I’ve never been interested in easy stories, stories where you see the ending a mile away, stories the audience knows won’t disappoint or disturb them. And yet from 2006 to 2013, I worked almost entirely in crafting such stories as a reality TV editor for shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Duck Dynasty and TLC’s Policewomen franchise. In many ways, Echo Lake, written while I was helping make Duck Dynasty a national phenomenon, is a response to that experience... the experience of making the most palatable, universally wholesome, inoffensive television possible.
So with Echo Lake, the idea was to dedicate myself to a story I’d never get to tell in my day job, to tell the unadulterated truth about a character and trust that the audience could take it, even if that character seemed unlovable, or even infuriating. Thus, Will, our unlikely protagonist, was born. In many ways, Will is an exaggeration of all my worst qualities balled into one. A great writing teacher once told me to always write the thing that scared me the most, and so I try to do that as much as I can stomach it, to make myself as vulnerable as possible. No, I don’t drink like Will does, but there’s a version of me that has been there. There’s a part of me that wants to smash my tennis racquet, and pout, and ignore every awkward confrontation and dreaded responsibility in my life, too. There is a part of that in everybody. Like most people, I’ve just learned to control those tendencies and behave like an adult. Will has not.
That said, I hope that people see the humanity in Will, a character who needs more than anything to be able to grieve (for his father, but even more for his lost childhood, his lost sense of family). And yet, grieving is something Will has no idea how to do. He doesn’t even know how to tell the woman he loves that his father is dead. He’s that terrified of dealing with the baggage. He’s buried it that deep. I hope audiences will come to empathize and root for him, because that experience of not knowing how to grieve is a universal one.
Certainly, as a first film, there are plenty of things I would do different, but that’s the nature of making a film. I do know, however, that I made the type of story I could be passionate about, a story about a character and an experience that could never end up on a reality show, or even a mainstream film, and I hope that resonates with people.
- Jody McVeigh-Schultz, Writer/Director