A teenage boy, a widowed father, and a con artist’s worlds collide after a tragic accident takes the lives of a young child and a mother in a small Midwestern town in the early 90’s. Chris, 17, handsome yet lacking confidence, goes on the run to escape his guilt. Chris’ naïveté and search for acceptance is misplaced in the trust of his con artist uncle, Bill, which propels him into a world of crime. While in hiding, Chris meets Amy, his first love and the niece of the local Sheriff. Chris is torn between his attraction to Amy and his fear of the law.
In the fall of 1994, a small Midwestern town is stunned after a tragedy takes two lives. Chris Freeman, 17, handsome yet lacking confidence, is ostracized by his classmates for being the son of the only man in town to serve a life sentence. The accident hits too close to home for Chris. Fear of being stigmatized, Chris goes on the run in search of a fresh start. Meanwhile Denny Tillman, 35, a recovering alcoholic and recent widower, attempts to pick up the pieces of his broken life. Two strangers, Chris and Denny are now connected in their individual needs to escape their past.
On the run and resolute to never follow in his father’s footsteps, Chris travels East to his recently deceased Aunt’s farmhouse. Thinking the house is abandoned, he is rudely awakened when his life is threatened by Bill Lensing, 45, his aunt’s hardened and opportunistic husband. Bill does not take kindly to Chris’ presence at first, but as Chris reveals his past misfortunes, Bill relents and gives him shelter. Chris starts to look up to him as the paternal figure he always longed for. Bill teaches Chris his backwoods life of crime to help him get back on his feet. As Chris gets deeper into his new vice, he develops an interest in the girl next door, Amy, 20, an empathetic nursing student. As Chris and Amy’s relationship develops, unbeknownst to Chris, Amy’s uncle is the town Sheriff who is on the hunt for the recent murder of his nephew.
Back home, while the town continues to mourn the recent tragedy, Denny vehemently avoids dealing with his new life as a widower. Traveling down the road of denial, Denny sees himself as the worst version of his own adulterer father. He returns to his old drinking habits as his vice to numb the pain. He continues on his downward spiral. When he discovers his late wife’s diary, he realizes that he needs to change, if not for himself, for her memory. His attempts to redeem himself are challenged when he comes face-to-face with his past behavior that haunts him.
Chris is finally finding confidence in his new life and in his relationship with Amy until he discovers the Sheriff is scouring the town for a murder suspect. Understanding Chris’ fear of the law, Bill devises an easy plan for one last job that will help Chris get swiftly back on the road. As plans go awry, Chris chooses the path with the greatest risk to find his freedom.
BRIAN LUCKE ANDERSON | DIRECTOR
A woman was driving home from her nieces’ recital one night, only to have a 20 lb frozen turkey fly through her windshield and crush her face. On that same night a teenage boy was out on a drunken joyride with some friends and made a choice that forever changed his life… he throws a frozen turkey.
What surprised me most when I first heard this story wasn’t the fact that a woman almost died by a teen’s drunken mistake, but when the boy was facing a 20 year prison sentence for attempted murder, The woman chose to do something inconceivable. She forgave the teenage boy in court and spared him from the crushing sentence. This story of forgiveness inspired me as much as it troubled me. It got me asking questions such as:
- Is forgiveness truly possible for everyone?
- What holds us in resentment?
- Who is the hardest person to forgive?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2017, these questions had now taken a creative life of their own. I called my long-term writing partner Mokotsi Rukundo and pitched him the idea. He instantly took to it. Two years later, after several scripts and a proof of concept, we had money to start filming.
My approach in telling this story was for there to be a level of familiarity for the audience. From the setting to the lighting, to the actors’ performance. I wanted the audience to feel that they’ve passed through this town, or knew that couple, or maybe, they’ve been that kid. Making this film was a journey in itself. We were able to make the film in 21 days with 21 company moves. To say this was an ambitious film would be an understatement.
