How Hannah Black and Megan Peterson got their First Film Produced by the Duplass Bros.
I first discovered Megan Peterson and Hannah Black while prepping for the This World Alone crowdfunding campaign. Megan and Hannah had (very) successfully funded their first feature, Drought, and we passed around their fundraising video to show everyone what a great fundraising video could be. As we continued to follow along with their journey, we were happy to learn that you couldn’t find two harder working, kinder, and more accessible filmmakers in the business. Their hard work paid off when Drought was chosen as the winner of the Hometown Heroes contest which brought on Mark and Jay Duplass as producers. Drought is currently in post-production and should be hitting the festival circuit in the fall.
Tell us a little about Drought!
Megan: Drought is a feature length film about a girl, Sam, her brother Carl, best friend Lewis, and estranged sister Lillian that find themselves on a crazy adventure to chase a storm. Carl is on the Autism spectrum & obsessed with weather, but their small town is going through a drought. All he wants is to chase a storm he is predicting. The gang ends up together on a fun adventure mixed with learning about forgiveness and the importance of family.
How did did you guys first meet and how did this big journey all this come together?
Megan: Hannah and I met in a Meisner class 5 years ago at Actor's Arsenal, an acting studio in Wilmington, NC. During the 2 year program, our acting coach, Ron Fallica, showed us Mark Duplass' SXSW talk encouraging filmmakers to make movies on the weekends with friends. So we did that!
Hannah: Megan and I had created a couple of short films and discovered that we complemented one another very well. We enjoyed and respected what the other person brought to the table and had a blast working together. She's pretty much the best! Shortly after wrapping a short film in the summer of 2015, I came to Megan with the story of what would later be, Drought. Our visions completely aligned and we quickly realized that the story deserved a longer format.
Megan: We would meet and structure the story on Tuesdays, Hannah would write and send me 5 pages a day, and in a month we had a first draft.
Hannah: We were so jazzed that we had a real life feature film in our hands that we were ready to make it on the spot. Thankfully, two of our very good friends read it over and encouraged us to keep tweaking it and make it the best it could be. We are so grateful for them and their advice because the first draft was bad... like really bad. Megan and I would meet to discuss story, I would go back and re-write a draft... and re-write again... and again.
Megan: Fast forward three years and 7 1/2ish drafts later, we were ready to make the film but didn't know how it would all come together.
Hannah: We had no idea how to make it, let alone get the finances. Just when we were about to shelf it, Seed&Spark made an announcement that they were doing a Hometown Heroes Rally. Raise funds for your feature? Gain an audience? Oh...and potentially have The Duplass Brothers executive produce? Heck yes!
And all those “potentialities” came true! You guys successfully crowdfunded your movie and now have the Duplass Brothers on as producers! How did this happen?
Hannah: Its absolutely insane right?!! We are still pinching ourselves.
Megan: We still can't believe it but it is true!! It's a pretty crazy story. In the summer of 2017, Hannah texted me a No Film School article titled "The Duplass Brothers Want To Fund Your Feature." Her text only included the article & 13 exclamation marks.
Hannah: Like I said, we were ready to shelf Drought. We had no idea how to get the finances we needed. Megs and I have always looked up to Mark and Jay Duplass and had naturally taken their way of filmmaking and implemented into our own movie making style. When we saw that Seed&Spark was doing the Hometown Heroes rally with a chance to win the Duplass Brothers as executive producers, we quickly got to work.
Megan: The Hometown Heroes Rally focused on encouraging filmmakers to create their stories in their own towns with local casts & crew, which was exactly our hope for Drought. With 6 weeks to get all of our material together, we entered the rally, meaning we would run a crowdfunding campaign for 30 days.
Hannah: Crowdfunding was the hardest thing we had ever done. It is a full time job and with a tiny team of two, we were working 12 hours a day on the campaign and then had our normal day jobs. Together, we lost 20 pounds in the one month of crowdfunding. However, Seed&Spark really sets you up for success to raise all your funds and provides you with all the education you will need to run a smart, concise, and clear campaign. This is not a plug by the way. Seed&Spark really is the best. If you are filmmaker and need to raise money, use them! They are kind and work so hard and are changing the game of independent filmmaking.
