Funeral Drill: A New Film From Melissa McMeekin

Melissa McMeekin, photo by Carolyn Ross
Melissa McMeekin, photo by Carolyn Ross

By Carol Patton

Iris Malloy is a woman with a full life and a zest for living it. Whether it be playing poker and drinking Jack Daniels with her best friends- -the sarcastic, quick witted, daughter-in-law hating Judy, and the quirky, slightly dim witted but giant hearted Margaret–or tricking her teenage granddaughter Ireland into a never-ending attempt to finish a jigsaw puzzle by hiding pieces from her, Iris lives life to the fullest.

So it comes as quite a disappointment to learn she only has a few months to live. Always one to take charge of a situation, however, and believing this day is too important to mess up—claiming that it is, after all, “not just a day in a lifetime but a lifetime in a day”–Iris decides to plan her own “good bye party”. Insisting that her two grown children, uptight Kathleen (whose ex-husband happens to be a bona fide rockstar—showing us that underneath her tightly wound surface lies a free spirit that hasn’t been seen in years) and gentle natured Kevin (with a partner – the ever playful Ethan – he shares his home with yet has kept from his mother) will fail to properly execute her wishes for her final send off she decides to subject them to drills.

Randomly Iris calls to inform them she has just died so that she can supervise as they rehearse her over the top ideas, each time making changes—creating a need for yet another drill. Ethan turns out to become her kindred spirit and her biggest supporter in her antics.

Is she simply a controlling old woman forcing her family to indulge her eccentricities, or is she trying to spend time with her children and know that they are okay before she goes? Whatever the reason, her hilarious and sometimes bizarre requests, along with her crazy antics, somehow manage to bring this family together and provide closure. With the heart and wit of STEEL MAGNOLIAS or BEACHES, filled with humor and heartbreak, FUNERAL

DRILL makes us laugh and cry while reminding us to live each day to the fullest as if it were the only day we had left.

Upon reading the script, director Ben Proulx noted, “Towards the end, there is one of the most emotionally powerful speeches I have ever read. The words alone genuinely made me cry the greatest kind of tears.”

At a glance perks of producing FUNERAL DRILL are it is budget friendly offering three substantial roles for women over sixty-five – a too often forgotten talented and practiced group of actors who if they want to continue acting are often relegated to filler roles of little story consequence.

An accomplished actor turned writer, Melissa McMeekin has a cast wish list that this writer, who has read FUNERAL DRILL, believes would die for this script and these roles. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT comes to my mind. It’s tagline: “Come to Laugh, Come to Cry, Come to Care, Come to Terms” fit FUNERAL DRILL and its opportunities quite well.

Dean Winters as Dennis Duffy and Melissa McMeekin as Megan Duffy-Duffy on NBC’s hit comedy 30 Rock. Photo courtesy of NBC
Dean Winters as Dennis Duffy and Melissa McMeekin as Megan Duffy-Duffy on NBC’s hit comedy 30 Rock. Photo courtesy of NBC

McMeekin picks: to play Iris – Blythe Danner; to play Judy – Kathy Bates; to play Margaret – Carol Kane; to play Ireland – Jeanette McCurdy; to play Blake – the real live rockstar Jon Bon Jovi and to play Kathleen – Melissa McMeekin!

Melissa made the switch from stage to screen just four short years ago and since she has been seen in multiple critically acclaimed projects such as THE FIGHTER, 30 Rock and Boardwalk Empire, working alongside some of Hollywood’s most respected talents. She has played a range of characters in multiple indie films and television ranging from a meth addict to the much loved Megan Duffy-Duffy, a recurring character on 30 Rock.

Last spring she reunited with director David O. Russell on his latest film, AMERICAN HUSTLE. “To get to work with him at all is every actor’s dream” she says of Russell “so I can’t even begin to quantify the level of gratitude I have to have been given the opportunity to work with him twice. He really has a generous spirit and is honestly just fun to be around. I learned a lot working with him and I applied those things I learned to my Knick audition.”

