Concord screenwriter’s award-winning film returns to Red River

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    Screenwriter Jana Brown of Concord and actor/director Perry King stand together at the San Pedro International Film Festival, where "The Divide" earned Best Feature Film honors. —Courtesy of Jana Brown

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    Screenwriter Jana Brown of Concord, actor/director Perry King and Sara Arrington attend the New England premiere of "The Divide" at Red River Theatres. —Courtesy of Jana Brown

  • Screenwriter Jana Brown of Concord (right) and actor/director Perry King stand together at the Arizona International Film Festival, where “The Divide” earned Best Dramatic Feature honors. Courtesy of Jana Brown

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    Screenwriter Jana Brown of Concord and actor/director Perry King attend the New England premiere of "The Divide" at Red River Theatres in Concord. —Courtesy of Jana Brown

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    Actor Luke Colombero, screenwriter Jana Brown and actor/director Perry King attend the Albuquerque Film and Music Experience, where "The Divide" earned Best Feature Film honors. —Courtesy of Jana Brown

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    Perry King appears as Sam Kincaid in a scene from "The Divide," which will be shown at Red River Theatres beginning Friday. It was written by Concord resident Jana Brown. —Courtesy of Jana Brown

Monitor staff
Published: 11/14/2018 5:25:19 PM

The Western dramatic film, The Divide, which premiered at Red River Theatres in October to a sold-out audience will be returning to the capital for its theatrical run.

The story, written by Jana Brown of Concord, tells of aging rancher Sam Kincaid (Perry King: Riptide, The Lords of Flatbush, The Day After Tomorrow), who has Alzheimer’s before it had a name.

Sam is supported by a ranch hand, Luke (Bryan Kaplan: Fray), who calls on Sam’s estranged daughter, Sarah (Sara Arrington: The Jungle Book, Bosch), who returns to the ranch with her son C.J. (Luke Colombero).

The run will begin at Red River Theatres on Friday with shows at 1:30, 3:40, 6 and 8:05 p.m.

Brown shared some of the story behind the film:

What was your inspiration for “The Divide”? How did you connect with Perry King?

I met Perry King in 2011, when I was writing an article about him for the St. Paul’s School alumni magazine (he graduated in 1966), of which I was the editor. The first time we talked, he mentioned that he always dreamed of filming a Western on his ranch in Northern California. I never dreamed I would be part of that. I knew who he was from some of his movies and TV work, so I planned to write a one-page spotlight on him. We developed a quick rapport in our few phone conversations to the point where I thought he seemed like someone I could work with; it’s hard to explain why. It turns out he was thinking the same thing.

Perry called me and told me he loved the article draft I sent to him. I told him if he ever needed someone to write about him again, to give me a call. He said, “You’re right. We should work together.” I gave him my number and he called me at home the next day and asked if I wanted to write a screenplay with him. I have been primarily a journalist for many years and had never even read a screenplay. That appealed to him, since I was coming into the process without any preconceived notions of how screenwriting was done. I was excited about it, but also a little terrified – I was not a screenwriter. I was primarily a magazine writer and had not written anything much over 4,000 words. He sent me screenplays to read and I bought Final Draft screenwriting software to practice the foreign format of screenwriting.

We spent hours on the phone, across the country (me in New Hampshire and him in California), talking about screenwriting and developing a comedy he had conceived. In the process, we developed a close friendship and a working partnership. Meanwhile, the idea of the dramatic Western kept returning to the forefront. Eventually, we decided to go in that direction. Still, it all seemed like just a process for me for quite a while – I think the idea that we were actually going to make a film still seemed like a pipe dream for both of us. I had not watched many Westerns, but we discussed the idea of a father/daughter story.

One day in 2012, while I was on a two-hour drive by myself without my two small children (who are now 16 and 13), an idea came to me about setting a drama about a rancher with dementia on Perry’s ranch. I have two family members with Alzheimer’s and dementia, so I was familiar with the signs and symptoms.

