When Evolve Studio co-founder Jesse Edwards saw firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic was having a very negative effect on those close to him, he did what any filmmaker would do. He turned his desire to help into a short film. The result, Distance, was released to YouTube on April 10 and is already garnering publicity and attention for its message of hope in a time when everyone is hungry for a ray of light.
It’s a story told through the eyes of everyday people dealing with very real emotions. Simply put, this film examines fear, sadness, anger, desperation, frustration — and most importantly — hope.
“Everyone we know is afraid right now and hurting in some way,” Edwards said. “We knew the world needed a message of hope specific to this moment. When the U.S. declared a State of Emergency, a lot of people lost their jobs and were immediately displaced. I thought right away, ‘What about those who were already unemployed? What about those with relationships that were already broken? What hope exists for those who have lost everything and are now even more completely alone?’”
With the combination of social isolation, sickness, job and income loss and justified fears regarding COVID-19; the toll on mental health, psychological distress, substance abuse and suicide could be substantial. The World Health Organization estimates roughly one million people commit suicide each year, but that’s in a normal year. What would this pandemic do to the suicide numbers for this year?
It was a sobering thought that set him into action.
In true first-responder fashion, the storyteller in him rallied the team at Evolve and began putting his ideas on film. Instead of focusing on the devastation of this worldwide pandemic, Edwards chose to focus on a message of hope shown through the heart of a little girl and the power and magnitude of one simple gesture.
“We needed to put something into the world injecting hope into it, and if it could change even one life it was worth it,” he said.
The result is Distance, a 15-minute independent short film with an official rating (PG) by the Motion Picture Association (MPA).
Jesse and his brother Joel, who produced the film, knew the window was closing because Tennessee didn’t have mandated restrictions in place yet, but other states did.
“We knew if we were going to create a film about this current moment, it had to be now,” Jesse Edwards said. The screenplay was written within 48 hours, the film was cast within 24 hours, principle photography completed within 2 days, and post production immediately followed for another 11 days, all while abiding by state, federal and local restrictions and COVID-19 best practices.
“This was a filmmakers’ fire drill like no other.” Joel Edwards said. “It’s honestly a miracle that the film materialized in the timeframe, legal window, and with the precautions we took and limitations that we had. Our team also did an incredible sprint in post. The editorial, original score, VFX came together in less than two weeks. I’m so proud of the way our studio could rally around this moment in time and produce a powerful narrative story that speaks to our current COVID-19 reality. I’m not sure there is anything else like this in the content universe.”
Going from script to screen is a process that can traditionally take months, not weeks, but Jesse Edwards said if they could have finished it sooner, they would have.
“As a writer, I always try to look at telling stories that help connect the audience with their feelings,” he said. “Maybe even feelings they don’t know they have such as fear, shame, or loneliness. So, when this pandemic hit the U.S., I thought ‘how much more do we need messages of hope right now?’”
He added that every conversation he had with people he’s close to, he could hear fear and concern in their voices as they are thrust into so many unknowns.
“My heart went out to all the people who don’t have someone to call them right now,” he said. “From there, Norman’s character was born. He was a person who, for reasons completely separate from the pandemic, has shut the world out and doesn’t feel like he can talk to his family.”
The inspiration for the catalyst of hope in the movie came from Edwards’ own little girls and the simple gestures they do for their daddy that carry equal parts simplicity and magnitude.
“Every day for the last couple of months, my 5-year-old girl will have made me a stack of cards. She just decorates different pieces of paper and hands them to me. In that moment, I try to forget about my day and look at what she has done while waiting for me to come home. It’s such a simple, beautiful act,” he said.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that a young child and her simple gesture of kindness to one stranger carries enough impact to change the lives of those who watch this film.
And because getting this message out was such an important driver behind this film, the Edwards brothers decided instead of licensing or selling the movie, they would put it on YouTube and other VOD platforms for everyone to have access to it for free.
The film premiered April 10, and can be viewed here:
“I am excited about equipping the audience of this film to hear these words and to share them with other people,” Jesse said. “The more we can come together, the more we can heal. Maybe someone who watches this film needs to hear ‘You’re not alone. I’m scared too and I’m here for you.’”
The filming operated within complete compliance of the State of Tennessee, US Federal Government mandates and CDC recommendations around COVID-19 best practices. Production followed volunteer, micro limited crew & cast footprint, social distancing, and strict clean-set protocols. The filmmakers acknowledge the threat posed by the spread of COVID-19 is real, alarming and should be taken very seriously. Strict precautions were thoroughly evaluated and enforced to ensure a safe set.