by Gus Constantellis
“Backwards” is the first screenplay written by actress Sarah Megan Thomas, and it stars James Van Der Beek, fresh off his comeback on ABC’s “Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23.” The film is a short 89 minutes long, and is a delightful family-friendly drama about an Olympic rower whose dreams don’t come true. It deals with heavy themes and plots, but makes them accessible when dealing with what it takes to overcome defeat.
I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with the lead actress/writer/producer of the film, Sarah Megan Thomas, who was an extremely kind person, and ask her some questions about the process of the film.
I understand that this was the first screenplay you wrote. Can you talk a little about the process? Was it good/bad/challenging? Were there any moments that you just wanted to give up?
(laughs) Too many. Many moments. Overall, the process was really challenging. I knew the scenes I wanted to write but I had no idea how to put them together into a story. I was really lucky to have a lot of actor friends, so I got the chance to do a lot of table reads of early drafts of the script, and then I’d get many notes back.
How true does the story stay to real life for you?
The middle moments of the film were more like real life for me. I was never an Olympic athlete, but I was a rower in high school. There were specific moments I remember in high school, with my coaches, that I thought were cool moments to go into the script.
What was your favorite scene in the film? Or your favorite scene in the writing process?
I love the trophy case breaking scene and that whole montage. What I loved about that scene is the buildup to it. Most athletes are very stoic and they never break down, and there was this sense of delayed grief for [lead character] Abi. And I think that was the scene that was a turning point for Abi’s character, where she finally breaks down.
What was your favorite moment on set? Did anything go horribly wrong? Or was anything really fun that you wanted to share?
I would say that the jumping in the river scene was both the most fun and the most challenging. First of all, that river is absolutely disgusting. It was so gross! We actually had our director, Ben, jump in first. The challenging part of that scene was that we could only do one take, because we were on such a small budget… and there was a huge storm visibly growing in the distance. So all the cameramen were getting ready, and it was so hectic, and we just jumped right in.
What was your relationship with your director? Because you wrote, produced, and star in the movie, it must’ve been hard picking someone.
I really liked Ben right away when I was interviewing directors because he had the same, similar vision as I did for the film. I didn’t want it to be dark, edgy, which is definitely a direction you could take with it. It was important to me to keep it universal. I wanted coaches to take their team, or parents to take their kids. And Ben and I just got along really well. Both me and him were in the edit room together, and we didn’t get a producer’s cut and a director’s cut. We just got one cut of the film, which I thought was really special.
Of course, I want to ask – What was it like working with James Van Der Beek?
(laughs) Everyone has been asking the same question! Actually, I kind of wish I had some sort of gossip about him, but I really don’t. He’s just an all-around nice guy. He’s laid-back, and yet very professional. He was really lovely to work with, and down to Earth, and so helpful on set.
Gus Constantellis is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.