Whitney Call and Mallory Everton, the writers and stars of the new ‘Stop and Go’ movie, know the question is: is it too early to laugh about COVID-19?
“We weren’t trying to say anything about the pandemic, about the world, because we really had no basis to lean on, no context,” Call said on a recent Zoom call, speaking of comedy made in Utah. “What we could do was just create something light and just hope people had a good time with us going through it.” As alumni of BUYTV’s “Studio C” comedy sketch series, Call and Everton are used to finding the funny where you least expect it.
In “Stop and Go” – opening Oct. 1 at Thanksgiving Point Megaplex Theaters in Lehi, and other theaters across the country, as well as On Demand – Call and Everton play Jamie and Blake, two sisters in Albuquerque trying get in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. They self-isolated, put on their masks and sprayed themselves and their groceries with disinfectant on their return from the store.
The action begins when the sisters talk to their grandmother (Anna Sward Hansen), who is trapped in her room at a Washington state nursing home, quarantined due to COVID-19. The sisters hatch a plan to travel 1,200 miles and 20 hours – through Utah, Idaho, and Oregon (though the movie was shot primarily in Utah) – to save Nana, while also making contact with as few people as possible along the way. They need to get there before their sister, Erin (Julia Jolley), who is so oblivious to the dangers of COVID-19 that she’s gone on a cruise during a pandemic, returns and reaches Nana first.
Call and Everton began to think about ‘Stop and Go’ shortly after the coronavirus shut down the world. They seriously thought about the humor they might find in a tragic and universal situation.
“We were just stuck inside and watching videos to find out if the COVID virus was living on cardboard and if the take out was even safe,” Call said. “It was such a specific bookmark in all of our experiences, that even as we were filming, this was no longer where we were. It was always tragic, it was always scary. … None of our intentions was to laugh at the tragedy of this one. It was more, ‘Hey, remember when you felt dirty? I was there too! ‘”
‘Can we do this? Is it too early?
The pandemic forced Call and Everton to shut down their production company, JK! Studios – where they are making the “Freelancers” web series – and Everton were making a movie that had to stop production.
“Because we didn’t have a job, we had all the time in the world,” Call said. “So it was just us saying, ‘Hey, do you want to try to do something now? We always wanted to make a feature film.
Call and Everton have been friends since the age of 8 and grew up in Portland, Oregon. They both attended Brigham Young University and joined a student improv group, Divine Comedy – initially with Call as a performer and Everton, who was a major in broadcast journalism, as a videographer. From there, they were part of the original cast of “Studio C”, the comedy sketch show that aired on BYUtv from 2012 to 2019. Many “Studio C” actors went on to form JK! Workshops.
“It’s always been surreal, we look at each other and we’re like, ‘Can you believe we’re still doing stupid stuff together? My God, when is this going to end? ‘ Said Call. “And that’s not yet the case.”
This attitude, said Call, “has really enabled us to do something with such limited means. … We knew we could work with our voices. We knew our chemistry and we knew how we interacted with each other.
“Studio C,” Everton said, “was writing a training camp. We had to write two skits a week for about five and a half years. You begin to really understand what turns your creative wheels.
For their quarantine project, they immediately thought of making a road trip film. “We thought filming in a car would be easy because we’ve never done it before,” Call said.
After two days of brainstorming, they came up with the idea of saving Nana. “We thought, ‘Well, I guess we’re writing a COVID comedy. can we do this? Is it too early? Are people ready to laugh about it? Are people going to get bored of watching this or learning more about COVID? ‘ “
The job answered their own questions, Call said. “We just thought that what we are offering right now relieves us and helps us find some light right now. So let’s continue with that. And if it starts to get too crazy, then we can step back and do something else. “
With film festival deadlines fast approaching, they’ve set themselves a tight two-month deadline. “If we’re going to make a good movie, nobody’s going to want to watch it in 2023. Let’s do it now,” Call said.
They wrote a screenplay in two weeks, were in pre-production for two weeks, shot the film in two weeks, and edited a rough cut two weeks later – and submitted that rough cut to festivals.
One thing about making a movie on the road, Everton said, is that they didn’t realize how complicated filming in a moving car can be.
First, the car rides on a flatbed trailer, called a process trailer, pulled by a truck, “to make it safe, so that the actors don’t actually drive while they are” driving “in the shots,” said Everton, who co-directed the film with Stephen Meek. “Technically, getting a process trailer was easier because nobody was using the process trailers in Utah because nobody was filming anything. So we were lucky in that sense.
They also had to find a long straight road to be able to do a scene in one take, Everton said. Fortunately, they said, Utah has plenty of them.
“We were stopped by a cop once,” Everton said. “But she liked ‘Studio C’, so she let us go.”
“We took a photo with her,” Call said. “She was very nice. She just said, ‘OK, stick to the two-lane roads.’ “
“Well, we’re still married”
As she was going to star in almost every scene with Call, Everton brought in Stephen Meek as co-director. Both had worked on “Studio C” and at JK! Studios – more Meek is Call’s husband.
“It’s hard to have a vision yourself, let alone have a vision in the brains of two people at the same time,” Everton said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t, but we were able to come up with a really great system. … He made it so much better than it otherwise would have been.
Call’s idea of collaborating with her husband? “Well, we’re still married.” She added: “You know someone so well, and you’ve worked with them for so long in a creative way – Stephen and I worked together before we got married – that we know how to communicate in the jargon of work, and realize that it’s not personal if you have creative differences.
Everton added that “it really, really helps to work with people who ultimately intend to be your friends after [it’s over]. … We did this project just to stay sane. We just did it so we could learn. So it would have been a real tragedy if our friendships had ended because of it. “
The fictitious relationship in the film, with Jamie and Blake’s sister Erin, allows Call and Everton to tap into a bit of humor by parodying the attitudes of those who haven’t taken COVID-19 protocols seriously.
“We really hope that our love for this character comes through,” Everton said. ” There is never [a sense of] ‘I never want to see her’ or ‘I don’t like her.’ … I can’t help but love this character when I watch these scenes.
“Stop and Go” was accepted at the SXSW Film Festival, which was held digitally in March. It received positive responses from the public and struck a deal with Decal, an independent distributor.
As “Stop and Go” hits theaters, Everton said, the filmmakers keep in mind a lesson they learned from doing comedy skits: “You have your intentions, but you don’t decide your outcome. “
“Our intention was to connect,” said Everton, “and to give people a laugh, to help relieve tension, and to help people relax and feel heard and seen.”