I thought about what might happen when a man who was the picture of strength and self-sufficiency suddenly began to lose his ability to function independently. And what if the one thing he wanted to forget was the one memory that remained intact? It was the merging of these ideas that gave birth to The Divide.

Before writing The Divide, I had only seen a few pictures of the ranch, but Perry described it to me in great detail. The story was written to fit the setting. When I finally saw it for the first time, in the summer of 2013, I made a few changes to the script based on what I saw in terms of geography, but the old ranch house and the barn were exactly what I had pictured. They were suspended in time, which made for an ideal location for our story.

Do you have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s?

Yes. I have two family members with dementia, one formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I believe many of the best stories come from a place of truth and that is the case with The Divide. My grandmother wrote notes all over her house to compensate for her memory loss, for example. That is something you see in the film.

How was writing the screenplay different than the other writing you’ve done?

Writing is like exercise – if you don’t do it consistently, you will get out of shape. For The Divide, once we started talking in earnest about the story of Sam Kincaid, the aging rancher with the failing memory, and the cast of characters who orbit his world, we spent about five months developing a detailed treatment (outline) of the story. It was different in that it was something that had to come from my mind, without the benefit of interviewing others to find the best story, as in journalism. But the writing part came fairly naturally because of the two decades I spent writing just about every day in my job. Writing a screenplay gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of what the characters say and the many directions a story can take. I enjoyed being in control of that narrative.

What was the process of creating the film like?

It has been a long journey – exhilarating at times, exhausting at others. But what I learned from working with Perry is the art of perseverance. We both decided we wanted to make a film, and we never let up. We talked, emailed, and worked constantly on developing our idea. I had a full-time job, a husband and two small boys. We lived 3,000 miles apart, but we found time in the evenings to fit in the work. Early on, he told me it was hard to make a film, but even harder to make a good film. We were fortunate in that everything came together – from story to acting to cinematography to editing, and everything in between. I can’t fully explain the process, because it is much too complex to put into words, but it was something new every day – for more than six years.

What sort of challenges did you face along the way?

There are inherent challenges in making an independent film. In our case, we had funding and a location (Perry’s ranch), so those things made it much easier to get started. On the set, we encountered rattlesnakes in the old barn, and nearby wildfires threatened our filming schedule in the last week (September 2015). We had to shut down production for two days to let the smoke recede. The old tractor broke down constantly and Sam’s truck had a flat tire that was not easy to fix. We also had a long post-production (two years), during which time we switched editors and cut the film by 20 minutes or so to get to the final version. There were delays at almost every turn, some expected and some not expected. But Perry kept telling me that nobody would care how long it took once the movie was finished – and he was right.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

We love it when audiences connect with the story and the characters. Dementia/Alzheimer’s has become pervasive and has touched nearly everyone’s family. The film is ultimately about redemption – for each of the characters – and we also want people to leave the theater with a sense of hope, despite the challenges of the disease. We have been fortunate to show the film a dozen or so times this year, and have received positive emotional reactions from the audiences. People often come up to us and share their own experiences with Alzheimer’s or some other aspect of the story.

How does it feel to have your first screenplay be so well received with more than 20 award wins and 34 nominations?

It’s more than we could have hoped for. When we started out with this project, we were just doing it for the joy of the creative process, not sure where it would lead. But to have earned recognition for all the hard work we have put into the film is such a gift. In addition to the screenplay, the film has earned awards for three of our talented actors (Perry, Sara Arrington, and Luke Colombero), for Perry for directing, and for Russ Rayburn for cinematography. In all the festivals we have attended, we have seen many wonderful films, so to have earned any awards at all is an honor. We are very proud of the film!

Are you working on any other projects?

Since writing The Divide, I have written two novels (unpublished at the moment) and a screenplay with my L.A.-based friend, actress Christy Lee Hughes, that deals with the impact of mental illness on the main character. I am about to begin work on a new screenplay – a mystery/thriller. I never would have been able to do all that without the lessons I learned from the work Perry and I have done together. He has been an unwavering mentor, muse and supporter.

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