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AMERICAN WOMAN

About The Production
Acclaimed screenwriter Brad Ingelsby was inspired to write American Woman shortly after becoming a father. "There's this intense fear that you suddenly get about losing a child, which I imagine every parent experiences to some degree," he says. "You find yourself wondering what a loss like that would do to you. How would it haunt you? Could you carry on? Those questions sparked the idea for this film."

Ingelsby initially planned to tell the story through the eyes of a father whose teenage daughter goes missing. But during the process of writing the script, he developed second thoughts about the identity of his protagonist. "I gave the father a girlfriend who was a free spirit, and she ended up having so much life in her that I realized it would be a lot more interesting if she was actually the focus of the story, not the dad."

As the narrative began to take shape, Ingelsby found himself crafting Deb Callahan, the film's unforgettable main character. "I wanted to explore how a woman like Deb would handle the loss of her daughter, and how she would navigate her life in the years that follow," he recalls. "It felt like fertile ground to chronicle a mother's journey over such a long span of time."

Creating a character whose rich and layered inner life would strike a profound chord in viewers was Ingelsby's goal from the start. "Deb's a real wild card who begins the story as a very immature and irresponsible person, but who gradually evolves into someone who earns the audience's respect," the writer says. "She's a very complex, inconsistent character. And it's her inconsistency that makes her so recognizably human. Hopefully, people will leave the theater believing she'll carry on and have a rewarding life outside of the story's central tragedy."

Although the plot of American Woman involves a missing teenager, Ingelsby was never interested in writing a whodunit. Instead, he wanted to grapple with how such a disappearance would emotionally affect a parent, the members of her close-knit family, and an entire working-class Pennsylvania community over the course of almost a dozen years.

"Experiencing Deb's journey, and exploring how a mother might go through that, including the ultimate reveal at the end of the movie, was the thing that really intrigued me," Ingelsby explains. "American Woman isn't about a crime. It's about the empowerment of a woman who's suffered something unimaginable, but who has the courage to make a new life for herself and her grandson, and to find a new way forward."

A Passionate Director
Producer Mike Pruss at Scott Free Productions eventually brought Ingelsby's finished script to award-winning filmmaker Jake Scott as a prospective feature for him to direct. Scott was already a fan of Ingelsby's writing, but his script for American Woman took things to a new level. "My response to it was instantaneous," says Scott. "This was an absolutely brilliant piece of work, and by the time I got to page 30, I knew I wanted to direct it."

Scott credits Ingelsby's keen understanding of human interaction and his ability to create nuanced characters as two factors that immediately attracted him to the material. "Brad has an incredible ear and feeling for family dynamics, and the entire Callahan clan became completely real to me the first time I read it," he says. "Their love and grievances, the thoughtful layering of their relationships, and their capacity to change, forgive and endure seemed like a necessary story to tell."

The script's inspiring lead character was particularly fascinating to Scott. "Deb is a survivor, and this was a story about surviving loss and breaking the cycle of violence in her life," he says. "American Woman deals with abuse on many levels. There's the self-abuse of a reckless mother. The married man that leads her to believe they have a future together when they don't. Deb's false accusation of her daughter's boyfriend. The infidelity and abuse of trust in her marriage. Yet through it all, Deb finds and deals with the truth on her own terms."

While developing the script and living with its characters, Scott found a few points that he wanted to drive a bit harder, and others that felt less essential. This meant working closely with Ingelsby on revisions, a process the director found extremely rewarding. "My relationship with Brad is the best I've ever had with a writer. He's very generous with his ideas, but he always considered my contributions as well. In the end, he made all the necessary adjustments, and made them work beautifully."

Ingelsby agrees. "Collaborating on the script with Jake was wonderful because he's a passionate director. Early in the process, I realized that he and I shared the exact same vision for who Deb is and what the themes of American Woman should be," says the writer. "With that in mind, we worked extremely hard to make this little Pennsylvania cul-de-sac feel like a real place, filled with real families dealing with real issues, because a film like this succeeds on the authenticity of the onscreen world and the characters in it."

