When Jon and Andrew Erwin worked as cameramen for ESPN, made TV commercials, music videos and then a TV pilot, these brothers from Birmingham, Ala., had no designs for making a feature film about an abortion survivor.
But tomorrow, their first feature film, “October Baby,” opens in cities and towns in 40 states across America.
Director Andrew Erwin and actors John Schneider, Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey spoke to WND about the film, the surprising audience reactions and their hopes for “October Baby.”
“As a filmmaker you have to find your story, but most of the time it finds you,” Andrew Erwin told WND. “Jon and I are both pro-life and very passionate about the issue, but never really thought that would be our first feature film because it’s a risky topic.
“Jon heard Gianna Jessen share her story as an abortion survivor. He first heard her online, then at a banquet – and he was so captivated because he didn’t really understand those two words, ‘abortion’ and ‘survivor,’ could go together.”
As Andrew tells it, the more Jon researched abortion survivors, the more he wanted to write and co-direct “October Baby,” a fictional coming-of-age love story inspired by Jessen’s survival, abortion injuries, adoption and zeal for life.
“Jon co-wrote ‘October Baby’ with Theresa Preston and put the first draft on my desk,” explained Andrew. “I read it, couldn’t put it down and said ‘I have to direct this movie!’”
Rachel Hendrix stars as Hannah, a 19-year-old college freshman who steps onstage for her theatrical debut. Before she can utter her first lines, Hannah collapses and goes into convulsions – stunning the audience, including her parents (John Schneider and Jennifer Price).
After medical tests, all signs point to one underlying factor: Hannah’s difficult birth. To Hannah’s shock, her parents reveal she was actually adopted after a failed abortion attempt.
Instead of being grateful, Hannah feels somewhat betrayed by her parents and turns to her lifelong friend Jason (Jason Burkey), who takes her on a spring break road trip with some quirky characters (including Chris Sligh as Bmac). On the road, Jason helps Hannah to find her birth mother (Shari Rigby). And along the way, Hannah meets Mary (Jasmine Guy), a nurse who essentially tells Hannah her life is more significant than she could have imagined.
“Now that the film has been made, it’s not what people expect,” Andrew Erwin explained. “But in the initial development stages, people told us ‘Don’t touch this story. This is too risky. Move on to something safe for your first film.’ We thought about it, but this one just so grabbed our hearts, we had to tell this story whether it was risky or not.
“When it was finished, we showed ‘October Baby’ to the studios. One of the executives at a studio where we thought it was gonna end up said, ‘Jon, I love your story. I love the way it was told. I love the acting. You’ve proven that you can make a feature film. But we won’t touch this subject because it’s hard to pitch around at the cocktail parties.’”
The “October Baby” trailer:
When the Erwins asked what they should do, the Hollywood exec answered: “Sell this one off cheap, get whatever you can, let’s move on to the next one and then we’ll talk.”
Instead, the Erwins went around the studio system and independently released their film with financial help from the American Family Association.
“Because of it,” said Andrew, “we’ve maintained the integrity of the story we wanted to tell.”
John Schneider admires the Erwins’ independence.
He said, “Gutsy films can only be produced independently because they’re not committee films.”
In addition to “October Baby,” Schneider stars in the mystical thriller “Doonby” and plays characters in other recent indie films, including “I Am Gabriel,” a family film with “Doonby” co-star Jenn Gotzon and Dean Cain; “Hardflip” a skateboarding drama with Rosanna Arquette; and “Not Today,” the story of a self-centered American party boy who goes to India and decides to rescue a little girl from slavery.
He explained, “I never heard about failed abortions or ‘abortion survivors’ before ‘October Baby.’ I want people to consider their choices – consider their actions – and be educated about the long-term effects of choices, both good and bad.
“‘October Baby’ is gorgeous,” Schneider added. “I think it’ll work well mainstream because it’s a good story.
“The really amazing thing about the movie is that the Erwin brothers did not point any fingers at anybody. In fact, they said you are a person in need of and worthy of forgiveness regardless of what you may have done.”
Rachel Hendrix agrees. She’s known the Erwin brothers since she went to art school with Andrew’s wife. After they featured her in a music video, then a TV pilot with Jason Burkey, she considers the Erwins family.
Thus, she said, “I agreed to take the part in the film before I knew what it was about. With the story being so great, I would have been crazy not to take it.
“Now, after the encounters I’ve been having with people, I’m blown away because I didn’t know ‘October Baby’ would have such power. It’s immediate after the film. Usually two or three women come to me, and a man goes to Jon the director or Jason the actor. And they say, ‘Let me tell you what this film did for me,’” said Hendrix.
“My biggest hope is that the concept of the film will not be about abortion, but about forgiveness – and not be about whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice or a politician who’s conservative or who wants change. My biggest hope is that whoever you are, whatever you think, whatever you believe, you can wrap your head around the power of forgiveness and how that’s the center of the film.”
Burkey said the Erwins sent him the script for “October Baby,” and “they had written these parts for Rachel and I, and a lot of other characters in the film.”
“So I said, ‘Yeah. Where do I sign? I would love to work with you guys again.’ And then, as I was reading the script, I was kind of floored because, probably like a lot of people, I hadn’t heard of an abortion survivor.
“What I liked about the script is that it wasn’t preachy. It wasn’t throwing anything in your face – I think there are some faith-based films that are a little more preachy, they are telling you what to think or what believe. But this is just a good story of hope, of forgiveness, of love – and that’s what attracted me to it,” said Burkey.
“As we’ve been doing screenings and more and more people are seeing the film, we’re hearing stories of people who are really actually being healed by watching this film because it relates to their life in some way, to abortion in some way, because it’s kind of forcing them to face these secrets they’ve held all their lives.
“So I just hope that the film will continue to bring healing, that it will entertain people, and that people will truly enjoy it. I hope it sparks discussion and makes people more aware of abortion survivors – of the whole topic of abortion – like it did for me.”
The Erwins have many hopes for “October Baby,” especially that people will realize every human life is beautiful. The film opens tomorrow and tickets are available online.