By Lizzie Pearson
Picture two sisters who are living together at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. They’ve been in isolation for a couple of months, and they’ve just received the news that they need to go and rescue their grandmother across the country because her nursing home has a Covid outbreak. So… a crazy road trip? Check. The ultimate sister duo? Check. An adventure during a pandemic? Check! Need I say more?
I had the honor of getting to see a screening of Stop & Go at the Alamo a couple of weekends ago, about a year after its initial release. And not only did I get to see it, but I also got to interview the amazing creative team behind it: director Stephen Meek, director Mallory Everton, and writer Whitney Call, who all starred in the film as well!
Here are some highlights from that interview:
If you were a muffin, what kind of muffin would you be?
Whitney Call: “Definitely a bran muffin that’s just, like, covered in honey!”
Stephen Meek: “I’d be a banana chocolate chip one since it’s comforting and a little bit of sweetness is always nice.”
Call: “And it’s gooey too. You’re a gooey center!”
[They all laugh]
Mallory Everton: “That’s very sweet! I think I’d probably go with poppy seed, like, too much could get you high if you do it wrong…”
Meek: “Or if you do it right!”
Everton: “That’s true, depending on how you look at it. But I think that I have a decently classic quality, you know, where I get along with most people. Although, small doses are probably best for some people.”
Call: “Oh I wouldn’t say that!”
Everton: “Well, Whitney loves to get high on me, so…”
[They all laugh again]
What was your favorite part of the filming process when you were getting started with everything?
Call: “I mean, we talk about how when we were in the middle of it, the filming part, I think there were a lot of years shaved off our lives to actually make it. Although, we really made it hard on ourselves. I mean, we wrote it in two weeks, we pre-produced in two weeks, we filmed it in two weeks, and then Mallory and Stephen got a first cut of it out in two weeks. It was really just six weeks of us running face-first into the storm. So a lot of it is just a blur now, but I remember being really tired and excited at the same time.”
Meek: “Yeah, definitely.”
Everton: “And a lot of parts of this process were special because we’re all, like, best friends. We know each other so well… And so being able to create this memory together of such a hard time in our lives when the pandemic had just happened, we’re lucky enough to be able to look back at that time and know that we were able to make something in such a negative space… It made us feel like we had already won because we made it.”
Meek: “And from a technical aspect, having a reshoot day was super helpful because the first scene was not cutting together well so it was fun getting to revisit certain scenes again… And it all worked out!”
Everton: “And also you hear so many stories from creators who didn’t make it perfect the first go around… But I think it’s such a beautiful thing to be able to be like, ‘We’re wise enough and smart enough to be able to correct as we go.’ Instead of us being like, ‘You’re supposed to be perfect, you’re supposed to be a genius, you’re supposed to know all the answers from the beginning!’”
And I imagine, since you were creating this during the peak of the pandemic, you probably faced a lot of excess challenges on top of this being your first big project. What was the timeline of everything, and how did you navigate through all of this?
Call: “So June – end of June – was when we started.”
Everton: “June 2020. So it was only three months into the pandemic.”
Call: “And we decided, why don’t we make something that we could film together? We’re kind of going crazy. We’ve had a good chunk of time where we just feel nonessential, and what is the meaning of what we do? Is there any purpose? And then we started feeling that drive to make something again. So Mallory and I talked on the phone about, ‘Well, we’ve written some ideas of road trip movies in the past, maybe we can make something that we ourselves could film. We could make it really small and let’s just see!’ And it just, like, caught the wind, y’know? It just worked so well that we started filming in the last week of July.
Everton: “We wore masks whenever we weren’t on camera, all of our crew wore masks. We had a seven-person crew, so we really tried to make it as small as possible, and we thought, like, ‘If anyone gets Covid, we’re not going to be able to make this film. It’s just not going to happen.’”
Meek: “And we were also concerned that nobody was going to want to watch movies after this year. Like, we weren’t sure if everyone would just be so done with the pandemic that everyone was just over it.”
Call: “So yeah, we were just like, we want to get it done now so it stays in the moment. It was all filmed when things were still happening. Like, we filmed at a gas station and when we went in there to get snacks or to eat lunch, the guy at the gas station was kind of sniffling and coughing, and I was terrified. I was like, ‘I’m not eating in here!’ And it was just things like that that remind me of how easy it is to forget how suffocating it was the whole time. But we really tried to be as safe as possible.”
Everton: “We had extras who were all family members so that they could all film together with their masks off and we were like, ‘I’m so sorry, we’re going to need you to spray your water into this person’s face. Are you guys okay with that? Are you comfortable with this cuz if not we can get creative!’”
