOU WITH THIS SUCCESS?
ANDY ERWIN: We have always, as kids, have said that we want to make movies some day. And we have worked behind the scenes at a lot of different job titles but the business is definitely a marathon of doing the next step until you get to where you really want to go. And it really never happens the way it does in the movies, there’s no overnight success. We have done music videos and documentaries and stuff like that but this was our first feature film. This was the first time that we could sit down, put something on a piece of paper and then imagine it and see it on the screen and then watching hundreds of thousands of people being able to enjoy it. So I think that it has just kind of sunk in that this is what we get to do for a living. If I never go to do anything from this point, I would feel like it actually happened, so it is just a kind of big release. Some of the pressure gets taken off, we can go ahead and say ‘OK what is the next story that we get to fall in love with.’ The other thing is that I am amazed how many people have seen the film, and the doors it has opened up. Different actors went to go see it. I got a email from Garry Sinise from CSI New York and he said that he and his family have gone to see it twice and they loved it. Jon Voight has contacted John Shneider, who is in the movie, also Kristin Chenoweth, and Jordan Sparks. There is a whole list of people who have gone out and supported it. I think that it is a calling card and we are developing our brand and signature.
AMFM: DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR UP AND COMING YOUNG FILMMAKERS?
ANDY ERWIN: My first advice is be patient. When I started in the business my dad was in the media and he just encouraged me that what ever you commit 20 years of your life in doing you will be successful in that. There is no short term success. I went into it with that expectation, that it was going to take a while. To do the craft and to learn it well, don’t short circuit the process. Enjoy the ride. Learn the good discipline of good storytelling. Find stories that you love, Find stories tellers that you love until you develop your own voice and i think by taking the long term approach you don’t short change the process and the product that comes out is much more genuine. I think that there is that maturing process for artists.
And then I’d say ‘ go out and do it’. I never went to film school and its funny because my dad has three degrees. He says it’s because he has one for himself and one for each of his delinquent sons. Get out there and do it, learn, read and just enjoy it. And I always tell filmmakers ‘if you can do anything else, do that!’ But if you know that it’s in your nature that you have to tell stories, then you’re going to stick with it.