Megan Park

Megan Park

on writing and directing "The Fallout"

on writing and directing "The Fallout"

I first saw Megan Park how most of us did, which was in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," but it wasn't until the last couple years of following Megan on Instagram that I learned of her passion for directing. Her first feature film "The Fallout" stars Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler and studies trauma from a different perspective than we might normally see on TV. The film follows main character Vada (Ortega) as she deals with the aftermath of a shooting at her school, forming an intense bond with two other classmates and navigating what comes after. It is such an accurate portrayal of how trauma can feel nonlinear, nuanced, and illogical. "The Fallout" swept two awards at SXSW last year and it's been called the "first defining movie of the Gen Z generation."

I'm honored by the opportunity to talk to Megan about her directorial debut. I feel lucky and so grateful to have this beautiful conversation be part of l'Odet.

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Cariann: Hi, Megan. How are you?

Megan: I'm good. How are you? Where are you in the world?

Cariann: I'm good! I am in Nashville, Tennessee.

Megan: Oh, nice.

Cariann: Yeah. Are you in Canada?

Megan: I am. Yeah, just outside of Toronto. I love Nashville though. I lived there for a while with my husband in Franklin.

Cariann: Oh yeah. Franklin is great and I love your husband's music so—

Megan: Oh my gosh. How sweet, thank you! Yeah a lot of my friends live in Nashville. I love it there.

Cariann: Me too. Well, Megan, thank you so much for talking to me. When I saw "The Fallout," I was like I have to talk to Megan because it's just a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film.

Megan: Thank you.

Cariann: I'm going to start by asking you, where did this story start for you? When did you start working on this? Where did you get the idea?

Megan: I've been thinking about that because a lot of people have asked me and it's interesting because I feel like it wasn't one particular event or, one piece of news. I have luckily never experienced anything like [a school shooting], but I think it was a culmination of continuously seeing these things happening and feeling so helpless and horrified. It was such an emotional decision. I'd obviously never made a movie before, and this is a really scary subject matter to try to do well. And for a long time I was like, I'm not the right person to talk about this. I haven't been through it. I'm Canadian. I had all these reasons in my head why I shouldn't do it. So for a long time, I just continuously thought about it.

And then at a certain point, this character Vada just came into my head. I think it was sort of a reflection of how I feel like I would respond to this happening if I were 16. Then I couldn't not do it, so I just went ahead and wrote the story. I had obviously read a lot about these awful incidences beforehand, but then after I'd written it, I did a lot of research. I spoke to a lot of survivors and their family members to make sure that it tracked emotionally and that it felt authentic. I talked to a lot of kids in the Gen Z space because I didn't want just one person's story to influence the film that I had in my head necessarily. It was sort of a piece-by-piece operation to put it all together, but it was really such an emotional decision.

Cariann: I'm a millennial, but I feel so disconnected from the Gen Z generation. So I can't even imagine what that was like trying to dive in and get in that head space.

Megan: Yeah. I'm a millennial too and I think I keep joking that maybe I'm just really immature. [Laughs] I don't know why I keep writing movies in the Gen Z space. I think for me, when I was acting — I started acting professionally when I was 15 years old and I looked like a high school student into my twenties so I would often play a high school student even then — I  felt like even then content written for teenagers or young people didn't feel authentic to what they're going through. I lived that so much of the time in front of the camera, that I feel like in a weird way it's been my personal mission to undo that and to really try to tap into the younger generation's voice in a way that doesn't feel like an old person looking in.

A lot of it is about talking to younger people and having them read your scripts. I'm working on a project right now that's about an 18-year-old girl and I've been having a lot of friends of friends or their friends' younger siblings or cousins read the script. I'm getting on Zooms and talking to them like, "would you say that? How does this feel? How does this track?" And I think as long as you're asking those questions and you're really open to that feedback — you can tell when people haven't done that when you watch something, and I think that's the first step.

