Provo is about Liz: an ex-Mormon drug addict living in Chicago who finds out her abusive father is on his deathbed in Utah. When Liz’s clingy friend-with-benefits, Geoffrey, sees the portrait of Joseph Smith from her father, he persuades Liz to road trip to Utah to confront her traumatic childhood.
Mission StatementProvo was created in a highly collaborative environment. Our small & eclectic crew is comprised of skillful artists who are majority queer, mostly women, and half BIPOC. The intimacy and collaborative process on set shines through the actors' raw performances and stunning visual storytelling.
About The Project
Provo is a comedy, drama, & western film about an ex-Mormon’s road trip to Utah to reckon with her past. I’m Emma Thatcher, the writer, director, editor, and lead actor of Provo. We wrapped production this summer and we are weeks away from picture locking the final edit. Check out our trailer here.
This is our story!
(Still from Provo- Hunter Bryant as “Geoffrey”, Emma Thatcher as “Liz”. Not color corrected)
(Excerpt from Provo’s lookbook- a mix of influential films and my 35mm photos)
Director’s storytelling themes
As a filmmaker, I have a unique naturalistic style, in which I cast actors who are similar to the characters, so we can find authentic moments and idiosyncratic behavior through improvisation. I enjoy small stories about relationships and missed connections, where the characters deal with the internal conflict of not wanting to be alone but also being afraid of intimacy. The audience will be able to experience Liz’s journey from believing she is undeserving of love because of the trauma from her childhood, to letting Geoffrey into her life and being vulnerable with him. I like to explore stories about relationships in the modern dating app era. I’ve found that people are constantly trying to protect themselves by not being vulnerable with their partners; often because of an attachment disorder and/or early childhood trauma. My goal as a filmmaker is to make audiences feel less alone when they see a character on screen going through the same thing they are, and to challenge the traditional patriarchal ways movies are often made.
Growing up Mormon
Liz’s character feels like an exaggerated parallel version of myself—if I had never gone to therapy. Growing up Mormon, I found that a good portion of my personality and choices were in direct opposition to the doctrine of the church. The Word of Wisdom, a section in the Book of Mormon, says that your body is a temple—so I made sure to trash the hell out of that temple as an angsty teenager who worshiped Kurt Cobain and pierced people's ears in locker rooms.
I think artists often make art about things that haunt them, and Joseph Smith is a figure that has always haunted me. I’m even named after his (first) wife, Emma Smith, and I am a direct descendent of him. I used to joke that I was a Mormon Princess when I'd first meet someone, until I realized it freaked people out and made them assume I was raised on a polygamist compound. (I wasn't)
(Still from Provo)
I grew up taking road trips to Utah with my family, and I’ve always felt very inspired by the vast Western landscapes in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah. I remember seeing LDS art on the walls in church and thinking they look just like the celestial vistas of the American West. There was an artistic movement in the 19th century called "Western Sublime”; in which American painters interpreted their romantic experience with the landscapes of the West. Provo beautifully captures the Western sublime in it’s sweeping wide shots.
(Caspar David Friedrich’s Landscape with Mountain Lake, Morning, 1835)
I was also inspired by modern black cowboy culture while making this film. It was important for me to portray a black man amidst the Western vistas, in awe of nature, and embracing the cowboy trope. I don't see enough of that in films! I'm so lucky that Hunter Bryant, the gifted actor who plays Geoffrey, shares my nerdy excitement for the cowboy aesthetic.
(Photo from @eightsecs by Ivan Mcclellen)
This Is The Place
Provo is a modern day ex-Mormon pilgrimage from Illinois to Utah. My primary school teachers in church used to talk about the Mormon pioneer journey as if it were the Great American Exodus. I took a long road trip last year by myself for a period film I was researching, and I drove from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City along the same routes as the Mormon pioneers and European emigrants who moved their entire life in covered wagons to Oregon. I was so visually inspired by the rugged Western terrain that I knew I had to make a road trip movie mirroring and subverting the early Mormon exodus. But instead of covered wagons, Liz drives a beat up Honda CR-V.
(Still from Provo)
According to Mormon lore (or history, depending on who you’re talking to), when Brigham Young first looked out at the empty desert valley from his wagon, he said “This is the place”. I wanted to subvert that zealous colonial attitude of the early Mormons, and reveal their racist history through the eyes of Geoffrey, who questions Mormonism from an outside perspective. “This is the place” also embodies the violent doctrine of Manifest Destiny, and I think it’s important we have images and media that deconstruct and question those ideologies, because they are deeply rooted in the American psyche. I also wanted to acknowledge my ancestors' violent history and spark the conversation about reparations for the black members of the church through Geoffrey's perspective & dialogue in the film.