[They all laugh]
Call: “But yeah, it really was this oppressive, ‘Maybe we’re all going to get Covid and die’ because we tried to make this movie about Covid. We just didn’t know!”
Meek: “And really, we all felt super responsible, especially the deeper we got into it. We didn’t know if all of this work was going to waste. It just felt a little high stakes with the pandemic energy around it.”
Everton: “And you’ll see that there are two party scenes in the movie. And they’re very very bare bones. But we had to stage them to look as full as possible while also keeping it as limited as possible.”
Wow, I didn’t even think about the added challenge of having to limit the number of people but also make the scenes realistic!
[They all laugh]
Call: Yeah, we had a pre-Covid party that opens up the movie, and to make it look like nobody knew what Covid even was, they’re like sharing a bowl of popcorn and standing really close to one another, but we also didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. So we had to be like, ‘Hey guys, let’s flip off your panic attacks for a moment and we’re all just going to get close!’ And then, ‘Okay, camera’s off, let’s all distance ourselves again!’ It was just really crazy.”
It sounds like it! But despite all of the crazy things, do you have any funny stories about things that happened on set that you’d be willing to share?
Call: “Oh gosh, well we had an AD (assistant director) who wasn’t there for the first half of the movie, which maybe you can tell… But towards the end of our shooting, we had someone come on set who we loved. She was so great, and she was really getting us organized for the day and we were all like, it’s so great to have an AD on set right now! This is going well!”
Meek: “We jinxed it.”
[They all laugh]
Call: “But she hadn’t been filming with us the whole time, and this was July/August in the desert in Utah. So like, we all had adjusted to filming in a car with no air conditioning for sound, and we had been outside for a lot of shots.”
Everton: “We were all used to the weather conditions, basically. Except for her because she had just gotten there.”
Call: “So she was outside with us, and she threw up at one point on set which sent us all into a panic because we were like, ‘Oh gosh, is she sick? Is she okay?”
Call and Everton in unison: “DOES SHE HAVE COVID?”
Call: “But then we found out later it was because she had heat stroke!”
Meek: “You think this is a funny story?!”
Call: “Well, I think it’s funny now! Not because she got sick – and she’s okay now, by the way – but because we had one glorious day with an AD, and then, we didn’t really have one for the rest of the film!”
[They all laugh]
Meek: “We also got pulled over by a cop! You can actually kind of see it in the movie when our follow car gets pulled over by a cop. You’d have to be looking for it, but it’s during one of the conversations these two are having in the car.”
Call: “There’s a red truck behind us that was following us to redirect traffic and a cop pulled them over!”
Meek: “Because we were filming on the same road for like basically the whole movie, just going back and forth, back and forth. And part of the road turned into a two-lane road and the cop pulled us over because we were holding up traffic. But it ended up being fine because they liked some of the stuff we had made before so they just told us to stay on a different part of the road, and it all worked out!”
Everton: “And we got a picture with the cop before they left, so it was all okay!”
Meek: “So yeah, great story. But also just the one of us when we wanted to film by these windmills for one scene just to have something interesting in the background. And on the way there, we hadn’t gotten permission from the location yet… So it ended up being this weird scramble of like, Whitney jumping on Facebook and messaging the owner while we were en route to the location that was twenty minutes away. But he ended up responding right away.”
Call: “Which, I know that I never respond right away, so it took us all by surprise to hear back so quickly. But I guess he just had his Facebook open or something, ready to go.”
Meek: “But he asked us if we had permission from someone in the city council and we were like, ‘How are we going to get that?’ And then someone who was working on post for us just happened to have a brother who was on the council.”
Call: “So in this twenty minutes, we got permission from the city council and then got this guy to say yes, as we were driving into the parking lot.”
Everton: “It miraculously worked out.”
Meek: “It was all above code.”
Everton: “Barely! Very, very barely.”
Call: “But it was my favorite shot of the whole movie, though… It makes me kind of tear up each time. So when you see the windmills in the background and Mal’s walking across the parking lot, we earned it. We got it!”
[They all laugh]
Everton: “There are just moments of the film that bring you right back to what it felt like in that moment to one, be making the movie, but two, be going through that period of time. It’s kind of special.”
How would you say this differs from your previous projects? [They all laugh] Probably, I imagine, very much so from the sounds of it!
Call: “Well, I mean we had always wanted to make a movie. We had made so many sketches…”
Everton: “We started off in sketch comedy.”
