A Face in the Crowd: Deb Shoval Gets the
Love Story “AWOL” Back on Track

Seasons change and so did this director's plans for what promises to be a special feature debut....Read More
Deb Shoval's film "AWOL"

Deb Shoval had always intended to take a break during the shooting of her debut feature so that the seasons could change. But naturally for a film called “AWOL,” things have not gone exactly according to plan.

“It’s really good for us because there’s genuinely a passage of time that’s supposed to happen in the story, so the [characters’] hair really will be longer, the children really will be taller and the season really will be different,” says Shoval, who saw a four-month hiatus for her love story between a lonely housewife and a recent female Army enlistee turn into a year-and-a-half after her lead Lola Kirke was cast in Noah Baumbach’s next film.

In fact, a lot of good things have happened for “AWOL” since Shoval finished up production on the film’s first act in September of 2012. Besides suddenly having a newly minted star on her hands, Shoval has taken the year away to participate in the IFP Narrative Completion Labs to help refine what she has, and has seen the film nominated for the Calvin Klein Live the Dream grant, to be presented at this year’s Gotham Awards, which could go a long way towards finishing the production. Yet after a previously successful IndieGoGo campaign to start shooting, Shoval is turning to the crowdsourcing site once more for a campaign ending on November 27th to make sure she can restart filming in January.

Shoval can stand to be a little more patient considering “AWOL” is a story she’s been waiting to tell ever since her youth in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. Shoval first turned her passion for the bleakly beautiful coal mining region into the short “AWOL” is based on, which premiered at Sundance in 2011. While the short offered a tantalizing glimpse of a romantic Christmas rendezvous between the two women shortly before the soldier needs to redeploy, the feature promises to flesh out the relationship between Rayna, the married mother of two, and Joey, the Afghanistan-bound teen, as they first fall in love during summer and ultimately hatch a plan to run away from town in the winter. Although such a romance is timeless, Shoval is aware that since she first began work on the film, times have changed slightly.

“One thing that changed is that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was still really a real thing when we made the short and now it’s more of a metaphorical thing,” says Shoval. “It’s still how the lead actress and I talk about her personal experience with her family. But what we’re really talking about is class and opportunity — the experience of living in this post-industrial, rural area and deciding at 18 years old, am I going to go to college and take on all this debt? Am I going to go to the army? Am I going to stay at home and do what my older siblings do? So the climate still feels pretty similar.”

The same can’t be said, however, for the literal temperature Shoval and her crew will face when the production of “AWOL” resumes, which is partially why the writer/director has embarked on a crowdsourcing campaign. Additional funds will allow the filmmakers to shoot more comfortably during the bitter cold of a winter in Harveys Lake, Pennsylvania. Already, Shoval has been heartened by the warm reception to the early footage she’s shown of the film to audiences in San Francisco and New York, events that have been part of a larger effort to spread word about the film and its IndieGoGo campaign.

“It’s an amazing experience to not even be done shooting and just get people’s reactions and feedback,” says Shoval. “It’s definitely a great way to just build an audience and find new allies that you didn’t know existed.”

As the two lonely souls who embark on a clandestine relationship at the center of “AWOL” surely know, it’s those allies who pull you through.

To back this project and watch the filmmaker’s personal pitch video, click here. And follow the film’s progress on Facebook.

Stephen Saito is an L.A.-based writer whose work has been published in The L.A. Times, Premiere, and IFC.com.
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