What inspired you come up with the idea for the film? / Why did you want to tell this story?
I think that the events of my high school have always haunted my friends and my community. We never really talked about it even after it came out in all the papers and was on the news. I think that we just didn’t want to know. So in 2006 when I became a mom to a son, my entire life changed. I saw the world in a completely different way and I knew that I was responsible for someone else’s life other than my own. One day in 2012 while keeping an eye on Jackson in the backyard and cooking dinner for my husband who was on his way home from work, I flipped on CNN to try and figure out what was going on in the world! It was then that I saw a picture of Jerry Sandusky. He looked a whole lot like Eddie Fischer to me. At that moment I felt an overriding emotion that stopped me in my tracks – terror. And then it hit me – I had learned NOTHING from my old school. This terrible thing had happened but we were all afraid to talk about it as a school and as a community so, as a result, we didn’t know HOW to talk about it to our children and, because of that, it was an open invitation for it to happen again and again. I knew then and there that I had a responsibility to that little boy in the backyard and I vowed to protect him. I knew that in order to do that, I first had to understand what really happened at Porter Gaud and why it was allowed to go on for so long. As I started my deep dive I thought that maybe I should document it. And here I am years later. So that answer is, I was inspired by the love for my son.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
Even if the story wasn’t about me, my friends and my community, I would still relate to a mom trying to find out the truth about her school’s past in order to make sure the past didn’t repeat itself in her child’s school the present.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
Originally, I wanted to include my old school in the film. I wanted to bring an amazing prevention expert to the campus for parents and educators to hear and I wanted to film it. In my mind it was going to be a positive film about reversing our course and embracing our past so we could move forward together and say that this will never happen again on this campus! I took a meeting with everyone from the head of school to all of the counselors to each of the principals. I was really emotional in the meeting and passionately expressed that they should hold my hand and let the world see that it was a new day at Porter Gaud because they were ahead of the issue. I said that they could be role models for other schools. They were nice to me but when it came time to actually film on campus, they had their board members/attorneys call me to say no unless I gave them final cut of the film and agreed to say nothing bad about the school. Honestly, it kind of broke my heart. We were still being so silent about it all as if it had never happened. I realized that I needed to document the silence. And that became the whole point of the film.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
To keep making the film. We had people basically refuse to discuss the topic once we had them in the interview chair and people who yelled in our faces and told us that if more damage was done by this film, blood would be on our hands. This film is so deeply personal to me so I spent a lot of time crying but I knew that in the end, WHAT HAUNTS US could save countless lives if we pushed forward. I could never have done that without my strong producers, my incredible writer and my extraordinary crew holding my hand and telling me that it would all be ok. I am so grateful to my team.
Where there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Many — having people come after me legally or people I cared about refusing to speak to me again. But my love for my little boy erased all of my fears. Nothing is more important than his safety and the safety of all kids on the planet. If we as adults can do something to prevent child sexual abuse then is our responsibility.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
Charleston. My town is so beautiful that it looks like a movie set. I wanted a drone to soar over it to capture the beauty while the narrative revealed the ugliness.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
Just do it! For a documentary, the story keeps evolving. You have no idea what you will end up with. That’s the beauty of it. So just do your research, start making those calls and start shooting. The story will reveal itself to you. I was so afraid of making the first call. But I did it and one call led to the next and then to another and another. Everyone had a story and when those stories started sounding alike, I knew we had a movie. My writer Mark Monroe then helped me craft it in to the dramatic narrative that it was but I couldn’t see because I was so deep in it. He just stood back, looked at it from a distance and said yup, there’s the story.
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