Scott says American Woman is the type of material he's naturally drawn to. "My taste in the kinds of films I like to make varies, but I tend to gravitate towards scripts that are well told and have a sense of truth to them, which this one does. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find that in a piece of writing."

Ridley's Advice
Along with fine-tuning the script together, Scott and Ingelsby worked closely with the team at Scott Free Productions during the production. "Producer Mike Pruss and I have been friends for a decade, and we've partnered on a few scripts over the years," says Ingelsby. "So it was a thrill to find myself on the set with him. This is the first movie where we actually got a chance to do that."

The writer also enjoyed working with Scott Free producers Kevin Walsh and Ryan Stowell on the film. "It makes such a huge difference when you're collaborating with people you actually like and respect. That's something I always aim for, because life's too short to do otherwise."

For Scott, directing American Woman meant working alongside his legendary filmmaker father, Sir Ridley Scott, who founded the production company in 1970 with his brother Tony. "Having my dad as one of the producers on this project was great. Obviously, his name makes a huge difference to the movie's profile because he's such an amazing artist."

Ingelsby, too, had a history with the celebrated Scott Free founder. "Ridley actually gave me my start in this business when he became attached to one of my scripts almost 10 years ago," says the writer. "If he hadn't become involved in the script, it never would have been sold."

Jake Scott says his four-time Academy Award -nominated father was careful not to inundate him with guidance on the set of American Woman. "By now, I've been directing long enough that he only provides support when it's asked for and where it's needed. But before each new project, he always reminds me to have fun doing it, and I take that to heart because although it can be really tough making a film, it's still just a movie. Where he gets more involved is during post-production - he had a lot to say when he saw the first cut."

Miller Takes the Lead
Deb Callahan appears in every scene of the film and carries the bulk of the story's emotional weight on her shoulders, so Scott and Ingelsby knew that casting the right actress to play her was critical to the success of American Woman.

"Deb is a very tough role, in part because her story unfolds over a long period of time," says the writer. "So there's a visible change in age that you've got to account for, along with an incredible transformation in her personality as well. Having to modulate that is challenging for an actor, especially when she's on screen the entire time."

Although Scott acknowledges that there were a number of potential choices to play Deb, he knew who he wanted to cast from the moment he finished reading the script. "I was set on Sienna Miller right from the start," he admits. "She's a chameleon, and since Deb goes through a lot of changes in American Woman, I felt she could really bring her to life."

Having seen the films Miller had done in the past, Scott knew she had the necessary range play the character. "She could do comedy, but she could also go very deep," he says. "For example, she's really subtle in American Sniper and gives an exquisite performance. And she was great in Foxcatcher as well. Both of those portrayals were so beautifully heartfelt."

Eager to convince the award-winning actress to accept the role, Scott met with Miller at a restaurant to discuss the project, and it quickly became apparent she was the perfect person to play Deb. "It was one of those meetings that I wanted to go well, because I really thought she was right for the part," he explains. "She'd literally just finished working on Live by Night the day before, so when she arrived she was understandably a bit scrambled. By the time she sat down at the table, all I could see was Deb. She was dropping things and her hair was all over the place. Honestly, it was very funny."

Like Scott, Miller fell in love with Ingelsby's script from the very first page. "I'd never read anything as intricate in terms of character," she says. "Brad did an incredible job of making almost everyone three dimensional and I knew from the first moment that it was something I had to be a part of."

Miller describes Deb as a complex person who goes through a profound transformation over the course of the film. "Over an eleven-year period, this woman morphs into the person she was always meant to become and that arc of transformation was what was most appealing. In some ways, playing Deb is like playing Hamlet. She's a character with huge depth and texture. I spent a lot of time, energy and thought mapping it out emotionally."