This story is a journey expressed both inwardly and outwardly, and it would have been impossible to express that truth without having such extremely talented actors and crew. I hope that this film helps showcase the delicate nature of forgiveness and inspires the audience to empathetically explore the complexity of human nature.
MOKOTSI RUKUNDO | WRITER
As a writer, observation has always been my key to unlock a good story. Growing up in Iowa, I always observed friendly conversations about the weather, the football team, and so on. You ask someone how they’re doing and the answer is typically “good” or will respond with a funny anecdote that diverts the question, or a pleasant smile and a hearty laugh. It looks functional, almost too perfect... Then you read the newspaper headlines and start to feel the real story... "High school football coach arrested for beating his wife..." "The valedictorian overdosed on heroin..." "Friendly neighbor kills husband..." the line between truth and deceit becomes blurry in our two different observations of character. Do we really know what’s simmering beneath the surface?
Clearly the headlines don’t reflect the faces and preconceived notions of the people we think we know. East of Middle West chooses to explore this paradox, by engaging the audience into the experience of how the personal turmoil we keep hidden will manifest unless dealt with.
I was inspired to write East of Middle West after the director, Brian Lucke Anderson, pitched an idea of a news headline he read. I instantly felt a connection with it. There was a clear opportunity to write in a style that explored the human connection in how we deal with our skeletons that we so desperately try to stuff in the closet.
This is a film of forced self discovery, a confession that guilt is a universal feeling, at times generational, yet we feel isolated within it. We wanted to show the complexities of what happens when someone knows they have done wrong, and the identity that forms from this belief. It is a sincere story in which the audience witnesses how three different characters choose to confront and remedy their pasts.
My approach in writing this film was to follow the subversive theme of our main characters. Instead of having a couple argue about their marriage, they fight about what kind of milk their daughter should be drinking. Everything’s uncomfortable just below the surface. That internal contradiction we harbor inside of us.
When Brian and I started working on East of Middle West we were intent on creating a film that exposed the fragility of human nature. Our hope is through observation, the audience will feel empathy towards broken people searching for their freedom, externally or internally. I believe by showing these commonalities we have in our dark moments, it may lead to an openness with each other that brings more moments in the light.
What was the first image that came to mind after reading the script?
I became inspired by some of the classic movies I had seen that have taken place in the American Midwest, like Days of Heaven and Badlands.
What other films inspired you when coming up with the visual style for the film?
Brian and I definitely talked a lot about Terrence Malick’s work on Days of Heaven and Badlands. To be honest, one of the major references for the film was actually the work of American painter Andrew Wyeth. His color palette was a big influence on how we approached the color palette of the film.
How did you approach the period piece elements? Did that influence the type of camera, lenses, color grade, and other gear that you selected?
When thinking about the period piece elements, I was definitely thinking early about technically how to emotionally portray some of these elements. I wanted lenses that rendered slightly warmer and working with our colorist Derek Hansen really helped give a slightly ‘tobacco’ feeling which, I think, supports the period aspect of the story, without being too heavy handed on the “look of the past.” Definitely for the night exteriors, I wanted to make sure we felt the sodium vapor lights, as they were very prominent in the 90s.
What was the biggest challenge for you when creating the visual style?
I think the biggest challenge to creating the visual style of the film was to remain disciplined on when to move the camera and when not to. We went into the film knowing that we wanted to build towards the end of the film with regards to camera movement and the energy that brings. Over the course of a 4-week shoot, you have to keep yourself in check and make sure the slight moves in the earlier scenes of the film are warranted and not tipping off the audience for what is going to come later with the chaos and potential violence.
A car accident has a huge impact on the plot. What was it like working with the stunt coordinator and preparing for that scene?
The car accident scene was definitely the most challenging shoot day. I think it ended up being like 16 hours long. Working with the stunt coordinator was helpful as he was able to describe to us how the car was going to flip, which informed us on how the best way to film the sequence. We knew that we wanted to maintain the idea of seeing this the way Chris sees this, so maintaining his POV was very important.
