PICTURED: Concept poster art by Peter Stults. Photo submitted

by Emily Dodi

Filmmaker C.L.K. Thornton is on a journey. She is on her way to making The Drop Off, “a postmodern Western noir film . . . that weaves the present, the past and a pulpy Western daydream.” The Drop Off is Thornton’s first outing as a writer/director, but she has been on the road to making movies since she can remember. She started her career working on features directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Djimon Hounsou and Andrea Arnold. After sharpening her skills in production, Thornton segued to the art department. With a solid foundation in the logistics and artistic aspects of filmmaking and a compelling story in hand, Thornton knew it was time to realize her own vision.

The Drop Off is mined from Thornton’s life before Hollywood, when she was a kid splitting her time between Simi Valley and Palmdale. It came out of being a daughter of divorced parents who shared custody and who would meet whenever they would drop off the kids. That story fuels The Drop Off, but Thornton is turning it on its end — telling it from the mother’s point of view. 

Thornton can point to the moment a few years ago when the idea came to her. “I was driving out to my dad’s house, when I was completely blown away by how beautiful the landscape of the desert is – right off the 5 and the 14 [freeways]… I was hit with this force to be reckoned with … the sky was crisp and blue with no clouds in the sky. The desert hills were golden, beautiful, rolling on for infinity. I started thinking about those moments when I was a kid … sitting in the backseat with my sister.” That’s when she was struck by a realization. “I only knew the story from my point of view as a kid. I never even thought twice about what it was like for my parents.”

The Drop Off  weaves different time periods and landscapes — both real and imagined — to tell Camille’s, the mother’s, story. “It takes place around this present moment of going to a place to drop off the kids and it interweaves the past and a Western daydream. When I was writing this story . . . I had this holy moly moment when I realized, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a modern-day Western.’ This is a story about a frontierswoman still making her journey but on her own to a greater West   — to that garden of Eden — and the hardships you have to go through to get there. That’s when the story felt complete. It represents the landscape of the mind — it’s Camille having to confront herself before she can confront her husband.”   

A Kickstarter campaign, launching on Feb. 9, will supplement an initial investment and allow Thornton and her crew to start shooting in April. Part of the film’s budget includes paying everyone the same rate — a practice that is virtually nonexistent in Hollywood — but it’s essential to Thornton. It’s just another example of a filmmaker shaping her own story.