“Searching for something to believe in”: Ethan Warren talks about the making of “West of Her”

West of Her poster

Breathless and in obvious pain, Dan is roused from a troubled sleep by a phone call in the dead of night. The voice on the other end seeks to confirm that he has no ties to family or friends. Dan responds, “Yeah, nobody knows I’m alive.” Those words are exactly what the caller needs to hear before sending Dan out on his first assignment.

The rules are simple. Dan’s partner, Jane, educates him after their first mission together: “Don’t get there before midnight. Never park where you’re laying the tile. Ideally, no one should ever see us. At all. Ever.”

West of Her is an exhilarating adventure, a quest that takes Dan and Jane to some of the most breathtaking locales in the country. Yet it is also a story shrouded in mystery and driven by a longing for a sense of purpose. Dan feels like “a jigsaw piece from the wrong puzzle.” Searching for meaning, desperate to fit in and feel part of something larger, he is willing to do things he never dreamed he was capable of.

“The dead die backward.”

“I first had the idea for this story back in 2010,” writer/director Ethan Warren told Entertaining Options. “I wrote it as a piece of prose — a very, very short story. A novella. The following year, I started to get interested in the idea of screenwriting and dramatic writing, so I picked up this novella that I had written because I thought it had such visual potential. In the story, I was describing these beautiful American vistas and locations, but what prose can really do justice to actually showing this huge sweep of America? So I tried it as a screenplay and I quickly realized it’s a story that you can tell very easily on a really small production scale. It involved only two characters and a car, and so much of it is outdoors that I wouldn’t face a lot of the complications that usually come along with making a feature film.”

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Ryan Caraway as Dan and Kelsey Siepser as Jane in Ethan Warren’s “West of Her.”

“I based the story on places that I had been,” Ethan revealed. “Previously, I took this exact route with… well, she was my girlfriend at the time, but she’s my wife now. The story was starting to percolate around the time that we were taking this trip and I realized that the most effective way to tell this story would be to go hit these actual landmarks so I would know details like how long the drive time actually was between any two locations and I would know how to accurately describe those locations in my story.”

West of Her is not so much a love story as it is a study of two people learning to open up and trust each other in an alien situation. Dan’s partner, the enigmatic Jane, played brilliantly by Kelsey Siepser, claims she knows nothing more than he does about their task of traveling the country to strategically lay tiles bearing cryptic quotes (e.g., “The dead die backward”). She tells him that she’s just been doing it a little longer than he has, that’s why she seems to have greater insight. Throughout the movie, different situations arise that cause Dan to wonder if Jane is really being honest with him.

Ryan Caraway, who plays Dan, is absolutely captivating. His portrayal of a lost soul, pondering life and searching for deeper truths while being caught up in a grand design that is outside his ability to comprehend because he doesn’t see the full picture, is award worthy. And the growth we witness from the film’s opening to where he winds up emotionally in the final act is simply remarkable.

“A lot of the emotional concerns that Dan is going through early in the film are based on the place that I was at in my life at the time,” Ethan admitted. “I was 24 and writing a story. When Dan expresses that he feels like ‘a jigsaw piece from the wrong puzzle,’ that’s the emblematic line for me. He’s searching for something to believe in, something bigger than himself to be part of. That’s definitely where I was. I was a young writer, toiling alone and not really having any collaborators or peers that I had found yet. However, through the making of this movie, I have found a huge network of other artists and collaborators and peers, so just by making this film I have change that situation for myself, which is really nice.”

Ethan continued, explaining that viewing yourself as a piece to a puzzle that needs to fit in to create a specific picture might not be the best way to approach life. “We are each our own individual picture and when you pull out, you can see that together, we create a bigger picture that is a beautiful mosaic.”

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Ryan Caraway as Dan and Kelsey Siepser as Jane in Ethan Warren’s “West of Her.”

West of Her is a powerfully intimate and original work that blossoms with glorious cinematography. The story will keep you guessing, wondering which details are climactic elements and which merely serve as McGuffins, devices that trigger the plot.

“Ultimately, this movie belongs to the viewer and that’s what’s so great about creating art and putting it into the world,” Ethan concluded. “As a filmmaker, you don’t make any decisions arbitrarily, everything has a purpose. But you can never be certain that intention is going to be passed along to the viewer.”

“The scope of my life has changed during the many years it took to make this movie. It’s really remarkable. West of Her is one day away from coming out and I’ve gone from a guy living in an apartment and having a girlfriend to a guy having a wife and being a father of a 15-month-old. It’s pretty wild!”

West of Her was written and directed by Ethan Warren. The film stars Ryan Caraway and Kelsey Siepser. It has a running time of 87 minutes. Gravitas Ventures will release the film on VOD and across all other digital platforms on February 6, 2018.

Awards:
2016 Scruffy City Film and Music Festival: “Best Narrative Feature,” “Best Director,” “Best Screenplay,” “Best Cinematography,” and “Best Original Song”
2016 Santa Cruz Film Festival: “Best Narrative Feature”
2016 Intendence Film Festival: “Best Narrative Feature (American)”
2016 Red Rock Film Festival: “Best Narrative Feature”

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