How did you manage to put all the costumes together on a tight, indie film budget?
Often times designers can feel limited to what they can do with a small budget, instead, I try to turn this into an opportunity to be more creative. With a background in fashion design and working Broadway shows, I have learned that accessories can be your best friend. I find the easiest way to start is to take a minimalist approach to the costume and put the most effort into key accessories for each character.
What inspired the mood and tone you set for the film’s wardrobe?
I remember my first production meeting with Brian, Mokotsi, and Andrew regarding the mood for the wardrobe. It was a very nostalgic conversation, and we were all on the same page about how we could use the costumes, to elevate the entire film. There are some very dark scenes in this movie and being able to translate that with the wardrobe on camera can be a challenge. It has just as much to do with the performance of the actor, the lighting, scoring and the direction of the entire scene. It’s a very collaborative process from all crew members. We also have some lighter moments, where I could use costumes to help brighten the scene and lighten the mood.
How did you approach the time period?
Growing up as a teenager during the 90s, the fashion trends were still fresh in my mind. I took a walk down memory lane, remembering some of my favorite looks from that time period and then I re-created them East of Middle West style.
The jean jacket plays a noteworthy part in the plot. How did you come up with the design?
This is by far my proudest piece of the entire film, and it came together so organically, you could never do this twice. After speaking to the writer and director it was clear we wanted our lead to have a noteworthy piece of wardrobe. We went back-and-forth on things, brainstorming, whether it would be a piece of jewelry, a jacket etc. We finally decided it would be a denim jacket with a dragon on the back of it, after several attempts we scratched the dragon idea, and I had very little time to re-create the final jacket. I rounded up all of the fabric, crafts, string and paint that we had on set, and I’m talking we were out in the middle of nowhere....and I made this jacket, while standing outside on a gravel road.
What was your biggest challenge creating the costumes for East of Middle West?
Since this was a period piece, and we had limited budget, one of my biggest challenges was stretching the budget without compromising the authenticity of it. Because a lot of 90’s clothes are now considered vintage, they actually cost a lot more than they used to. I couldn’t just go to a vintage store and buy all of the things, because we didn’t have the budget for it, and it’s nearly impossible to find duplicates of key items, which is crucial in my department.
CARSON MacCORMAC as CHRIS
Carson MacCormac is an actor, producer and writer who has been performing since the age of eight. Carson’s career began with lead roles in musical theater productions before transitioning to acting for camera, focusing on film and television projects, and training under prestigious acting coaches such as director Brian K. Roberts, Dean Armstrong, Andrew Magarian, and notable director Gil Junger.
Carson’s feature credits include supporting roles in the DC Comics superhero movie Shazam!, the indie feature Giant Little Ones, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and opposite Madison Iseman in Riot Girls. Also, notably, Carson’s first professional performance was playing the lead in the short film Cold Hands, based on a true story about sexual assault directed by Eric Bizzarri. Cold Hands has gone on to earn the status of official selection at several film festivals and is now streaming on Revry.tv. Most recently Carson wrapped the lead role in the gritty independent drama East of Middle West by director Brian Lucke Anderson. Carson also recently completed producing and starring in his first short film Thinly Veiled and continues to have other active projects in various stages of development.
Notable television credits include Carson’s starring role in Big Top Academy for Pop TV which is in association with the world renowned Cirque du Soleil; opposite Anna Paquin in Bellevue for CBC; in a supporting lead in Lifetime’s TV movie Zombie at 17; and most recently recurring roles on the Netflix series October Faction, and LOCKE & KEY, also for Netflix.
Carson is also a Grade 8 Royal Conservatory Vocal graduate and has won numerous #1 placements in provincial competitions. He is a singer/songwriter and won first place at the 2018 Ontario Vocal Artists Festival. Carson plays guitar and writes songs during his down time. An avid athlete, Carson played competitive baseball, retiring at the Major Elite rep level. The discipline and collaboration required for the sport is something that he has carried with him into his work as a performer.
