For Dallas filmmaker Rachel Shepherd, storytelling has always been a part of her life. A voracious reader from a young age, she devoured the unpublished manuscripts of romance novels written by her mother.
“She had this colorful way of describing things, and her stories always read so poetically,” says Shepherd, who recently celebrated the world premiere of latest feature film, About Mom and Dad, at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival.
Shepherd’s relationship with her mother — as well as her father — continues to influence her work today. This is especially evident in About Mom and Dad, a story borne from Shepherd’s own experience of coping with planning her wedding around the same time that her parents’ marriage was unraveling due to infidelity. Eventually her parents reunited, strengthening their relationship as well as Shepherd’s own understanding of love and marriage.
“Nothing that’s worth anything comes easy,” says Shepherd of her latest feature film, About Mom and Dad.
“I wanted to show that in a marriage not everyone is a hero or a villain, not everyone who makes mistakes necessarily does it to harm the other person,” she says. “A love story can be about the people and not the incident. The best things in life are messy. Nothing that’s worth anything comes easy.”
Although writing is her first love — something she’s been actively doing since the third grade — Shepherd developed the courage she needed to pursue her dream of becoming a filmmaker as a student in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, during a directing class. She had always wanted to direct, but it terrified her.
“Being in that class and seeing what makes a really great actor, I knew I wanted to direct an actor to do those things,” she says. “The greatest fun in life is living your fear, so I have a great time directing because it terrifies me.”
In 2007, Shepherd had completed her studies at NYU and was working in television in New York when her husband, a medical student, was accepted into a residency program in Texas, where they both grew up. They moved back home, and Shepherd enrolled in the master’s program for filmmakers at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Despite later dropping out of the program to make her first feature film, Traveling, Shepherd made lasting connections during her time at UTA, including cinematographer Bret Curry, who worked on both of her feature films. Shepherd also counts Dallas actor and producer Farah White among her core group of collaborators.
“As a director, it is your job to bring everyone together and create the look and feel, and it’s your words and it’s your vision, but you have to understand that it’s a machine,” she says. “You’re the key that turns the machine, but every other person is equally important.”
“The greatest fun in life is living your fear, so I have a great time directing because it terrifies me,” Shepherd says.
Shepherd learned that lesson the hard way, when she tried to do everything herself on Traveling. “With About Mom and Dad, I learned how to let go,” she says. “I turned a lot of things over to my producers.”
The decision to premiere the film at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival came more out of Shepherd’s love for the Dallas film community than her desire to promote the film it on the festival circuit. She premiered Traveling at the festival in 2011, so it has become almost like a tradition for her.
“If the Dallas International Film Festival will have me, I will premiere every one of my movies there,” she says Shepherd. “They were the first festival to support me, and they continue to support and exhibit work that comes from the vibrant, deep community of filmmakers here in Dallas.”
Although you may not have a chance to see About Mom and Dad on the big screen again anytime soon, Shepherd and her crew are currently pitching it to cable stations in hopes of releasing the film on television and later rolling it out to other video-on-demand outlets.
“Our goal for the movie has always been television,” she says. “I don’t really see it as a film made for theatrical release. Some of my favorite movies are Hollywood movies, so I’m a huge fan of that system; it’s just not where my work will ever be.
“But that’s the great thing about being a filmmaker: There are all these different voices, and when we sing together, it’s this crazy discord of unharmonious sound. But if we each get a voice out there, it makes a beautiful symphony, and I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”