This past year, the pandemic has forced many of us to slow down, reevaluate our lives, and adjust our priorities. The newly released film Back for Good, written and directed by Pittsburgh native sibling duo Bailey and Molly Donovan, touches on those very emotions tied to great transitions. Even though the movie was filmed back in 2014, the themes are as relevant as ever.
“People deserve the chance to reexamine their life, and when you move really quickly, it’s hard to do that,” Bailey said, “Some people settle because they think they deserve it. I hope this movie reminds people to create the life they want.”
Back for Good is an independent comedy drama that follows the story of Max Kelly, “an aspiring actor who confronts her quarter-life crisis by breaking up with New York City and returning home to reclaim the love she left behind,” according to a release.
The movie proudly uses Pittsburgh as the backdrop, and the cast and crew are mostly homegrown too. Many of Bailey’s classmates from Point Park University were a part of the production, and Chris Fafalios, the bass player for Pittsburgh-based band Punchine, made his acting debut in the film.
Ian Cramer and Molly Donovan (📸: @backforgoodfilm)
In addition to the steel city talent, the siblings’ family were sewn into the fabric of the film. Brother Joel Micah Donovan was the lead executive producer, sister Hannah Donovan headed the make-up department, mother Bobbie Donovan took over production design, and father Peter Donovan got to play alongside Molly as Max’s father in the film.
The production was supported by Point Park University, where Bailey studied cinema and digital arts, and Nonprofit Steeltown Entertainment.
And good news — you can now stream the feature film on Apple TV and Google Play, and it will be available on Amazon Prime later this week.
We watched the film and caught up with Bailey and Molly before the release. Below is our Q-and-A, edited for clarity and length.
Film cover art by Molly Donovan (📸: @backforgoodfilm)
You were working with a pretty low budget with this film and shot it in just 21 days back in 2014. Where in the city did you film?
Bailey: We filmed in Brentwood at both of our parents’ houses and a neighbor’s house. We also filmed on Mt. Washington, an exterior of a bar on the South Side, the interior of a bar in the South Hills, and at Twin Highways Drive-In. (Editor’s note: The drive-in has since been torn down and converted to Sheetz.)
This film was truly a Pittsburgh-powered project. How did your Pittsburgh team come together?
Bailey: It mostly came through contacts at Point Park. Many of my friends were looking for an ambitious project for the first step of our careers before we went separate ways. I knew they had great work ethics and we had great chemistry.
Molly: We got a lot of work done by people putting in a lot of care. We were really going out on a limb with our first feature. It was a lot of people’s first feature. It’s amazing how many people stepped up. When we had to roll with unexpected things, when we thought things weren’t fixable, there was always somebody there who was like, “we can make this work.” That’s just the kind of people in Pittsburgh, and it just affirmed so many nice things about Pittsburgh and who the people are here.
Father Peter Donovan playing Max’s dad (📸: @backforgoodfilm)
Not only was this a Pittsburgh project, but a whole family affair. Did you write and perform plays together when you were younger?
Molly: When we were little, we would do all sorts of things like that. Ballet, plays in our home… We have a creative family in general.
So it wasn’t difficult to convince your dad to play your father in the film?
Molly: Our dad was a math major and a theater minor. He has theatrical blood in there, we just had to reawaken it. The relationship between me and my dad is specific and unique. I don’t know what else we would’ve done. It was inevitable… He played a version of himself very well.
Bailey: He’s actually doing voiceover work in retirement now!
What did it mean to you to do a feature film in Pittsburgh with a largely all-local crew?
Molly: It meant so much to be able to film in Pittsburgh alongside Pittsburgh natives. I’ll never forget the day all the department heads gathered together for the first time. It was so moving to look around the group and know that all these young, super talented people were ready to dive into this ambitious project with us. While we were filming in New York, we had background actors tell us that we were more organized and professional than some of the big sets they’ve worked on. Just more proof that Pittsburgh-grown talent is really something special.
Bailey: I think Pittsburgh is lucky to have so many big TV and movie productions come here to film — I know lots of local filmmakers who do awesome work on those projects. But often those productions bring a lot of their own cast and department heads from out of town, and they try to shoot Pittsburgh as New York or some other city. So I’m really grateful we had an opportunity to center our local talent in leading positions, and to portray Pittsburgh in a way that only locals really understand.
What are you most proud of with this film?
Bailey: Maybe this sounds obvious, but I’m so infinitely proud of our cast and crew — just for their professionalism and the sheer quality of their work, especially under the circumstances. Most of the crew was just out of school, we were operating with a tiny budget, which also meant very little time, so there were plenty of excuses for people not to be operating at their highest level. And yet, I mean, I’m still in awe of what we were able to accomplish together. And thanks to our incredible producers, we were able to do it all on a safe, respectful set with hot food and without going overtime.