Carson is also a ski instructor, golfer, work out enthusiast and rabid basketball fan. Extremely competitive, Carson loves playing video games and basketball with his younger brother, Braeden. Carson splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles.
JORIS JARSKY as DENNY
Joris Jarsky is a versatile actor whose work over the last 20 years has taken him all over the world. He most recently landed a leading role in the independent film God’s Country starring opposite Thandie Newton.
Some of his noteworthy accomplishments include being nominated by the Canadian Screen Awards for 'Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Limited Series’ for his role in First Response. In 2008, Jarsky had three films screen at the Toronto Film Festival: Toronto Stories, The Green Door, and Blindness. For Toronto Stories, he was nominated for an ACTRA Toronto Award for ‘Outstanding Performance.’ His feature work includes Louis Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk, and Saw V. His work on television includes roles in ABC's The Good Doctor, Bad Blood, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Wynonna Earp, The Dead Zone, as well as the Netflix series October Faction.
Upon Jarsky’s graduation from Canada’s National Theatre School, he was cast in The Awakening which earned him a Dora nomination (Toronto’s theater award) for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Male.’
SCOTT MCCORD as BILL
Scott McCord is an award-winning Canadian actor, voice actor and musician based in New York. A versatile performer known for his boundless character work, his career has spanned over three decades in theater, film, television, radio and animation. He is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio. Selected film and TV credits include: the upcoming indie feature East of Middle West, Blood Honey, Shoot ‘Em Up and 16 Blocks, Netflix’s upcoming superhero origin series Jupiter’s Legacy, The Blacklist, The Deuce, Lost Girl, Rookie Blue, and Hemlock Grove. In Canada, he played researcher James Joy for three seasons on the Genie Award winning The Eleventh Hour (CTV).
He is known for his voice work in animation, including the hit series Paw Patrol, the Total Drama Island universe (as popular characters Owen and Trent), Camp Lakebottom, Hotel Transylvania the series, Bakugan Battle Brawlers, Inspector Gadget, and Justin Time (Canada Screens Award Winner, Best Performance in an Animated Series) Scott has voiced various roles in the animated studio features The Nut Job and the upcoming historical drama Charlotte about the painter Charlotte Salomon.
He recently played Mike Pence in the award-winning podcast series The Oval Office Tapes for Blumhouse Productions. He has voiced for the popular video games Red Ded Redemption 2 and Far Cry 5 and has been a featured animation guest at Armageddon Expo in Australia, New Zealand and Toronto COMICON and FanX. He was recently nominated for two independent theatre awards for his portrayal of Casmir Rolinski in Mark Borkowski’s two-hander The Head Hunter.
SOPHIE HOYT as AMY
Sophie Hoyt grew up in New York with the call of Broadway and theatre all around her. Her passion and talent for acting was evident in her acceptance at LaGuardia Arts High School, recognized widely as the inspiration for the film Fame, where she studied theater. She began acting at an early age and continued to move forward in the industry that she loves. Throughout her childhood, Sophie performed with the off-Broadway theater company, Royal Family Productions, in various cabaret shows and concerts including a birthday performance for the acclaimed composer, Marvin Hamlisch. Before graduating, Sophie was awarded Honorable Mention in Spoken Theater by the National YoungArts Foundation, which allowed her the opportunity to perform in a devised production of Peter Pan directed by Jay Scheib.
Sophie transitioned to film and television appearing in a number of national commercials and soon landed notable roles on television such as Soundtrack, starring Jenna Dewan and in the acclaimed NBC series Chicago Med. Sophie’s feature credits include playing the role of Valerie in the comedy-drama Come As You Are and Allasandra in the drama Soul Sessions, which explores the timeless nature of love. Sophie will soon be seen on the big screen as a Supporting Lead in the independent drama East of Middle West, directed by Brian Lucke Anderson.