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Cariann: ["The Fallout"] just feels so authentic and genuine. And that just comes across really easily. There's a lot of things about high school students out there right now where I'm like, I don't even know if this is realistic because it wasn't like this when I was in high school, but maybe it's like that now. Like when I watch Euphoria, I'm like is this really what's happening with the kids these days? [Laughs]

Megan: I think a lot of shows are really about the 1%.

Cariann: Yeah that's true.

Megan: I think that you can really feel that. And I think it's really hard to tap into something that feels like it could be a larger group's experience. I get it. I feel like everyone's sort of...you're interested in a life that's not yours a lot of the time and that's why we watch those shows that are about the 1%. But I love making shows that really feel like a broader audience can relate to what the people are going through.

Cariann: ["The Fallout"] just feels so authentic and genuine. And that just comes across really easily. There's a lot of things about high school students out there right now where I'm like, I don't even know if this is realistic because it wasn't like this when I was in high school, but maybe it's like that now. Like when I watch Euphoria, I'm like is this really what's happening with the kids these days? [Laughs]

Megan: I think a lot of shows are really about the 1%.

Cariann: Yeah that's true.

Megan: I think that you can really feel that. And I think it's really hard to tap into something that feels like it could be a larger group's experience. I get it. I feel like everyone's sort of...you're interested in a life that's not yours a lot of the time and that's why we watch those shows that are about the 1%. But I love making shows that really feel like a broader audience can relate to what the people are going through.

Cariann: One of my favorite parts of "The Fallout" is — I have PTSD, not from a school shooting, but from a pretty traumatic experience — and what is so prevalent to me when I watch "The Fallout" is your capture of the relativity of suffering. I think it's so important that it's almost tragedy-adjacent, like we're not studying the people that lost their lives, we're looking at the people that have to go on living after this happens and sit with it. You know what I mean?

Megan: That was really important to me because I felt a lot of times when stories are focused on a certain tragedy or a traumatic event, we're more familiar with the stories of the people more directly affected, I guess you could say. I couldn't stop thinking about there are hundreds, thousands of these kids who were in school the day this happened, and maybe they didn't lose somebody directly, or they didn't see any of the violence, or they weren't even at school that day! It doesn't matter, but they're living with the fallout of this kind of thing and it affects everybody in such a different way. And it's amazing how some of these young people have turned what's happened to them into incredible change in the world and they were able to become these advocates for gun safety and gun reform, but not everybody is able to do that after experiencing something like that.

I think it was important for me to explore the guilt. I haven't been through something like this, but I certainly have experienced trauma and I don't think I'm inherently the person who's able to right away talk about it or bounce back per se, in a way that some people are able to put on a brave face and be that voice. I feel like there's a lot of guilt and shame surrounding that and I really wanted younger people to be reminded that there shouldn't be any guilt and everybody copes in their own way and it doesn't matter. A lot of people have talked to me about trauma hierarchy after situations like this and really feeling that way at their school. Like well I wasn't in that classroom, so why am I still living with this? Why aren't I okay? And I thought that was really important to explore.

Cariann: Yeah, definitely. That's something that I've experienced with my platform too, where people submit anonymously, it's like coming out of the #MeToo movement a lot of people are like, "well, I wasn't raped, but this did happen to me. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal." But it's all so relative and it's important.

Megan: And it's also nuanced. 

Cariann: It's so complicated and it's important for people to know. Like okay, you might not have had the worst 'textbook thing' happen to you, but what happened to you is valid and your story is important.

Megan: 100%. Yeah, I mean, I think everybody copes with things in different ways and there's no right or wrong way. And yeah, you don't have to be the textbook worst-case scenario to be having a difficult time coping with something. There shouldn't be any guilt or shame around that.

Cariann: Right. Which is also what I loved about Vada's storyline. It was so good at showing trauma as this energy; the intense energy of suffering has to come out somewhere. Like Nick's character becomes this activist, like you were saying, people making social change, but it seemed to me Vada's suffering came out in this really intense intimacy with the people that she had been with and it's just so interesting watching how that comes out so differently for different people.