The Knick audition she is referring to is the new Cinemax series starring Clive Owen with director Steven Soderbergh signed on to helm the entire season—and on which McMeekin scored a recurring role. The Knick is set at Knickerbocker hospital in downtown New York circa 1900. She’ll be playing a real person–the infamous “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant working as a cook that ended up becoming the first asymptomatic carrier of the disease discovered in the United States.

“I worked really hard on the audition, researching Mary’s life and her story, determining the type of Irish accent she would have based on what part of Ireland she was from—and then driving my family and anyone else I encountered crazy by speaking with it for the whole week I had to prepare”

“It’s both exciting and terrifying,” she said, “to have a director of Soderbergh’s caliber have such belief in my ability…definitely makes me want to bring my A-game.”

Sue Costello, Ashley Judd, Erica McDermott and Melissa McMeekin taken at the Victim Rights Law Center Gala,. This is a cause that Melissa actively supports. Photo by Cheryl Richards photography.
Sue Costello, Ashley Judd, Erica McDermott and Melissa McMeekin taken at the Victim Rights Law Center Gala,. This is a cause that Melissa actively supports. Photo by Cheryl Richards photography.

What would become the FUNERAL DRILL story took up residence in McMeekin’s head when a friend of hers told her a story of how she knew a woman who would actually call her kids and tell them she was dead to see how long it would take them to go through the telephone tree and alert the other relatives. “I found that hilarious and thought my mom would do something like that and this idea just formed from that. My dad had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and began really going downhill and this story became a way of dealing with that, too, and I couldn’t get it out of my head,” she told IMAGINE. “I would take walks and be writing it in my head and it would evolve and I kept thinking that I wanted to write it; I was just so afraid to do it.

“But, I felt compelled to tell this story. The story’s ever present persistence to be told beat out my fear. Once I sat down to write it all just flowed out of me very quickly. Then I was very hesitant to show it to anybody at all: I felt very vulnerable, more vulnerable than acting the most intimate of scenes.

“I started slowly sharing it and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and so many people told me that it stuck with them and that it inspired them or made them feel they wanted to really live life to the fullest, many said it was healing to them after losing a loved one, some told me they immediately called their moms when they finished and I was told by more than one person they felt connected to the characters and that they hated saying goodbye when it ended.

“I felt genuine gratitude from them for bringing them into this world with me. I got frequent comparison to STEEL MAGNOLIAS, which I love because I wanted to write a movie that people would go see with their moms and their grandmas and that all the way home they would still be laughing about moments and talking about it. It was incredibly humbling and I realized that I was indeed meant to share this story.

“I am also a huge believer that there needs to be more women driven films being developed. That means more women need to find their voice and write. There is a huge audience of smart, independent, sophisticated movie goers with disposable incomes who want to see films they can relate to–women aged thirty to seventy. And there are amazing actresses over the age of sixty who are immensely talented, beautiful, filled with wisdom that just have these robust, rich spirits about them. I’m very proud of the fact that this movie has three substantial roles for women in that group. And that the movie is very women centric–there are significant male characters, and the men who have read this script have loved it, specifically the dialogue, so it isn’t strictly a “chick flick”, but the leads of this movie are women. I’m proud of that.”

Melissa is open to whatever way the universe sees her film project unfolding. She would like collaboration with a production/distribution company that can bring financing to produce FUNERAL DRILL. She sees it as a $2 – $5 million budget and she would like to see it filmed in Massachusetts, which offers a 25% tax credit. “I’d love to see a female director, and even a female cinematographer. I’d love for it to be very woman driven all around,” she says.

To reach Melissa at AFM call 978 559-1331 or email funeraldrill@gmail.com for more information.  Melissa McMeekin was also profiled in our upcoming New England actor series this year.

Carol Patton is the publisher of IMAGINE Magazine. She introduced Film Tax Credits to New England in 2002 and wrote a definitive piece in October 2004,which prompted the Governor’s office of Massachusetts to request multiple copies on the double.

 

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