Call: “Yeah, and we did sketches on a local TV station for six years and we had done it in college and stuff. So we were used to short stories that were over in three minutes, type of thing. But we all wanted to make characters that grew and had a really full-fledged movie feeling.”
Everton: “But there was always this feeling about what comes first: funding or who we would work with and when was the right time…”
Call: “So when we decided to make this, we really just wanted to demystify this process of making a movie. That’s really why we did it in the first place… So then we really just went into this thinking that this is a whole learning experience. And it was so much different because it was all learning…”
Everton: “It’s also the most personal thing we’ve ever made… We just wrote it and we weren’t really thinking about anything other than what was making each other laugh while we were working on it… It was kind of a fun creative process for that reason, especially since in the past it was always just for a client or a specific demographic and this was more of like, we’re going to figure out if anyone connects with this other than us.”
Call: “And also, Steven and Mal co-directed this together and everything they’ve worked on has been so great… So to see a project come together where there were no restraints on them and there weren’t a bunch of people with their hands in the pot, as it were, it was so nice that they could properly lead the production, which was really special to watch!”
Meek: “Aww, that’s so sweet of you to say!”
And I think the authenticness and passion that you all have will definitely come across to the viewers, which is what makes films like these so amazing to watch!
Everton: “Well, that’s our hope, anyways!”
So, if you were the characters in this film and this actually happened to you, would you do all of the things that they did in the same scenarios?
Call: “I mean, it was definitely a heightened version of ourselves. But they are still ourselves, for the most part.”
Everton: “Yeah, my character mentions making out with someone in a bounce house… I probably wouldn’t do that!”
Meek: “Are you sure?”
Everton: “That sounds terrifying! You’d have, like, all broken teeth! There’s absolutely no way I would do that!”
[They all laugh]
Call: “And there’s a scene where Mal and I are dancing in the salt flats… And looking back on it, that’s definitely something the two of us would do, for sure.”
Meek: “And sure, we created situations that were more outlandish and sketch-inspired, but it’s really mostly just them and they naturally just flow so well together.”
Everton: “Well, and a lot of that was you too because… Sometimes we needed Stephen there to be like, ‘I don’t believe you! You need to do that again!’ And it was always really helpful because it is so easy to get away from yourself, so it was nice knowing that Stephen was there to ground us.”
Okay, last question, if you could pick between being able to time travel or teleport, which would you pick and why?
Call and Meek: “Teleport!”
Everton: “Wowww, you two were so in sync there!”
Call: “I genuinely can’t tell you how many times I tell Stephen, ‘Can I just apparate already?’ Like, ‘Can I just get from one place to another?’ I mean, practically it would solve a lot of problems, but then also I would be able to go everywhere!”
Meek: “Yeah, I’d say the same thing. Just being able to go everywhere would be incredible!”
Everton: “I would also be teleport because then I could live anywhere I wanted but also be able to work anywhere I wanted… Like, to be able to snap your fingers and be in LA but also have a cabin somewhere in Canada… That would be the life! And also, I feel like time travel is too messy. Like, you wouldn’t know what you’d be messing up!”
Call: “Okay, as we’re talking about this, are you guys starting to feel a little bit excited? Like, as if teleportation were possible?”
Everton: “Well, it’s happening! Bullet trains? Flying Ubers? Technology is getting there, they’re all talking about it! Elon Musk wants to turn rockets on their sides so that we can get anywhere in the world in under two hours, just saying!”
Call: “Okay, well my question is, what will happen to our insides when that happens?”
Everton: “Well, that’s not his problem!”
[They all laugh]
Well, I think that’s the perfect time to end this interview. Thank you all so much for meeting with me, this was incredible! I’m so excited to see Stop and Go and spread the word on campus about your amazing work!
So that was my interview with Mallory Everton, Stephen Meek, and Whitney Call!
It was so amazing getting to see Stop and Go after I interviewed them because I could see that they put so much of themselves into this film, and it’s this authenticity that really sets this film apart from a lot of others like it. You really feel like you’re there with them the whole time, laughing and crying and living. And even though it’s set during the pandemic, it’s actually a great statement as to how things were at that time, especially with the humor elements that add so many other layers on top of it being just a pandemic story.
So with all of that being said, if you’re looking for a great laugh and a fun story to escape into for a few hours, I highly recommend Stop and Go!
A huge shout out to Andy Gyurisin and the Alamo for giving me the opportunity to meet with these delightful people and see such an amazing film!
Make sure to visit the Alamo Drafthouse if you haven’t already, and you can stream Stop and Go on Hulu!