The actress was particularly struck by the story's overarching theme of familial love. "American Woman is very much about familial dynamics, and when you scratch the surface of any family, you'll find tension and complexity," she says. "One of the things that makes this movie so incredibly powerful is the shared history between the characters. And that particular part of the story resonated deeply with me. All family relationships deal with conflict and resentment, just as they do with love and compassion, that's part of being human, and Brad's writing powerfully captured that range of experience."

Miller says she found herself relating to several aspects of Deb's personality. "She often sees life through a humorous lens and is feisty and outspoken. I think I have a little bit of that in me as well. She's a little more brittle than I am, and less interested in pleasing people, both of those qualities can be powerful and are interesting to explore."

Scott and Miller became fast friends on the set and developed a shorthand vernacular with one another that allowed for open and free-flowing communication. "I feel like you really need that kind of connection in order to produce honest work," he says. "I'm just grateful for every day I spent with Sienna, and I absolutely loved working with her on this."

Miller echoes Scott's sentiments. "Jake is one of the most passionate people I've come across. These characters became real people to him, and the story went straight to his heart and mine as well," she says. "The first time we met, it was very clear that we approached things in a similar way. We actually ended up crying during our first meeting because the story had affected us so deeply. As a director, he's incredibly thorough, committed and generous. I couldn't ask for more than I've received from him bit personally and creatively while making this film" A Sisterly Bond

For the role of Kath, Deb's selfless and nurturing older sister, Scott was once again able to cast his top choice for the part. "I wrote Christina Hendricks' name down on the very first draft of the script," he says. "I'm not kidding. I actually scribbled her name directly next to Kath's, because I knew that's who should play her."

A longtime fan of the actress' Emmy -nominated work on "Mad Men," Scott felt Hendricks had the subtlety and warmth necessary to bring the maternal character to life. "Kath is the older sister who takes care of the family with grace and patience," says the director. "Sometimes she has to be firm, but she always does it with love. And Christina understood that implicitly. Somehow, she was able to convey a lot by doing very little, which is what we needed here. She's remarkable."

Hendricks admits to being pleasantly surprised when she first read the script. "It wasn't what I thought it was going to be," she says. "I kept waiting for something really creepy to happen with the missing child, but instead it became an exploration of this family, and a character study about someone pulling their life back together again, which I really enjoyed."

Unlike Kath, who has a profoundly close relationship with her sister and her kids, Hendricks doesn't have a sister or any children in real life. "That meant I had to draw on other things I know in order to play her, and loving people intensely is something I can definitely relate to," she says. "We do share some other characteristics, however. For one thing, Kath acts as a liaison between her sister and her mother. She's basically the glue that holds the family together, and a lot of my friends say that I'm the glue in our group. So, that came very naturally to me."

Hendricks initially discussed the project with Scott on Skype, and the two came to an agreement shortly thereafter. "It was one of those calls where you get off and you think to yourself, well that was amazing!" she recalls. "After that, we had several more conversations where we broke down my character and talked about her relationships and history. Those discussions got me very excited. It was clear that Jake had thought through every single detail of the film. Plus, he knew exactly how to speak to actors, which is also incredibly rare."

Although Hendricks and Miller hadn't met prior to their work on American Woman, the two immediately hit it off and came to admire each other's talent. "I love Sienna so much," says Hendricks. "She has a sense of openness and warmth about her. The first day on a film set can feel like the first day of school, where you don't know what anyone is going to be like. But the second I met Sienna, I knew that we'd probably be friends forever."

Miller is equally effusive about her co-star. "Christina is an incredibly honest actress. There's just never a false moment with her. Every time I glance at her, it's grounding. She exudes a feeling of serenity, and I'm sure half of that is character work. But beyond that, as a woman, she's magnificent."

Miller was just as excited to work with her longtime idol, Amy Madigan. "I've been obsessed with Amy my entire life, so the fact that I'm in a movie with her is just unbelievable to me. She's so alive and vivid as a person and an actor and she brought all of that strength and life force to this role" she says.

