Why Deadly Epidemics Make For Great Movies — 2 Filmmaker Collaborators Explain

Would you risk your life to save an acquaintance in a deadly disease epidemic? That's one of the questions explored in a provocative new film series about a pandemic, called 'Release. HollywoodLife talks to the hot filmmakers behind the series.

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Image Credit: Paige Kindlick

Imagine if there was a life-threatening epidemic that hit your city or town — how would you react? Would you physically fight someone to get to safety, even kill them, or would you give sanctuary to a criminal to save their life ? Would your town retain any semblance of normality or would the military be patrolling the streets and rationing food?

These are the scenarios and questions explored by collaborating filmmakers Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison who produced a series of 6 short films ranging in length from 8 to 15 minutes, called Release.The pair co-wrote the films and each directed two of the films, while another collaborator, Joshua Caldwell, directed the other two.

The Release series presents different characters in each film, as they cope with a deadly pandemic breakout somewhere in the North East of the country.  In one, a husband and wife are trapped in their home, terrified to go out for weeks, while the epidemic rages. The husband has to don a special protective mask that has been handed out by the government, to pick up food supplies, but the wife is too terrified to venture outside her door even when the danger has passed.

In another, a loud citywide alarm goes off and a man runs to the shelter that he shares with a friend, but his friend refuses to let him in as he desperately bangs on the door.

“The moral spectrum is something that Joe and I really love to explore,” Ryan Morrison tells Hollywoodlife.com in an EXCLUSIVE interview. “We always want people to be asking, ‘what would I do in the situation?'”

He points out that the series presents a mixed bag of reactions “because that would be the reality — that there are a lot of people who would hold their door shut when there is someone knocking on the other side that needed to get in and there are some people that would offer their last loaf of bread — for us it was important to show that spectrum.”

Morrison and Penna, who also collaborated on feature film, Arctic, about a bush pilot, who crashes in the Arctic, and nearly dies trying to save a female passenger from another helicopter crash, produced Release, under a new deal with Topic Studios, and debuted the series at The Tribeca Film Festival. The pair are still working on a distribution partner.

In Release, the scenario is that the country is somewhat prepared for another outbreak of the deadly airborne disease — one has already occurred in the midwest. The hospitals have a protocol for how to isolate and treat the victims, and local governments have distributed protective breathing masks and are prepared to distribute food to their citizens who can not go out to stores or restaurants.

Nevertheless, a sense of terror pervades all the films. Why do the film makers feel that the idea of a deadly epidemic has been the subject of so many ‘scary’ movies?

“It’s the one thing that we can’t control,” explains Brazilian native, Joe Penna. “There’s so much in our lives we can control. But things like airplane crashes, things like diseases, especially pandemics — are not under your control and it’s happened before. Epidemics are not under your control and they’ve killed millions of people. It  will happen again and it’s going to hurt people again.”

“Yeah, I think that’s extra scary and what’s relatable about it is that diseases don’t discriminate so it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor and even if you have access to the best medicine in the world that may not make a difference, if there is something new on the scene,” adds Morrison.

The pair will next start shooting a full length film, Stowaway, starring Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette. The pair play female astronauts, who join two male astronauts, in a sci-fi thriller about a mission to Mars, which is endangered by a stowaway who accidentally severely damages the spaceship’s life support systems.

The pair laugh that they like to do films about ‘extreme’ situations, ( often in extreme conditions) though of course they aren’t shooting in space. Penna dryly points out, “outer space was a little too expensive for our budget!”

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