Megan: Yeah. Early on when I was writing this script — there's active characters and there's reactive characters and really, in filmmaking, a lot of times your hero character is somebody who's very active in their own journey and in their own life and in their own story, because that makes for interesting storytelling.

Everybody kept saying to me, "Vada is so reactive, she's not active enough. She's reactive." I was like, "yeah, but that's a story too." That's how a lot of people cope with things and I wanted to see that version of the teenage experience going through something like this, because a lot of people go inward and they deal with things in a very different way and they disconnect and they disassociate. I just really wanted to explore that side of it because I feel like that's the reality for just as many people, as people who are 'active' in their own story.

Cariann: One of my favorite scenes was the scene with Vada and her father. I'm sure a lot of people have really loved that scene. Did you write that before you had your baby?

Megan: I did, yeah. That's a really interesting point — I wrote this movie before I was a parent and then made the movie when I was a parent. So my perspective definitely shifted, but I think that's another trope that really bothers me about on-screen relationship with parents. I feel like it's the teenager rebelling or the parents not understanding. And although [Vada] does feel a disconnect from her parents, I wanted to capture a more nuanced relationship. Her and her dad are actually very alike and don't talk about things that they're feeling a lot of the time. I thought it was really important to show that moment of connection and for her to feel seen and feel safe and protected with her dad. They hadn't really connected at all through so much of her journey — she's actually pulled away from him — but he's kind of the person that understands her the most in a lot of ways and their connection isn't super textbook and their conversation isn't perfect.

They don't really even go that deep into a lot of things that have happened [in the scene], but you can tell there's a shared sense of understanding. It's funny that I wrote that scene before I was a parent. I mean the writing of it didn't change too much, but I think that the way that I filmed it and the way I was able to have a different perspective of the parents in the movie definitely helped making it; it definitely changed my perspective of it, for sure.

Cariann: There were also small details, like when Vada was in the car with her mom and her sister and her mom was asking her about what kind of sandwich she wants or something and Vada snaps. I relate to that so much. I feel like I went through—

Megan: [Laughs] Me too!

Cariann: I went through so much as a teenager and it came out as stuff like that to my mom, but I've since gone back and been like, "Mom, I'm so sorry, because you were there for me, but I was just really going through it."

Megan: Me too. And I'm only laughing because my DP, her name's Kristen Correll, that was her favorite line in the movie. She's so close with her mom. Her mom was an extra in the movie! She is the best. And Kristen's like, "I was always like that with my mom and I feel so bad," and I was like, "me too."

And I think sometimes you can lash out at the people you feel the safest with because they're always going to be there. I thought that was just an important moment to include; it's such a relatable moment that maybe even for young kids watching the movie now will feel like they don't have the perspective that we have of going back and being like, "Mom, I can't believe I was so mean to you." I think it's actually scarier when you can't have that relationship with your parents sometimes. I'm not condoning people snapping at their parents, but you should feel like you have that safe space. Maybe you can't lash out at the world and you can't express yourself, but they're going to be there no matter what.

Cariann: I read this book recently and it said something about how we take a lot of stuff out on the people that we love, because when we have someone next to us, that's when it can take shape when we feel safe enough to come out about it. Which is why I really liked the relationship between Vada and her sister and Vada and her parents.

Megan: Vada and her sister was such a fun relationship for me to write because I felt like her sister was this reflection of the part of herself that Vada lost, that she couldn't connect with anymore. And it was so painful for her, but she wasn't conscious about it yet. Why was it so hard to just laugh with her sister like she used to and just make TikToks or do whatever? There was just this loss of innocence in this divide between them and also the sister represents this younger generation that's inheriting the same problem and the same fears and the same trauma, as this is not a problem of the past and the current generation. I really enjoyed filming the sister stuff a lot and writing it, it was really cool.

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Cariann: Were there any current or recent shows or movies that covered something like a school shooting that you referenced or wanted to do it different? Were there any things that you referenced back?