Molly: I would say I’m most proud that the film exists. I guess that sounds funny, but I think getting any movie made is basically a miracle. No matter how organized you are, you’re fighting against obstacles from every direction along the way. Any number of things could have been THE thing that stopped this movie from existing. But our crew and cast were truly amazing. The care and dedication they put into this project overwhelms me every time I think about it. I am so proud I got to work alongside them, and I am so proud that we did what we set out to do. We made a film together.
Mt. Washington scene (📸: @backforgoodfilm)
Do you have a favorite scene (without spoilers!)?
Molly: I don’t really have a favorite scene, but getting to film on Mount Washington was really a dream come true.
Bailey: No spoilers, but the last fifteen minutes of the movie get me every time — and mind you, I’ve seen this thing quite literally thousands of times. I think it’s just the height of the chemistry between Molly and the other leads — Julia, Peter, Ian. Their performances are so warm and so genuine. Every time I see them it feels like a new experience. Actors are amazing.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
Bailey: I hope people can take away this sort of self confidence and self love. People deserve the chance to reexamine their life, and when you move really quickly, it’s hard to do that. Some people settle because they think they deserve it. I hope this movie reminds people to create the life they want.
Molly: We are so humbled with the idea of success as an artist. Being in it can feel like the wrong thing, and if you’re not kind to yourself, you can get pulled away from reality… and sometimes it’s true that you just need to check in with the people that care about you. It’s good to check in with yourself. It’s about reevaluating, and it’s not a bad thing to do that.
I never did move back to Pittsburgh (editor’s note: like the character, Max.) It was just a “what if” scenario. It was written when I was not super sure of exactly what I was and what I was doing. The film explores something that rattles around in a lot of people’s minds when they are in that transition.
What’s next for the Donovan siblings?
Molly: We do have another feature script that we plan to co-direct. It’s called Audrey and the Wolf, set in present-day New York City. It’s kind of a modern fairytale— Beauty and the Beast meets Succession. In some ways, it’s quite different than Back for Good. The scale of the story is bigger, and it deals with themes like privilege and power and the temptations that go along with them. At its core, it’s a very personal relationship story, and we are looking forward to sharing it.
Bailey: Like Molly said, we’re working on another feature together, and it’s just been a great learning experience taking on a different kind of story. Just in general, working with Molly has really helped me appreciate how important it is to collaborate with people who’ve had different life experiences, especially in the writing process. Obviously there are people much more different from me than Molly is, but I’ve still learned so much. Working with a sibling offers such a rare sort of collaboration too — you get a sort of unconditional love and respect that just opens you up to a really sturdy creative process. I’m just really excited to keep working together.
JUST FOR FUN
For Bailey, what are some of your favorite things to do in the ‘Burgh? Favorite spot to grab a bite?
Bailey: I love going for runs and walking in Frick Park — lots of great dogs to meet there. Sometimes I “accidentally” get in the wrong lane driving across the Liberty Bridge so I’m forced to drive up Mt. Washington. Pre-pandemic, my favorite thing to do was just to meet up with other artists, watch their movies and plays and music. There’s such a cool art scene here that I’m still just scratching the surface of. I ended up shifting into veganism during the pandemic, so I’m slowly discovering a lot of great vegan food in the area. Onion Maiden and B52 are amazing, and Spak Bros makes a killer vegan buffalo seitan pizza. Pages Dairy Mart has been a staple since I was a kid, so it was sad to imagine not having ice cream there anymore, but now they have oat milk ice cream, so I’ve already gone three times this year. I also don’t want to miss the chance to give a shoutout to Kings Family Restaurant and Charley’s Subs, who donated delicious hot meals to our whole crew for our entire production. I really can’t imagine how we would have made the movie without them.
For Molly, same question… except, what are your must-dos or must-visits when you return home?
Molly: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been picked up at the Megabus drop-off and taken directly to Mad Mex. I go there at least once a visit. Brunch at Zenith is one of my very favorite Pittsburgh experiences. It’s never difficult to get my whole family on board for brunch at Zenith. I always go to thrift stores when I’m in town. Pittsburgh has some of the best. Also, Highway Robbery Vintage! I wish I could just live in that store. Their stuff is so amazing, I will order things on their website and have them shipped to New York. I love going for drives when I visit. I always try to make it to Mount Washington at least once, but Pittsburgh looks beautiful from every angle.