An Inspiring Presence
To play Peggy, Deb and Kath's long-suffering mother, the filmmakers tapped Oscar nominee Amy

Madigan. Like her co-stars, Madigan felt an instant affinity for Peggy's quiet strength and resilience in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

"Peggy's a great character," Madigan says. "She's a widow, and she's very family-oriented. Very IrishCatholic. She can be a little too rigid and judgmental, but she's also extremely loyal and loves her daughters. If it wasn't for them, she'd probably be lost."

The actress was particularly impressed with the warts-and-all honesty she found in Ingelsby's script. "The family dynamic felt very real," she says. "These characters don't live a fairytale life, and the film doesn't wrap everything up with a little bow at the end. That's what attracted me to the script. Along with the chance to share scenes with two really kickass women, of course. When I learned that Sienna and Christina were going to be in the film, American Woman became a very exciting project to me."

Miller was equally excited to work with her longtime idol. "I've been obsessed with Amy my entire life, so the fact that I'm in a movie with her is just unbelievable to me. She's so alive and vivid as a person, and she brings a lot of strength to this role," she says.

Scott, too, found Madigan to be an inspiring presence on the set. "Amy has got the character of Peggy down pat," he says. "But just as importantly, her vast experience and knowledge about the craft of filmmaking makes me just want to sit down, listen and learn from her."

The feeling was mutual, according to Madigan. "Jake was great," she says. "He's extremely specific and incisive, which I really appreciate as an actor. Before joining the cast of American Woman, I saw his film Welcome to the Rileys, and was really impressed with it. He's clearly drawn to telling stories about very imperfect people who are trying to do the best they can."

Spousal Support
Rounding out the ensemble cast are Will Sasso as Kath's gruff yet lovable husband Terry, and Aaron Paul as Chris, Terry's co-worker, whom Deb marries after a whirlwind two-month courtship. In a film centered around a trio of remarkable female characters, Sasso and Paul provide substantive support playing two men with varying degrees of loyalty to their spouses.

Best known for his hilarious comic roles in films like The Three Stooges and television shows like "MADtv," Sasso found himself haunted by Ingelsby's dramatic script. "I was blown away by it," he says. "It's a real roller coaster, filled with characters that draw you in and make you want to give everyone a hug. My reaction was deep and visceral. Nothing is sugar-coated here, and nothing is handled with kid gloves. This film has a genuine respect for its subject."

Sasso describes his character as a dependable working-class guy who loves his wife and kids, and is doing the best he can in life. "I was fortunate enough to know a few people like Terry when I was growing up. He's the kind of man where what you see is what you get."

Playing Kath's devoted husband was a treat for the actor, especially since he had worked together with Hendricks on the film Life as We Know It and the mockumentary series "Another Period." "I've always found her to be unbelievably sweet and friendly and affable. She's the perfect choice to play Kath, because she totally sinks her teeth into the role. I literally can't imagine anyone else playing her."

Scott felt Sasso's comedy background made him an especially good fit to play Terry. "I always believed that someone with a comic ability needed to play him, because he's practically the only reliable man in the whole story," he says. "And as soon as I saw Will read during his audition, I knew he was the right choice. Like Terry, Will's strong as a rock, and he keeps his feelings in check until he's ready to express them."

Finding the right actor to play Chris was a bit trickier, according to the director. "Chris is a difficult character to play, because he's a good person who's not entirely likeable. Of course, he's not an arch-villain either. He's much more real than that. He's a guy who screws up and makes some painful mistakes. Luckily, Aaron was willing to go deep and step outside his comfort zones. It was quite interesting to watch him work."