Megan: A lot of the stuff that I watched was more like interviews and documentaries. I actually really loved the book and the film, "We Need To Talk About Kevin," but I think that was so long ago. And that was obviously dissecting the actual shooter and their family. I felt like that was an important story to tell, but I feel like we've shifted in a really important way to not putting the narrative on the violence or the shooter. I at least feel like that's really unnecessary and can be really dangerous. If anything, I'm just moved by projects that feel really authentic. "Eighth Grade" was a film that felt really beautiful and authentic and raw to me.

I love trying to capture that energy as much as possible. A lot of people have said to me, "Would you classify this as a coming of age film, or as like a school shooting movie?" And I was like it's fucked up to say that I feel like for Gen Z, those go hand-in-hand. So at the end of the day, I wanted this to feel like those two things are woven together in a way that you can't really differentiate between the two. But yeah, it was hard to find a reference of a film that addressed this in a way that I wanted to, which is I guess why I made it. [Laughs]

Cariann: I've read that you were in the editing room and I know that you had Finneas O'Connell come on for the score. What was it about organizing the music and editing that stood out to you?

Megan: I mean, I think one of the scariest things is that we only had four weeks to edit the movie, which is actually very crazy, so that was a really difficult process. I feel like I learned more about filmmaking. I will take more into my next movie from what I learned from the edit than I learned from the filming of the movie, but it was a really interesting experience. I had an incredible editor, Jennifer Lee, who really held my hand and walked me through that.

The music stuff happened pretty naturally. Honestly I had worked with Billie on a music video, met Finneas briefly through that. Our music supervisor had a good relationship with Finneas and had worked with him before and so he just sent him the script before we even started filming and he loved it.

In February 2020 everything really started to shut down, so that was a silver lining of the pandemic for us — his schedule opened up and he was really able to commit a lot of time to it. Finneas really understands filmmaking; he was also an actor and his mom is an actor and director. And obviously he understands music. He's a fucking genius, but he also really understands the importance of supporting the scene and all those wonderful things. So it was a really smooth process. We just did it all over Zoom and he would watch the movie and score us up and send it back and we would have conversations about it and it would just kind of go back and forth like that. I actually am really glad that he was sort of fresh to scoring because what he delivered was such an interesting and fresh score that doesn't sound a lot like traditional movie music. 

Cariann: I really liked the song by Lennon & Maisy Stella, or maybe just Maisy Stella, so good.

Megan: Which one? The one the end title or the one in the middle?

Cariann: Are there two?

Megan: Well, Maisy sings on two, but the one that she wrote with Lennon is the end title song. That was crazy because Maisy and Maddie Ziegler are best friends, which I didn't realize until I started working with Maddie. We were looking for the perfect song for that moment and I saw [Maisy]  and Lennon post a video playing that on Instagram. Maddie gave me her number and we just reached out to them, we're like, "would you record the full version of this song?" And they did and I'm such a fan of Lennon, so I was so stoked. That song really is like the fucking cherry on top of everything. It gives me chills every time I hear it.

Cariann: I feel the most important and biggest projects I've ever done, things just fall into place because it's the right thing. And it's just so satisfying.

Megan: I was so amazed at the people that we attracted that were just such good humans and so easy to work with. There were really no bad apples. It was just an incredibly wonderful experience from start to finish. I got really lucky with the people that wanted to be a part of this project and really understood it and saw it and were willing to just so generously give so much of their time.

Cariann: Which I think means, I'm sure you know that you're doing something good and the story is good and that it resonates with a lot of people. It's very powerful.

Megan: Hopefully yeah.

Cariann: Were there any current or recent shows or movies that covered something like a school shooting that you referenced or wanted to do it different? Were there any things that you referenced back?

