How director Amy Redford made a thriller in Park City during COVID

Her second film as a director, ‘What Comes Around,’ opens Friday at Salt Lake City’s Broadway Centre Cinemas.

(IFC Films) Kyle Gallner, left, and Grace Van Dien star in the thriller "What Comes Around," directed by Amy Redford. The movie, being released in Salt Lake City on Aug. 25, 2023, was shot in Park City over 16 days during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When filmmaker Amy Redford first read playwright Scott Organ’s screenplay for the thriller “What Comes Around,” she said had one immediate thought.

That thought was “This is a great play, but this also could be a great movie that is very suitable during COVID, in terms of the themes,” Redford said.

Then, Redford recalled, she told Organ, “We’re going to make a movie by this moment, by this date, for whatever money we have — and that might mean we’re shooting on an iPhone with finger puppets.”

Instead, Redford shot “What Comes Around” — which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and will open Friday at Salt Lake City’s Broadway Centre Cinemas — in Park City, Utah, with a cast led by Grace van Dien (“Stranger Things”) and Kyle Gallner (“Smile,” “Scream V”), and with Summer Phoenix (“SLC Punk!”) and Jesse Garcia (“Flamin’ Hot”) in supporting roles.

A “red carpet premiere” of the movie is scheduled for Tuesday, 7 p.m., at the Broadway, 111 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City. Redford will take part in a Q&A after the screening, moderated by Radiowest’s Doug Fabrizio. Tickets are $12, available at slfs.org.

Van Dien plays Anna, who meets Gallner’s character, Eric, online. Soon after Anna tells her mom, Beth (Phoenix), that she has a boyfriend, Eric shows up on their front porch. (All of this is in the movie’s trailer. To say more would give away spoilers.)

The shoot was a quick one: 16 days, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an entirely local film crew. “The Utah crews are pretty scrappy, and unfussy,” Redford said.

Redford is a fifth-generation Utahn, on her mother’s side. Her mom, historian and activist Lola van Wagenen, was 19 when she married a California-born painter-turned-actor in 1958 — a guy named Robert Redford — and introduced him to her home state. They built a cabin in the Utah woods, and when he made some money, they bought a ski resort in Provo Canyon and renamed it Sundance. Amy, the youngest of four children, spent her childhood split mostly between Utah and New York. Amy’s parents divorced in 1985.

“It was just a real privilege to be able to shoot here after having come back and forth,” Amy Redford said. “The legacy of film here is vast. … Whenever I can shoot here, I will. This is always my first stop.”

The mountains of Utah, she said, have always helped “implicate me in my truth.” So when shooting in Park City, she said she worked to make that a factor for the characters as they made their journeys.

A large portion of the movie’s small budget went toward COVID-19 testing, Redford said, but the circumstances of shooting during the pandemic helped make for an intimate set.

(Poster courtesy of IFC Films) The poster for the thriller "What Comes Around," directed by Amy Redford, right. Redford shot the movie in Park City, Utah, in 16 days during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It felt like a closed set. It was quite sparse in that way,” Redford said. “It felt like we were all kind of living in that home together.”

“What Comes Around” — Redford’s second film as director, after the 2008 cancer drama “The Guitar” — is a thriller, but “what I loved about it was that I got to kind of Trojan horse some themes in, through genre,” she said.

Those themes — including generational trauma and gaslighting, and rethinking ideas of slut shaming and toxic masculinity — helped guide Redford in bringing the three main characters to the screen and crafting their evolution within an 82-minute running time.

Redford credited much of that work to her actors, who were able to “think in a full spectrum about the lived experience, and we’re willing to offer their own lived experience to the characters.”

The script, Redford said, got her thinking about the state of the world. “We’re living in this strangely binary world, where people are either good or evil, that you’re either on this side of the fence or on that side of the fence.”

Redford said she hopes “What Comes Around” can help provoke conversation and introspection, that viewers see the care taken to draw out deeper themes in an entertaining movie.

“It’s never too late to tell the truth,” Redford said, hitting on a central theme in the movie. “You just don’t know how that might end up causing a ripple effect, or even breaking a cycle of untruth and pain that might be being passed from generation to generation.”

(IFC Films) Grace Van Dien plays Anna, a teen who meets a guy online, in the thriller "What Comes Around." Director Amy Redford shot the film in Park City in 16 days during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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