(Still from Provo. Liz's "This is the place" moment)
Our target audience includes fans of naturalistic, gritty, indie dramedies, who enjoy seeing people on screen who are authentic and feel like they could be your friend. This project will resonate with millennials who have had a similar experience of leaving a repressive organized religion and deal with unhealthy coping mechanisms stemming from being ostracized by their conservative families. I think Provo will connect with young adults who feel alone in this confusing era of online dating. I want young audiences to have a catharsis when they see part of themselves in Provo's characters, particularly Liz, who struggles with defining her relationships, casual sex, and a fear of intimacy.
We intend to attract fans of the lo-fi comedic realism style of filmmaking like High Maintenance. The grounded style of acting in our film is reminiscent of the mumblecore movement, but with modern relationship issues and an elevated visual aesthetic.
I was also influenced by modern Westerns, particularly Meek’s Cutoff by Kelly Reichardt and The Rider by Chloe Zhao. I loved how they used the landscapes and harsh terrain in their visual storytelling to mirror the interiority of the characters. I wanted to subvert the Western genre’s traditionally masculine form of storytelling. Liz’s anger towards her father, and her dialogue about seeking revenge and wanting to throw the Joseph Smith portrait at her father’s dying face, is a play on the Western genre's depiction of retribution and individual justice. But instead of the typical violent or punitive story arc of a Western, Liz looks inward, finds peace, and forgives herself.
With the recurring visual theme of the Western sublime, we have also incorporated a beautiful score by Peter Briggs and Will Kyraizis; featuring ambient steel pedal and eclectic country music influences. I would love for people to see this film not only for the visual story, but also for the music! Provo’s score has a unique blend of western style music inspired by Harold Budd, Yo La Tengo, Chuck Johnson, SUSS, and Acetone. Fans of the cosmic country & alt-country genres will be excited to hear a couple of tracks in the film by Dougie Poole and Tommy Allen. I think our distinctive approach to scoring and lyrical montages will attract musicians and move them in a way other movies with traditional scoring do not.
We already made the movie- help us reach our audience!
Our goal with Provo is to tell the story right, by raising funds for sound mixing, music licensing, and festival submission fees. Film festivals are the best way to gain exposure for indie features, and if we are able to screen at festivals we have a chance to get a distributor, and then Provo will be on some of the top streaming platforms by the end of next year!
Production was entirely funded by: my good friend Ruby Que, who helped us rent thousands of dollars worth of equipment from her school every week, my sister Sophie Thatcher, and myself. I am so grateful for my crew, they’ve put so much grit and heart into this movie- this truly was a labor of love. My crew deserves to experience Provo with their friends and family, projected onto a large screen with a full audience.
This is the last step in our journey with the film. We must ensure audiences across the country will be able to connect to our movie! We are so close to finishing the edit, and then my insanely talented DP, Neil Shukla, will be color correcting it. Right now we just need more funds for a post production sound mixer, so audiences can enjoy the full soundscape of the Western sublime. We also need the funds to submit to festivals, so audiences can be fully immersed in the story and breathtaking landscapes in theaters.
Provo is dedicated to my filmmaking hero, Lynn Shelton, who passed away last year.
Thank you for your time & energy,
Spread the word!
We can only achieve our fundraising goals by leveraging the network of people who support us. Please share our campaign with your friends and family- either on social media, email or by word of mouth! We can’t do this without you!
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Help @provofilm and a group of fearless filmmakers by supporting @emmathatcherr's first feature film, Provo! Contribute to their campaign on @seedandspark: https://seedandspark.com/fund/provofilm and check out the trailer for it: https://vimeo.com/user63121305
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About This Team
Meet the Provo crew!
From L to R: Sarah Franke, Hunter Bryant, Emma Thatcher, Ruby Que, Allison Torem, Neil Shukla
(writer, director, actor, editor, executive producer)
Since I’ve already basically told you my entire life story, I’ll keep it brief! I’m a Chicago based filmmaker and photographer. I studied Meisner and Shakespeare at NYU Tisch School. I’ve acted in indie films such as American Folk, which you can catch streaming on Hulu. Soomin, a micro-budget short I made in Los Angeles, won the Audience Award at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. www.emma-thatcher.com
Sarah is a filmmaker, currently based in Chicago by way of LA and London. She has 10+ years of production industry experience, and has worked on projects ranging from internet comedy sketches to observational documentaries to HBO’s Westworld. She holds a BA in Film and Television Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and an MA in Documentary Film from University of the Arts London. Sarah seeks out projects that employ honest storytelling to explore the ethos of people and places. In her free time, she likes to shoot film and recreate outdoors. www.sarahfranke.com
Neil Shukla is a Nashville based cinematographer and photographer whose experience lies in visual films for music artists as well as narrative shorts within the Chicago Independent scene. His fascination with visual storytelling continues to guide him on his quest for finding techniques to create immersive cinema through vérité methods and technical experimentation.
