Filmmaker Q&A with Directors Melissa Center and Will Hawkes

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Melissa: Steven Spielberg, the Duplass Bros & Lynn Shelton

Will: I recently watched Roma and Alfonso Cuaron has always succeeded – I’m thinking of Children of Men as well – in telling personal, immersive stories while weaving in reflections of our culture.


What motivated you to make this film?

Melissa: After the 2016 election, I felt it was imperative to make a contribution in the way I knew how – through art.

Will: I have three mothers, and women’s reproductive rights has been political and social non-negotiable since I was a child. I found that most people believe, that since the ruling on Roe v. wade, all women in America have access to safe, reproductive care if they need it and that is simply not true. 90% of counties in the U.S do not have a clinic providing access for safe, clean abortions. So we decided to make a film about a woman living in one of those counties.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Melissa: We used the Sony A7S with the Atomos Shogun monitor and metabones adapter. This was our DPs request in order to capture a very authentic image in a small space.

Will: Sony A7. We used all natural and practical lights so milky a big technical shoot.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

Melissa: Our goal was to present them most truthful EMOTIONAL REALITY of a very raw, urgent, important situation that many women have faced in the past and will continue to face more & more as restrictions are passed to reduce access to safe abortions.

We chose to track the experience of a woman, surrounded by men, in a harsh environment. We chose to have the woman experience her journey in silence. We chose to trust the audience’s imagination in terms of some of the medical realities of the procedure itself.

Will: We chose not to have a musical score for the film. Our story is of the emotional journey as woman experiences an extremely difficult procedure so we thought the best “score” to reflect her emotional journey would be just of the natural sounds of the instruments and her and the doctors breathing and movements. We wanted the audience to feel like they were going through it with her. We didn’t want any separation.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

Melissa: From day one, we initially envisioned a much more comprehensive story! I wrote a backstory & journey leading up to the procedure itself. Due to timing & resource constraints, we decided to shoot JUST the procedure. We quickly realized that this was the absolute best way to capture & communicate this story. At the end of the day, we discovered, the rationale or justification for the procedure itself is no one’s business but the individual herself.

Will: Originally the story was of a couple starting a family and then ultimately needing to get an abortion. We eventually realized that the background of the characters didn’t matter, only the woman’s experience during the procedure, because this is happening to woman of all backgrounds across the country.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

Melissa: This whole journey has been a reward! Firstly, we were overwhelmed with the generosity of our team. We are so proud of our final product and the response has been extraordinary. We have been extremely lucky to screen this film across the country. Many individuals directly connected to women’s health have thanked us for our contribution.

Another amazing reward came very unexpectedly – Because of this film, I actually made friends with a stranger on a plane! It was clear in our conversations that he sided with a more “Pro-Life” point of view. We had a very meaningful conversation & it was clear we were able to respect each other’s backgrounds and beliefs. We still keep in touch to this day! It gave me hope for our future – that we can use art as a means to engage & unite.

Will: Two older women came up to me after a screening and describes how they had memories of pooling money together with girls in thei dorm in college in the 60’s to help one of their friend’s get a back alley abortion. They said many younger women do not know what it’s like to live under that kind of law and hopes that this film would help motivate members of this generation to ensure that we don’t go back to that.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Melissa: If you want to make a difference, you can. Humans communicate through story. It is the most effective way to connect with others. Telling a great story does not have to be complicated or expensive. When you have a cause you believe in with your heart, others are willing to support you!

Will: We made this film for $1500. There is no excuse – go make a film about an idea that matters to you and share it and see if it resonates with people. If not, go make another one. Besides, it feels awesome.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Melissa: Filmmaking is magical. The fact that filmmaking starts with an idea in one’s mind & ends up on a screen, filled with life is extraordinary. The whole collaborative process is challenging and maddening & fun & special.

Will: Figuring out solutions to obstacles and discovering magic moments you didn’t expect that perfectly reflect the story you are trying to tell.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why? 

Melissa: My cell phone. Because firstly, I’m addicted to it. But more importantly, it’s an amazing resource – it provides directions, captures behind the scenes photos & video, & facilitates problem solving.

Will: A protein bar. I get hungry.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

Melissa: Across the country, laws are being passed to restrict & eliminate access to safe abortions. Our video tracks the experience of a woman who has no choice but to undergo a procedure in a dangerous environment.

Will: R.V has partnered with the Reproductive Health Access Project. They provide educational materials and resources to reproductive clinics through the U.S


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

Melissa: N/A

Will: Most people don’t realize that so many women in this country don’t have access to safe reproductive care. Many reviewers tell us that R.V opened their eyes to that. It makes me feel like we achieved a little bit of something.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

Melissa: The whole process leading up to our shoot (& the shoot itself) was confronting. This isn’t something I’ve shared in talkbacks, but just prior to our shoot, I went through a medical procedure in which I froze my eggs. This was a challenging procedure emotionally & physically. Shooting this project was surreal for me, as my character had to undergo a procedure that was emotionally & physically challenging in a very different way, although connected to the same thing – life.

I wasn’t sure how I’d handle production. We had to push back our initial shoot date because I needed more time to recuperate. I thank my partner, Will, for supporting me through that process & picking up the physical slack where I had less to give. Luckily, it all ended up on screen.

Will: We lost 80% of the footage of the scene in the trailer and had to do reshoots two weeks later. Melissa, my co-director and lead actress had to experience all of the procedure a second time. She was amazing.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

Melissa: We want audiences to realize that abortions will continue whether they are legal or not. If audiences (regardless of political affiliation) empathize with our protagonist, we have done job.

Will: Women’s reproductive rights in danger in many states in this country. If that is not okay with you, then do something about it.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

Melissa: How do we ensure safe access to care for women around the country?

What happens if Roe vs Wade is overturned?

What is the currently reality across the country for women seeking safe care?

If women have no choice, what are the repercussions of that socially, politically, economically, etc?

What is the correlation between abortion & crime?

Will: Again, 90% of counties in this country do not have a clinic providing safe reproductive care.


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Melissa: Since I wrote this film, there have been many legislative decision made across the country – 7 states have only ONE clinic in the entire state. Governor John Kasich of Ohio signed a bill that bans a common second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation & penalizes doctors who perform them. Physicians could face a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, for the procedure. There is no exception for rape or incest.

Will: N/A


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved? 

Melissa: There are various ways you can get involved!

  1. Volunteer as an escort at abortion clinics (such as Planned Parenthood)
  2. VOTE “pro-choice.”
  3. Sign up for / support Emily’s list (an American political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office)
  4. Support our partners at The Reproductive Health Access Project! (An org. that mobilizes, trains, and support clinicians to make reproductive health care accessible to everyone.)

Will: They can donate to the Reproductive Health Access Project


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):

Melissa: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/‎




Will:  Www.rhap.com



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