Megan: A lot of the stuff that I watched was more like interviews and documentaries. I actually really loved the book and the film, "We Need To Talk About Kevin," but I think that was so long ago. And that was obviously dissecting the actual shooter and their family. I felt like that was an important story to tell, but I feel like we've shifted in a really important way to not putting the narrative on the violence or the shooter. I at least feel like that's really unnecessary and can be really dangerous. If anything, I'm just moved by projects that feel really authentic. "Eighth Grade" was a film that felt really beautiful and authentic and raw to me.

I love trying to capture that energy as much as possible. A lot of people have said to me, "Would you classify this as a coming of age film, or as like a school shooting movie?" And I was like it's fucked up to say that I feel like for Gen Z, those go hand-in-hand. So at the end of the day, I wanted this to feel like those two things are woven together in a way that you can't really differentiate between the two. But yeah, it was hard to find a reference of a film that addressed this in a way that I wanted to, which is I guess why I made it. [Laughs]

Cariann: I've read that you were in the editing room and I know that you had Finneas O'Connell come on for the score. What was it about organizing the music and editing that stood out to you?

Megan: I mean, I think one of the scariest things is that we only had four weeks to edit the movie, which is actually very crazy, so that was a really difficult process. I feel like I learned more about filmmaking. I will take more into my next movie from what I learned from the edit than I learned from the filming of the movie, but it was a really interesting experience. I had an incredible editor, Jennifer Lee, who really held my hand and walked me through that.

The music stuff happened pretty naturally. Honestly I had worked with Billie on a music video, met Finneas briefly through that. Our music supervisor had a good relationship with Finneas and had worked with him before and so he just sent him the script before we even started filming and he loved it.

In February 2020 everything really started to shut down, so that was a silver lining of the pandemic for us — his schedule opened up and he was really able to commit a lot of time to it. Finneas really understands filmmaking; he was also an actor and his mom is an actor and director. And obviously he understands music. He's a fucking genius, but he also really understands the importance of supporting the scene and all those wonderful things. So it was a really smooth process. We just did it all over Zoom and he would watch the movie and score us up and send it back and we would have conversations about it and it would just kind of go back and forth like that. I actually am really glad that he was sort of fresh to scoring because what he delivered was such an interesting and fresh score that doesn't sound a lot like traditional movie music. 

Cariann: I really liked the song by Lennon & Maisy Stella, or maybe just Maisy Stella, so good.

Megan: Which one? The one the end title or the one in the middle?

Cariann: Are there two?

Megan: Well, Maisy sings on two, but the one that she wrote with Lennon is the end title song. That was crazy because Maisy and Maddie Ziegler are best friends, which I didn't realize until I started working with Maddie. We were looking for the perfect song for that moment and I saw [Maisy]  and Lennon post a video playing that on Instagram. Maddie gave me her number and we just reached out to them, we're like, "would you record the full version of this song?" And they did and I'm such a fan of Lennon, so I was so stoked. That song really is like the fucking cherry on top of everything. It gives me chills every time I hear it.

Cariann: I feel the most important and biggest projects I've ever done, things just fall into place because it's the right thing. And it's just so satisfying.

Megan: I was so amazed at the people that we attracted that were just such good humans and so easy to work with. There were really no bad apples. It was just an incredibly wonderful experience from start to finish. I got really lucky with the people that wanted to be a part of this project and really understood it and saw it and were willing to just so generously give so much of their time.

Cariann: Which I think means, I'm sure you know that you're doing something good and the story is good and that it resonates with a lot of people. It's very powerful.

Megan: Hopefully yeah.

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Cariann: Did your husband (ed. note: Tyler Hilton) work on any of the music in the film?

Megan: Yeah so he did, funny enough. We were having a difficult time finding a piece of music for this one section. He had done a little bit of scoring before — he's working on this animated show with his producing partner. We told him exactly what we wanted, beat by beat in terms of what needed to change to be matched up with this one scene.

