When you've made a movie that's all about pursuing your creative passions in spite of obstacles, it's easy for audiences to read it as autobiographical. In the case of Savannah Ostler's Twice the Dream, that inference is kind of true—and also kind of not.
Twice the Dream (premiering at Megaplex Theatres on Friday, April 19) follows two Utah sisters—Amber (played by Ostler) and Sam (Monica Moore Smith)—who find themselves struggling to reconcile their history with their demanding, alcoholic mother and their professional music career dreams. For Ostler, the process of getting the movie made has spanned more than 14 years; she first began working on the script in high school. Yet unlike her movie's protagonists, the Alpine, Utah, native found plenty of support from her parents for her artistic ambitions, who enrolled her in East Hollywood High School and hired acting coach and veteran actor Anne Sward Hansen to work with her.
"My parents thought, 'You're really good at this, and you really come alive, why don't you pursue this more?'" Ostler says. "I guess a part of me wanted to write about something that I personally didn't have any experience with. I also wrote about two really close sisters, and I don't even have a sister. ... They say 'write what you know,' so I did the exact opposite."
Her professional acting career got started with a role as an extra on the original High School Musical, yet no sooner had she started working as an actor, than she started thinking about the behind-the-camera aspect of filmmaking. "I was really fascinated with the whole production process," she says of that rookie acting gig. "That's when I first thought to myself, 'I'd actually be interested in that. I want to know it all.'"
Ostler moved to Los Angeles in 2009, thinking that was the place she needed to be to pursue her career goals. That's also the place she discovered that plenty of clichés about the movie industry were true. "I thought, 'I'm going to pitch my script,'" she recalls, "but everybody had a script there. I'd be at a Starbucks, and there were 10 screenwriters there with their laptops. I'd tell someone that I had a script, and they'd say, 'My hairdresser has a script, too.' I wouldn't trade my experiences in California, but I think it humbled me, and I learned a lot."
Among the challenges she faced in California was getting people to take her seriously when she said that she wanted to direct her own script for Twice the Dream. She got meetings with production companies about the script itself and even had option deals on the table, but "they were not a fan of me directing," she says, "or even being involved. I couldn't act in it, couldn't direct. Obviously, I didn't take any of the deals, even though some of them were a little hard to say no to."
For Ostler, it was important, not just for herself, but for the long-range viability of women working as directors in the film industry, that she stand firm on that goal. "I'm just a small-town girl who made a movie," Ostler says, "but it's a big step. I'm hoping that gives would-be women filmmakers something to point to. Things are getting better for women as directors, but it's still completely unbalanced."
It took moving back to Utah in 2017 with her husband, Steven D'Alo, to get Twice the Dream into production at last, with D'Alo serving as Ostler's co-producer and cinematographer. Ostler says that the couple worked together well, as she trusted in D'Alo's experience as a director of photography to help in areas where she was relatively inexperienced. In fact, she says that there was more anxiety before the production began than once it was underway. "The night right before principle photography, we couldn't sleep," she says. "We were so nervous. Once we were there, we had such a talented and experienced cast and crew ... all the stress went away when we got into action."
The teamwork component was both a blessing to Ostler as a first-time feature director and something of a surprise. "At first I was a little scared, like, what if I can't do this," she says. "A lot of it was more collaborative than I thought. I thought of a director as more of a dictator, but it's really the other way around. I would definitely take people's suggestions and ideas."
Now that Twice the Dream is heading out into the world, Ostler says there's a little anxiety again. But that's only natural when you're showing people a story that has been in your head since you were a teenager, and hoping they connect with the theme of people following their dreams. "It has literally taken half of my life to see this project through," Ostler concludes. "It seems crazy, but that makes it that much more rewarding. I'm a stubborn one when it comes to seeing things through."