Independent filmmaking requires a lot of collaboration and cool heads, as the process challenges those involved to navigate budgets, location scouting, and other tasks. Luckily, Bailey and Molly Donovan, the sibling duo behind the Pittsburgh-shot independent film Back for Good, apparently have a better-than-average brother-sister relationship.
"More often than not, people are amazed that we're able to do it," says Bailey, who grew up with Molly and his family in the South Hills borough of Brentwood. Not long after graduating from Point Park University’s Cinema and Digital Arts Program, he co-wrote/directed the film with Molly. "No one comes up and is like, 'You know, I work with my sibling all the time.'"
Released on Fri., June 4 on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Google Play, Back for Good marks not only a major accomplishment for the pair but for their whole family, who filled different roles during the Pittsburgh leg of the production (the film was also partly shot in New York City). Molly, a working actor currently living in New York City, acted alongside her father, Peter, in the film. Their sister, Hannah, did makeup, and their older brother, Joel, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and co-founder of DragonWake Films (Bailey is also a founder), acted as executive producer. Their mom, Bobbi, served as the production designer.
Bailey and Molly, who based the film on her own professional struggles, point out that, beyond their own family, the film was a truly Pittsburgh affair. The crew was mainly comprised of local film professionals, including many of Bailey's Point Park classmates. They also worked with other local filmmakers like Justin and Pat Francart, two cousins who make short films together.
They also shot at many Pittsburgh landmarks like Mount Washington and the Twin Hi-Way Drive-In, as well as restaurants in the South Hills and South Side.
The plot may sound familiar to many millennials who, at some point in their lives, were forced to move back home due to any number of factors. It follows Max, an aspiring actor who "confronts her quarter-life crisis by breaking up with New York City and returning home to reclaim the love she left behind," according to a press release.
Molly, who attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and studied Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, says the film is based on her own life and the struggles that come with working as a young actor.
"I was definitely feeling frustrated," says Molly. "When you don't get a lot of signs that everything you're doing is the right choice for your life, especially when you're pretty young, you're wondering if you're really on the right track. Are these bad days signs that I'm doing something wrong? Or is this just what it feels like when you're trying to do something that's hard. ... And so it was definitely based on a lot of the things I was feeling, you know, kind of questioning, kind of reevaluating things."
Molly and Bailey agree that, while they grew up in an "artistically encouraged household," where they even put on little plays as kids, they never planned on working together as adults. After writing the first draft of Back for Good, Molly showed it to Bailey, asking if he would direct it.
"My answer was, absolutely, because I had just gotten out of film school, and I was looking for, you know, what do I want my first step out of school to be?" says Bailey. "I wanted to try to sink my teeth into a project that that was really important to me and that was ambitious. And I couldn't think of a better project than something that Molly had written."
After working on the script together, the two began shooting in late 2014 and wrapped production in 21 days. The film hit the festival circuit, where it won various awards at the NYC Chain Film Festival and the Atlanta Underground Film Festival.
While the two had worked on short films before, both together and separately, Back for Good marks their first feature film. As a result, Molly and Bailey say they went through a learning process, especially in terms of figuring out distribution. They ultimately decided to self distribute.
"It was kind of a whirlwind because we went from festival to festival, and Molly and I were kind of zigzagging all over the country together," says Bailey.
Bailey believes that, while Pittsburgh attracts a number of large studio projects, from big-budget movies to prestige television shows, there's a lack of focus on the local filmmaking community.
"People that I went to school with and other film people in Pittsburgh get to work on [outside projects] and do great work," says Bailey. "But it's rare for there to be a Pittsburgh-born project with local crew in all positions. So we were really excited to be able to put that together."
Chris Fafalios (left) and Molly Donovan in Back for Good
They point out how the film was made possible largely by the support of the Pittsburgh community. They credit Point Park University and the Pittsburgh non-profit Steeltown for acting as donors for the project. Molly says many people also donated locations or food for the cast and crew.
In addition, Chris Fafalios, bass player for Pittsburgh-based band Punchline, embarked on his first acting role as Max's love interest, and also contributed music for the film.
"There was just a lot of people that were willing to extend themselves," says Molly.
While the film is only streaming, for now, they plan on hosting an in-person Pittsburgh premiere at some point.
Bailey says the experience brought him and Molly closer together and demonstrated the dedication and generosity of the Pittsburgh film professional community.
"I'm just really honored to have worked with the people we did, and I'm so proud of the work that they that they did," says Bailey. "I think it turned out great."