AE Exclusive Sneak Peek at “AWOL”and Interview with Filmmaker Deb Shoval

AfterEllen reviewed AWOL last year, when it was making the film festival rounds, and this small town American love story is now being released (today!) on iTunes and VOD platforms. We were fortunate enough to be granted an exclusive clip from the movie starring Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool, and filmmaker Deb Shoval answered some of our questions about her feature debut. You can read a longer, more thorough interview with Deb Shoval HERE, but that one has spoilers, so you’ve been warned!

 Enjoy this AE exclusive clip! What inspired  you to write AWOL?

Deb Shoval: AWOL began as a short film which producer Jessica Caldwell and I shot over three days during a January blizzard in and around my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 2010.  I wanted to talk about opportunity – and the lack thereof – for young people growing up in a rust belt region like ours, where the long-gone coal industry still leaves its scars. I had become preoccupied by the story of a young lesbian-identified woman named Skyler James, who had become a sort of a poster child for American soldiers seeking asylum in Canada.  I was curious whether Skyler had come to have a critique of militarism that made her morally incapable of completing her service, or whether her life-altering decision was more personal than political.  What moved me most as Skyler told me her story was how young she seemed, how impetuously she both joined and deserted the Army, in contrast to how consequential the decisions actually were on the entire trajectory of her life.  I had so much respect for her, this young woman who so boldly wore her heart on her sleeve.


AE; How did the project evolve from a short film into a feature?

DS: The short was such a small and intimate project – my friends’ kids played Rayna’s children; my childhood bus driver played Joey’s mom; the entire crew stayed at my Uncle Joel’s house.  Cinematographer Jessica Bennet shot on an EX1 and rigged together 35 mm lenses for it; she used PVC piping as our dolly – so it was quite shocking and magical when we got the call from Kim Yutani at Sundance.

When Karolina Waclawiak and I decided to adapt the short film into a feature script, the themes remained the same, but we were able to address other story questions, too: What would it look like for Joey and Rayna to actually experience their utopia? How might we develop the role of Joey’s mom into a complex and nuanced character that a fantastic actress will want to play? What happens to the story if Rayna isn’t the only woman that Joey has slept with?

AE: Is the main character, Joey, based on your personal experience?

DS: I am asked a lot if Joey is me and the truth is, she isn’t. She’s far braver than I was at that age and she’s from a different class background and she sure as hell has a better singing voice! If anything, I’m one of the college girls out to eat with Joey in the Hibachi restaurant scene, and I had a great time poking fun at myself while writing that scene. But the entire film brings to life the area in which I was raised.  AWOL is a love letter to Wilkes-Barre, PA.

AWOL, starring Lola Kirke (Mozart in the Jungle, GONE GIRL, MISTRESS AMERICA) and Breeda Wool (Unreal, betas, The Faith Diaries). The film is a  feature debut from writer/director Deb Shoval.