Megan: To qualify to pitch to the Duplass Brothers, we would have to raise our funds of $24K & be in the top 10 out of 73 teams with the most followers. At the end of the competition we had accomplished those two things and had the opportunity to create a 30 second pitch video (yes, only 30 seconds?!!?) that the Duplass team would watch along with the other qualifying team pitches. Then on Nov 4, 2017 we gathered with our close family & friends to watch the LIVE announcement of the winners. When Mark announced that Drought had won the Executive Producer-ship & a 25K no-interest loan, the room erupted with an energy we had never felt. Then we were on our way to make our movie with them on our team and double our original budget. It was, and is, unreal!
Hannah: We still cry about it.
Is this a personal story for you? How much of your own life or personal emotions ended up in the film?
Hannah: Drought was originally inspired by the students I used to teach who were on the Autism spectrum. These kids were pure joy and magic to me. The way they look at the world and the unique gifts they brought to the classroom were inspiring. Some of my students had siblings and to see their bond was so special. I really wanted to highlight that particular sibling relationship. However, as drafts progressed I also realized that Drought had also become a love letter to my sister; who is different than me in every way, and to anyone who has a sibling that they love and so desperately want to understand.
Megan: I believe every story you create has a touch of your personal life & emotions on some level. The theme of the movie is very personal to me. Growing up I wanted to fit in and find my place but I was given the label as the "shy girl" or the "nervous girl". I took those labels as less than. My hope through the film is that people will realize no matter the label you have been given, or have given yourself, you are more than that. Our differences make us wonderful and unique and appreciating that about each other will change our perspective for the better.
You guys co-directed Drought. How is the process of directing with another person? How do you divide up responsibilities?
Hannah: It was an absolute dream. I say this because Megan is an incredible human. The fact that I was able to collaborate with her and go on this journey together has been one of my greatest gifts in life. We are complete opposites but really respect and value what the other person brings to the table.
Megan: For me it is wonderful! Especially because we are wired so differently in personality strengths. Where I lack in something, Hannah can come in and fill that gap, then vice versa.
Hannah: We divide a lot of responsibilities depending on what we excel in. I know what I suck at and it is almost always what Megan can do with natural talent and grace.
Megan: We are also actors.
Hannah: On set, we were both playing leads while also directing. Whoever was not heavy on acting in the scene would usually take the lead in directing.
Megan: It is nice having a co-director when you are in a scene and they are able to take over the director role for that moment. The pressure feels less since you know that you have a teammate in the same role that you can pow-wow with to make decisions together.
Hannah: And if you are wondering, yes, we are jealous of one another's gifts and simultaneously cheering each other on.
What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started making the film?
Megan: You do not need to be and should not be responsible for everything. Holding all the responsibility for everything puts tremendous pressure on you and isn't healthy for you and the people around you. That is why you create an awesome team! You can share responsibilities and give full ownership to your crew. Once you do that and let them do what they are there to do to their fullest, you are free to focus on what you are there to do. It creates a really healthy working environment and brings in more creative people to the mix leading to a better product. This is challenging in low budget filmmaking as each person carries the weight of multiple jobs. We created an open space for dialogue for ourselves and crew to express if they felt they were taking on too much or not being given freedom to do their role. (Also, Hannah had full permission to call me out on things like not feeling responsible when the grip truck was stuck in sand because we had three fully capable crew working on the solution).
Hannah: I wish I would have known that you don't have to be an expert at everything. I really struggled with feeling incompetent if I did not know how every single thing worked. It could become a downward mental spiral if I saw everyone around me buzzing around set knowing exactly what to do. Imposter syndrome at its finest my friends! But that was on me. That is why everyone has different roles on set. It is okay to say you don't have an answer or do not know how to do everything. Celebrate the things you excel at and laugh at the things you struggle with.
What advice would you give to a young filmmaker just starting out with the dream to make a movie?
Megan: It's ok to start small. Make a one minute short film on your phone. Find a partner in crime. Someone who is there to encourage you, challenge you, collaborate with you. They don't even have to live in the same town! Be prepared for the process to feel like a marathon at times and then turn quickly into a sprint. You can go to film school, but you don't have to. We didn't. However, spend time everyday to work on your craft. We have been in classes for years and study the art of filmmaking with all of the amazing resources technology brings us.
Hannah: Find your people to collaborate with. Study all elements of filmmaking. If you are a director, take an acting class. It’s important to understand the role that each person brings to set so you can encourage and support them.
Megan: Most importantly, don't give up. It is a really tough industry but it is possible and you can accomplish your dreams.
Hannah: Above anything else, be kind.
To learn more about Drought and Megan and Hannah’s journey, check out @droughtthemovie wherever you lurk on social media!