Paul's initial reaction to Ingelsby's script was as visceral as Sasso's. "It ripped my heart right out of my chest," he says. "It's a heartbreakingly honest story told in such a beautiful way. I actually first read it on my phone, and I just couldn't put it down. I finished it in one sitting. Brad is a genius, and I'll read everything he ever writes from this point on. In person, he's the sweetest guy, but he writes the heaviest and most truthful stories. And those are the kinds of films that I love to watch and be a part of." Life on Location

American Woman was shot on location in a working-class neighborhood of Boston. Rather than recreate the characters' homes on a soundstage in California, Scott and his production team felt that shooting in real homes would provide an invaluable degree of verisimilitude to the film.

"Authenticity is paramount in telling a story like this, so we shot primarily in real locations, often with non-actors walking around in them," says Scott. "All the furnishings were bought at local stores. These weren't props from Hollywood, and they weren't built by the art department. Everything, including the fabrics and carpets, came from local suppliers."

Award-winning production designer Happy Massee, who had collaborated with Scott on his debut feature Welcome to the Rileys, found the experience of shooting on location both challenging and deeply rewarding. "The most obvious benefit is that you have an existing room to work with, so your canvas is already pre-determined for the most part," Massee says. "In American Woman, the two main locations we had to deal with were Deb's house and her sister's house across the street. And since the geography of those two homes had to sync up correctly, finding the right places was very important."

It also turned out to be surprisingly difficult. "I fought tooth and nail to stay away from the house that we ultimately chose for Deb's home because of the rough condition it was in when we first arrived," he says. "The problem was that you just couldn't breathe in it. The guy who lived there had dogs and cats, and he probably hadn't cleaned the place in about 10 years. So we had to empty it out and bring in cleaners. Then a hazmat team arrived and disinfected the entire house. But by the time we finished, the place looked amazing."

In some ways, the location's initially squalid condition was exactly what the production designer was looking for. "Deb's home is based on where her character is emotionally at the start of the film. That's one of the reasons we chose a house that looked like it hadn't been cared for in quite a while," he explains. The script for American Woman begins by establishing that Deb's house is a hand-me-down, given to her by her mother. "So she moved in, had a daughter, and really didn't do anything to it for years," Massee says. "But as the story progresses, and Deb gets married and begins raising her grandson, the house slowly transforms into a responsible, cleaned-up home. Its change in appearance reflects Deb's gradual change in attitude."

Ingelsby believes the location shoot helped the cast see the story in a whole new light. "In this case, I think it was extremely important because it gave the actors a better sense of the streets, the homes, the driveways, and the yards that these characters have been living in for years. I really feel as though it influenced their performances a bit."

For her part, Miller found the experience enormously helpful, though not without its difficulties. "When you're shooting in a real location and not on a soundstage, you gain a sense of reality. It makes everything feel authentic, which inevitably makes it easier to connect with the story," she says. "Of course, there are also some cons, logistically speaking. shooting in Deb's cramped bedroom on the first day was extremely intense. Although we acclimated to the space, there was an entire crew with camera equipment in one tiny room, all of us crammed in like sardines. Somehow we got used to it."

The location shoot had a profound effect on Hendricks' performance in particular. "The home that I mostly shot in reminded me very much of my grandmother's house, and a lot of the houses of people I grew up with," the actress explains. "So I automatically felt like I knew where everything was as soon as I walked in, which made it quite easy for me to feel like I belonged there." Shooting and Cutting

To capture the right look for American Woman, Scott hired Academy Award-nominated cinematographer John Mathieson. "John is an old friend," the director says. "We made many music videos together in the '90s, and he shot my first feature film, Plunkett & Macleane. There's a lot of trust and understanding that comes from our friendship, and his knowledge and experience were invaluable on this project."

Although the story of American Woman is an intimate one, Scott and Mathieson had larger ambitions for the visuals. "We wanted to suggest a bigger picture, thematically speaking, so we approached this domestic drama with a sense of scale, which is something you don't normally see in a movie like this," Scott says. "To accomplish that, John suggested shooting with anamorphic lenses, which gives you a wider frame, so that you can hold on two people and create depth between them. It turned out to be a great decision, and was especially helpful in the small rooms we were shooting in."