Sophie grew up competing in alpine ski racing and now enjoys spending her downtime in the Catskills with her family. The biracial daughter of a graphic designer and a musician, Sophie learned to explore her racial identity through visual, literary, and theatrical mediums. This path led her to specialize in multiracial and African American literature at the University of Chicago, where she holds a degree in English with honors. Sophie credits her strength and love of the arts to her parents who always encouraged her to follow her passion with a steadfast work ethic. Sophie now resides in Chicago.
ANDREW SHANKWEILER | DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
From an early age, Andrew Shankweiler has been captivated by visual storytelling. Cultivating this passion took on many shapes and forms throughout the years, but it wasn't until he studied film and media arts at Temple University did it really provide an outlet. He discovered cinematography and decided to pursue this path relentlessly. He gained a great deal of experience as a Gaﬀer working in Philadelphia and New York, but in 2011 decided it was time to move to Los Angeles and study cinematography at the American Film Institute.
After graduating from a successful campaign at AFI, Andrew launched into the industry and began shooting narrative, commercial, music video and documentary projects. While Andrew is based in Los Angeles, his work has taken him internationally to over 25 diﬀerent countries, working on feature length and short form projects throughout.
GLEN MONTGOMERY | EDITOR
Glen Montgomery cut his teeth over a decade of experience in the commercial world, editing spots for brands such as Best Buy, Dominos, Hulu, and T-Mobile. He continued to showcase his storytelling expertise working on a number of narrative and documentary short films. This led to him collaborating with Paul Hunter (director) on the miniseries, Vital Signs, starring Dr. Dre, Sam Rockwell, and Ian McShane.
After editing the short film, By & By with director Brian Lucke Anderson and writer Mokotsi Rukundo, the dynamic duo pursued Glen to edit their feature film and passion project, East of Middle West. Glen left his position at Arcade Edit to pursue his first love of long form editing. The deal was cemented in a Pasadena pub over Brian and Glen’s love of soccer as they cheered on the miracle comeback of Liverpool Football Club against Barcelona in the Champions League. Glen and his wife, Alyssa, have two young boys and reside in Los Angeles, but are currently on a COVID-exchange trip in rural Minnesota. Glen believes that editing is as technical as it is poetic; the right cut, at the right moment, can move mountains. Jesus Christ is his executive producer.
KEENAN O'REILLY | 1ST ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Keenan O’Reilly is a writer & director based out of Los Angeles. His unique visual style is marked by precise, calculated choices and grounded characters. Keenan’s talent in storytelling and his keen eye for detail can be seen through the narrative and visual appeal of his short films. While working frequently in commercials and music videos, his main focus and passion is long-form narrative. Keenan’s films feel like they are cut with a razor blade, not garden shearers. He believes that stories well-told have the ability to change people for good.
Keenan brings his expertise, inspiration and dedication to every film. Especially, in his latest collaboration as first assistant director for the feature film East of Middle West, which is currently being submitted to the film festival circuit. Keenan is continually writing new material and is currently in development for his feature directorial debut, Hunting Blind. He is represented as a director by Two Bridges Films and Rezistor Studios.
MISTY BLANK | COSTUME DESIGNER
Misty Blank works in film with a primary focus as a costume designer and makeup artist. A four time Emmy nominee, her work has been seen in feature films, music videos, political campaigns and network television with clients including: NBC, FOX, CNN, ABC, BET, ESPN and The Late Show. Celebrity clients have included: Kevin Costner, Steve Martin, Gordon Ramsay, Bob Costas, Martin Short, and Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin. Blank fuses her career in film as a makeup artist and costume designer with runway collections that pushes the envelope with every show.
Her experience on Broadway shows including: The Book of Mormon, The Sound of Music, Les Miserables, and Motown has allowed her a new level of skills that she carries over to every project. Blank recently began a teaching position as an adjunct professor at the University of Iowa in the Theatre department. She enjoys spending her down time at home with her two boys Maddoc and Gunnar.