Sophie’s first film role was the lead in Prospect with Pedro Pascal and Jay Duplass, the 2018 winner of the Adam Hornblower award at SXSW. Her next role was in The Tomorrow Man with John Lithgow and Blythe Danner, which debuted at Sundance in 2019. She also played the lead in a series for Quibi, When the Streetlights Go On, directed by Rebecca Thomas. Sophie recently finished filming the first season of a new Star Wars series from Disney+, and also season one of the new Showtime series Yellowjackets, with Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynskey and Juliette Lewis, directed by Karyn Kusama.
(executive producer, production sound mixer)
Ruby Que is a Chicago-based filmmaker and installation artist who explores various forms of ruination: abandoned sites, obsolete media, blurred memories, and emotional trauma. Shifting between different cinematic formats and modes of presentation, her work occupies the liminal space between past and present, alien and familiar. She often engages the audience as co-authors as human connection is at the center of her practice. www.rubyque.me
(co-producer, script supervisor, creative consultant)
Allison Torem (writer, director, actor) is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Chicago. As an actor, she’s starred as Zelda in Bradley Grant Smith’s Our Father (SXSW 2021). As a filmmaker, she has written or co-written, cast, co-produced, and directed the following short comedic films: Beefsteak, When Perry Met Ally, Friends Who Like Nickelback, and Or Your Money Back, and she is in the process of revising two feature comedies, one dark, fantastical, and romantic and one queer and absurd (current Quarterfinalist for the Screencraft Feature Screenwriting Fellowship 2021). In her upcoming film work, she intends to continue finding the absurdity in everyday life and running with it, and is eager to utilize humor in the service of profound social and philosophical inquiries of the highest stakes.
(actor playing “Geoffrey”)
Hunter Bryant is a Brooklyn based actor. Credits: Off Broadway - Sounding Board. Television - Empire. Training - BFA Acting & BA Creative Writing from The Theatre School at DePaul University. Represented by McGowan Rodriguez Management & DDO Artists Agency. "Provo is Dope"
We made this movie with a skeleton crew of multi-talented folks, which added a compelling layer of intimacy and authenticity to the performances that you wouldn’t be able to achieve with a large crew. Our crew was made up of 80% women, no white men were ever behind the camera, and the crew was majority queer. Because the set was so intimate and inclusive, it allowed the actors to feel safe to exude grounded, raw, and special performances. I think the actors' sense of ease, from our safe and collaborative energy on set, shines through their performances on screen.
I’ve never felt so comfortable with a crew before, probably because film sets are often mostly white guys. I studied drama at NYU, and I desperately wanted to be an actor, but one of the reasons I stopped auditioning was because of the hyper masculine culture on sets. I was cast in multiple films that had intimate scenes which were supposed to be closed sets (essential crew only), but of course there were 25 dudes standing there, gawking.
An Ode to My Crew
Directing and acting simultaneously wasn’t easy, so I am lucky that I had a producer, Sarah Franke, who knew the script inside and out, and that I trusted my crew’s creative opinion. Allison Torem, our co-producer, is also a skillful director & actor, and she helped coach me through the emotional moments in the film. For a lot of those striking wide two shots, my EP and production sound mixer, Ruby Que, was the only one on set who could hear our dialogue, which was often improvised, and I'm so glad I could trust her creative input on performance and dialogue. My cinematographer, Neil Shukla, and I have a unique collaborative synergy on set, as we continously brainstormed moments from our favorite films that could inspire Provo's visual & character storytelling arc. This was a highly collaborative and improvisational process; we made many of the important creative decisions as a group on set, and I think that makes our movie’s production process special.
Provo was developed in Scott Rodgers' outline to feature class. Scott Rodgers and the small group of artists in his group were invaluable to Provo's story development. Scott's class set the tone for the way I was going to make Provo: get together a small team who I trust and I can experiment and improvise with. This is my first feature, and I am very lucky to have meaningful relationships with artists from coast to coast who helped nurture this story to make it grow!