Expressive lighting was another element that Scott and Mathieson utilized to help tell the story. "We incorporated subtle tones and degrees in the lighting to create a portrait of the characters and the worlds they live in," the director explains. "For instance, Deb doesn't really turn on her lights so her place is often lit by the street lights outside at night, or by natural light during the day. On the other hand, Kath's house, it's quite bright and airy. It's easier on the eyes, so to speak."

The job of shaping that footage into a cohesive and satisfying whole fell on the capable shoulders of editor Joi McMillon, who earned an Academy Award nomination for her work on Moonlight. After seeing her work on the Best Picture winner, Scott knew he wanted to collaborate with her at some point, and was ecstatic when she agreed to join him on American Woman.

"What's fascinating about her method of editing is that she connects to the overall feeling of the material," says the director. "That's how she approached this project, and I think it's a very important way to work. I learned so much from her on this movie."

The editing process was especially daunting because some scenes involve as many as six characters all speaking - and moving - at once. "We've got characters simultaneously arguing, crossing through rooms, making breakfast, et cetera. Deb, for instance, is very active, and we often found ourselves having to move with her while filming. The challenge is that we didn't want to hinder Sienna by asking her to hit a mark, which was a difficult thing to track photographically and editorially. You have to be incredibly rigorous and mathematical about the way that you shoot and cut it."

McMillon says she actually began planning her editing strategy from the moment she first read the script. "As an editor, I found myself noticing all of the special moments in Brad's screenplay, so I made mental notes to talk to Jake about some of those important scenes in the story. They were so vividly written, I could almost see them happening visually on the page."

Unlike other films she's worked on in the past, McMillon spent a great deal of time on the set of American Woman during production, which proved to be helpful in the long run. "Being there when they were shooting was very beneficial because it allowed me and Jake to better discuss pacing issues and specific beats when we were together in the cutting room later on."

Describing herself as a hopeless romantic at heart, McMillon singles out one particular scene as her favorite in the film. "It's the moment when Deb is feeling nervous about her first intimate moments with Chris," the editor says. "Sienna just does an amazing job of capturing that emotion. As an audience member, you feel all of her trepidation and longing. It's such an innocent moment in a movie with its fair share of heartache."

Hope and Empowerment
Reflecting on the journey to bring American Woman to the screen, Ingelsby can't help but marvel at Scott's diligence and care as a director. "Honestly, the finished film looks exactly the way I pictured it in my mind when I was writing the script," he says. "Trust me, it doesn't always happen that way. On this film, I looked around at the locations, the homes, the kitchens, the costumes, and it's all precisely how I imagined it, which is a testament to Jake and his crew and everyone who supported him."

Despite the specificity of the film's title, the writer believes American Woman is a story of empowerment that viewers of all genders and nationalities will relate to. "I like to think that people will see something of their own lives in the story of Deb and her family," says the screenwriter. "It's about people who continue to love one another despite the issues, arguments and frustrations that all of us experience in life. It's a film about perseverance, and finding a way to go on when you don't think you'll be able to."

Paul is confident the film will provide a cathartic experience for viewers. "When people walk away from this movie, they're going to feel some serious emotions," he says. "It really stays with you. When I first read the script, it stuck with me for so many days that I actually had to sit back down and read it again. I just couldn't stop thinking about it. It's like a really great book in that way."

Chronicling 11 years of love, laughter and tears within an ordinary Pennsylvanian family, American Woman doesn't shy away from depicting the toll that the loss of her daughter takes on its main character. But director Scott doesn't see Deb's story as a cautionary tale. Quite the opposite, in fact. "I want American Woman to give people a feeling of hope, because regardless of what befalls you, no matter how unexpected or uncontrollable, we all have it within ourselves to survive and move on with our lives. I think each of us could use a reminder of that."

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