It was just a difficult piece to match a song for. He wrote something and put it under his scoring name which is BC Fog. So there was no bias sending it in to the music editor. They loved it and everybody really felt like it fit perfectly and then we almost didn't have lyrics on it, but we decided to try it. Maisy was so sweet. We'd become friends. I was like, "Hey, would you mind just singing these lyrics?" And she was so down. They did it in two different places, she's in Nashville, he's here in Canada, but I really love that piece of music. It worked out really well.

Cariann: Was it the scene where Vada was putting the memorial pamphlets in the box?

Megan: Yeah.

Cariann: That's such a beautiful scene.

Megan: That music was so important for that moment too. So it was cool to kind of curate it from the ground up.

Cariann: Thank you so much for talking to me about "The Fallout." Can you tell me anything about what you're working on now?

Megan: Well, there's going to be some news coming out in the next week or so about it, but I'm really excited. It's a coming of age film, but in a very different, much lighter tone, but still hopefully feels really grounded and authentic. I feel like the world needs feel-good stuff right now. The people we're working with, they're incredible. I'm excited for the announcement to come out. I think it's going to be really fun.

Cariann: I love it. I just think that your journey from acting to directing is so copacetic. I don't know if you planned it that way, but it's really cool.

Megan: I didn't plan it, but I'm so happy I found it. Truthfully, I never saw this coming for myself, but this feels so right and what I was meant to do all along. Everything happens for a reason and I feel like everything I learned in front of the camera has been such a blessing for me. I never would've gone to film school, I'm not like a film geek that way. Mad respect to the film geeks — I work with a lot of them and they help me so much. But I feel so grateful that I found this avenue to tell stories because it just clicks for me in a way that acting never did. I'm really happy I found it.

Cariann: Did your husband (ed. note: Tyler Hilton) work on any of the music in the film?

Megan: Yeah so he did, funny enough. We were having a difficult time finding a piece of music for this one section. He had done a little bit of scoring before — he's working on this animated show with his producing partner. We told him exactly what we wanted, beat by beat in terms of what needed to change to be matched up with this one scene.

It was just a difficult piece to match a song for. He wrote something and put it under his scoring name which is BC Fog. So there was no bias sending it in to the music editor. They loved it and everybody really felt like it fit perfectly and then we almost didn't have lyrics on it, but we decided to try it. Maisy was so sweet. We'd become friends. I was like, "Hey, would you mind just singing these lyrics?" And she was so down. They did it in two different places, she's in Nashville, he's here in Canada, but I really love that piece of music. It worked out really well.

Cariann: Was it the scene where Vada was putting the memorial pamphlets in the box?

Megan: Yeah.

Cariann: That's such a beautiful scene.

Megan: That music was so important for that moment too. So it was cool to kind of curate it from the ground up.

Cariann: Thank you so much for talking to me about "The Fallout." Can you tell me anything about what you're working on now?

Megan: Well, there's going to be some news coming out in the next week or so about it, but I'm really excited. It's a coming of age film, but in a very different, much lighter tone, but still hopefully feels really grounded and authentic. I feel like the world needs feel-good stuff right now. The people we're working with, they're incredible. I'm excited for the announcement to come out. I think it's going to be really fun.

Cariann: I love it. I just think that your journey from acting to directing is so copacetic. I don't know if you planned it that way, but it's really cool.

Megan: I didn't plan it, but I'm so happy I found it. Truthfully, I never saw this coming for myself, but this feels so right and what I was meant to do all along. Everything happens for a reason and I feel like everything I learned in front of the camera has been such a blessing for me. I never would've gone to film school, I'm not like a film geek that way. Mad respect to the film geeks — I work with a lot of them and they help me so much. But I feel so grateful that I found this avenue to tell stories because it just clicks for me in a way that acting never did. I'm really happy I found it.

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BY CARIANN BRADLEY — PHOTOS BY ALEX EVANS — FEBRUARY 2022

INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR CLARITY

STREAM "THE FALLOUT" ON HBO MAX NOW


© 2022

l'Odet is a Midnight Woman brand

© 2021

l'Odet is a Midnight Woman brand