Having worked together on a variety of projects like Catching Faith and Wish for Christmas, actress/producer Alexandra Boylan and director John K.D. Graham decided to put make a film that would be their own from start to finish, filming a thriller in the wilds of the New Mexico desert. The couple assembled a team of friends and colleagues, and prepared to make a low-budget project that they would shoot, act, edit, and distribute without engaging any outside help. To hear more about their latest project, Christian Cinema caught up with Boylan and Graham while they were out for a coffee in Los Angeles.
Their latest project, At Your Own Risk, follows two friends, Angie (Boylan) and Taylor (Helenna Santos), as their small publicity startup is engaged by a potential client in a cacheing treasure hunt through the desert. Over the course of a week, participating in what appears to be a ‘game,’ the two women bare their souls about their individual issues, wrestle with the challenges of surviving in the wilderness, and question the mysterious drones that follow them through their hunt for a promised payday. A unique all-female buddy movie, the thriller aspects are all the more intense for the ‘ordinary’ way in which their arduous journey plays out.
The script by Boylan’s brother Andrew (Home Sweet Home) challenges the audience to interpret what is playing across the screen, hinting at motivations and false trails until the surprising end. But the elements of the film drag up a variety of addictions - from gambling, alcohol, technology, and more, that the two women must fight their way through. Boylan and Graham say that this was no mistake.
“What is wrong with society that we want to see bad things happen to other people?” Boylan asked with a wry chuckle. “We’re all addicted to wanting to watch people suffer. How do we get past that?”
At the film’s recent sold-out premiere at the Artemis Film Festival, a male audience member approached Boylan afterward and admitted that he had all these ideas as he watched the film about what the women would do. “He asked me, ‘Why did I want you to shoot her?’” the star continued.
Filming the movie was clearly a work of love, and the two had fun, but these were serious emotional buttons that Boylan and Graham knew they would be pushing. “We have to talk about the stuff we’re going through, heal from it, and move forward,” they shared. But Graham was insistent that the way it was shot and the story that was told were framed in a way that the audience has to participate and figure out what they believe… with women at the center.
Boylan recalled how her brother had said that Indiana Jones never had to go on an adventure and also worry about what was happening at home. Examining other action films starring women, they saw half-naked women who talked about men all the time and could not save themselves. “We wanted to make a movie about going on an adventure and never talk about a boy!” laughed Boylan. “Helen and I said that if we couldn’t get someone else to provide us with those roles, we’d have to make our own. So we made a movie about women out to save themselves, interacting like women really, genuinely, do.”
While several other colleagues helped with different aspects of the film’s soundtrack, editing, and cameos, Boylan, Graham, Santos, and cinematographer Richard Galli were the only four crew members to enter the desert, keeping the budget to a minimum. “This movie was all about wanting to do a project, make a movie, that we could do ourselves without other people having their money invested,” Graham explained. “We’re self-distributing, trying to connect with our fanbase and asking them to stream it or download. Maybe we’re too early, I feel confident we’ll get back the five thousand dollars we invested, so what would that mean if we could make a movie for twenty-five thousand or even a million dollars?”
The filmmaker duo is clearly passionate about pursuing the opportunities to control the creation of the project from start to finish, even while admitting that their previous films have been primarily backed by silent investors. “People always say that they want to make their own movie when they get a budget,” Boylan shared. “But we don’t want to wait for financing to follow our dream.”
Boylan and Graham have investigated the pros and cons of distribution, and while they might be ahead of the curve on self-distribution, they recognize that the market, the audience, is responding favorably to a set of strong heroines. Graham cited the split campaign they ran through pre-order through Facebook advertising, how advertising per person was cheaper for women but how men clicked more frequently to see what the film was all about. Clearly, there is an audience, and the Boylan/Graham combination is maximizing on it, the same way they did as they worked toward one of Image Entertainment’s top-five films of all time, Catching Faith.
Now, Boylan and Graham have poured themselves into a project that they hope audiences will appreciate but which represents their artistic endeavors, whether it is liked or not, recognizing that taste cannot be controlled. “I did some video work for a winemaker, and he told me he didn’t like the term, that he wanted to be something more like a wine steward,” Graham shared. “He said that he grew the grapes, gathered and pressed them, and bottled the wine, before selling it to people who would drink it. He couldn’t control whether they liked how it tasted or not, only the parts of the process he was responsible for. I’ve realized making films is a lot like that.”
Now, audiences can catch a view of what Boylan and Graham have been working on, even as next year’s projects, including Catching Faith 2, appear on the horizon. Like their creation, At Your Own Risk, Boylan and Graham have been through some wilderness moments. On the other side, their vision and perspective are seasoned by fire and weathered by rain, clearing space for what remains: the necessary, the pure, the true.
Enter the wilderness at your own risk.