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Behind the Scenes of the Indie World: Extolling Family Bonds in EXODUS FALL
By Tom Snyder, Editor
EXODUS FALL is a little independent family drama with some good values that represents the first-time effort of two young co-directors, Chad Waterhouse, who also wrote the screenplay, and Ankush Kohli, who also produces the picture.
Though it has some foul language and mature themes and content requiring caution for family audiences, the two filmmakers said the main theme of their movie is family and freedom.
In the story, set in 1974, two teenage brothers and their younger sister use their dead father’s old car to find refuge with their kindly grandmother in Oregon. Instigating their flight is their alcoholic, abusive mother (who’s never gotten along with the grandmother, her mother-in-law), who selfishly puts one of the brothers, an autistic teenager, in a mental home. Along the way across the country, the teenagers get help from a Vietnam vet, who teaches them to “Pass It Forward,” to help others in need when they get a chance, just as he does for them. The movie ends on a note of repentance, forgiveness and the beginnings of redemption and healing.
Waterhouse said his story stresses the importance of family and sibling love, as well as the idea of freedom.
“Family is your number one system in life,” he noted. “Most of the time, families are the people you can trust and can stick with. Sometimes you’re thrown curveballs and have got to deal with them.”
“It’s all about family and love,” Kohli agreed, “coming through the hardest circumstances and sticking together, even if you’re just kids and people are against you. To find that freedom you deserve, you need to stick together with whatever family you have.”
The movie’s themes reflect several major aspects of Chad’s own life.
First of all, Chad noted, “I grew up with a family friend who had a form of autism and spent many days at their home growing up. So, I kind of knew what was going on. That’s how the script kind fell into place in my head.
“I just started creating a story about three kids living with an abusive mother because their father had passed away. What would their situation be? And, what would I do in that situation? I found myself creating a story that just kept growing and growing and growing.”
Secondly, the grandmother in the story is a source of refuge for the runaway teenagers.
“I grew up very, very close to my grandparents,” Chad said. “Every time I had a dispute with my parents, I would always go to my grandparents because they would spoil me and always say yes. So, in my eyes, staying at my grandparents’ house was like a sanctuary, a place where all was good.
“So, in thinking what I would do in this situation in my script, I would try to save the family. And, for me, the place where I would be going would be my grandparents’ house. That would be the place where I would be safe and loved.”
Finally, the idea of strong sibling bonds came from Chad’s own relationship to his sister.
“I grew up very, very close to my sister,” he said, “so the sibling bond that I had with her helped me create the story.”
Chad wrote the original script, but it was a Craig’s List ad by Ankush looking for screenplays to produce that brought the two young men together. The response to Ankush’s ad actually came from one of Chad’s friends, and the two men met for the first time at a meeting set up by the friend.
Ankush said Chad’s script was the best one he received, and he responded to the story’s message about family bonds being the glue that holds people together through trying times.
“Chad gave me one simple line,” Ankush said, “about three kids, one being autistic, fleeing from their abusive mother, and it’s all about their road trip. In that I saw such a broad idea – anything can happen on that road trip. Such an open field of ideas were available. That’s a brilliant thing to work with; it’s a good backdrop for a movie.”
The decision to co-direct the movie “just naturally happened,” Chad said.
“We kept going back and forth with ideas, shot listing and kind of directing the movie out together obver coffee or in the office. We came to the point where [we asked ourselves], do we have to hire a director? Who’s going to direct this? And, we kind of both looked at each other like, ‘This is us. We’ve got it.’ It grew from there.
“We totally had the same vision; we saw the same thing,” Ankush said.
“Ultimately, we decided instead of hiring another director, we know the story, the characters and the way we wanted to see them. So we decided, hey, we should do it together. It was a good union.
“Surprisingly, everything went pretty smoothly,” Ankush noted regarding the movie’s pre-production, filming and editing phases. “We had such a good vision for the movie that it kind of fell into place as it went along.”
He added, “We found some great people to work with, and they did their job very well. We were so lucky in meeting people who enjoy what they do.
“We really were fortunate to have just an amazing cast, talented and really passionate about the project,” Chad agreed. “Every day you could feel it. They really wanted to be part of this.”
Casting the autistic brother, Dana, was “a challenging process,” Chad noted, who said they saw more than 40 young actors to find someone to portray an autistic teenager.
He said, however, “Devon Graye came in and just kind of blew us away. Without a doubt, he was far and away the most talented we saw doing that. In fact, our casting director had to ask was he actually autistic after the process. And we said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Devon on his own did quite a bit of going to autistic homes and spending time with autistic children.”
The other two teenagers, Kenneth and Charlotte, were played by Jesse James and Adrien Finkel.
“We started seeing many kids, 20 to 30 kids a day auditioning for the roles of Kenneth, Dana and Charlotte,” Waterhouse said. “At the same time, we started sending the script out for the mother and father roles. And, Rosanna Arquette responded to the script and it grew from there.”
Dee Wallace played the grandmother, Shirley, and Christopher Atkins played the father.
Waterhouse, now 26, moved out to Los Angeles five years ago to act in movies.
Then, he decided, “I want to be part of my own projects, the ones that I write. I don’t want to sit in auditions with 20 other people that look like me. I’d rather create my own meaningful projects that I can be a part of.”
Now, he and Ankush are very close friends.
Ankush, 29, was born in Los Angeles, then raised in India through high school by his parents. He moved back to Los Angeles in 1999 to go to college and spent some time in Indiana from 2003 to 2006, before he returned to L.A. to pursue his own movie career.
For right now, Ankush said, Chad and he just want to keep making independent, even experimental, movies together. He said they feel there’s plenty of time for them to make the blockbuster, tentpole movies that are the meat and potatoes of the major Hollywood studios.
“We have the utmost respect for each other’s opinion,” he added.