“I’m a genre fan,” she says with unabashed delight in our recent Zoom sit-down, and she wears it the way a good one would: like a badge of honor. “I’m a freaky geeky. I have been my whole life, and so it’s fun to be finally releasing a film that isn’t something for people who only read novels.”
And why wouldn’t she be gleeful? Thus far in her storied existence, she’s been an actor, a producer, a director, a screenwriter, a business owner, a poet, a wife, and a mother … but I suspect genre fans might be most impressed with the fact that she not only served as a personal assistant to world-renowned author Madeleine L’Engle (official website link) but also the late scribe served as her godmother and mentor. In fact, several of Duryée's most passionate projects are adaptations of L’Engle’s works.
“I’m from a certain era when all that we had were books,” she explains. “I’m from before the internet. I’m all about words. I’m a visual storyteller, but I’m all about the word. I make what are known as literary movies.”
Indeed, her professional evolution is practically earmarked with literary citations. A professed fan of Celtic mythology, she spent the first half of her career acting and directing in the Seattle Shakespeare Company (which she also co-founded). Eventually, she felt the desire to craft stories for the cinema, and some of her more immediate inspirations have involved adaptations of written works.
“We were able to raise a tiny budget based on JD Henning’s original concept,” she explains. “He brought us this script in 2016. We were blown away with its potential, and we decided to figure out how we could make it for a tiny budget but make it a movie this big. We had this house – we realized my mother’s house was empty – due to a sale. It was a free location. So we designed the script to work around a location that changes a little bit with every world, but it’s the same location. It was JD Henning – as the lead writer -- and he let my son and me throw in jokes and riffs. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, working in that writer’s room. We were able to make this wonderful science fiction story where you switch worlds all this time but you’re in this same location.”
In the motion picture, young Nolan eventually finds himself somewhat grounded in one reality where he’s anchored by a sister – Mae – that he never had in any previous parallel world. Once he convinces her of his abilities and that he’s being pursued by a source of evil that’ll likely spell doom for them all, they join forces in a bid to outsmart the dark force and save the entire family from annihilation.
“Our theme is that the love of family is redemptive,” she adds, “and that there is grace in the closeness of family. If you work out your stuff – and some of the stuff is pretty epic in this situation – then you can have this beautiful loving synthesis and it can be salvatory. Especially now. After the last twenty months (with COVID), a lot of us are finding that this is our path forward.”
Still, the challenges of ‘guerilla filmmaking’ are enough to give some in the industry pause.
“(On Portal Runner) We had the tiniest crew we’ve ever had,” she underscores. “We were all in this house together for 23 days! In the summer! This was a long, hot shoot, in very small spaces. But everyone was so nice about it. Still, you have to be really surgical about your budget. You have to be really careful with your money. Thank God I have Larry Estes, who is the best budgeter in the world. Everyone was able to create miracles on our tiny budget. Our post houses were just angelic. It’s about budgeting and knowing your people and what they can do.”
As tends to happen when discussing the balancing the risk of human contact in the age of COVID, the filmmaker grows reflective.
“One of our biggest challenges in going forward now is ‘do we really feel safe to do this?’” she wonders. “A lot of people in this business have continued to work. We are planning to be working next year … but at the same time let’s just say I wouldn’t be doing a film like Portal Runner all in one house right now … can we feel safe again? Someone will come down with ‘it,’ and production will shut down for a week, meaning we’re paying for things other than production.”
“I love the theatre,” she says, “but I was realizing in my last years of being there that a theatre artist is like a sculptor who sculpts in snow. I mean it’s gone. You can’t repeat it, which is part of its magic and its power and its beauty. That’s why it’s so poignant when you’re in a theatre breathing … but (with film) I made something in 2006 that you can watch today. That’s pretty cool. In Portal Runner, that’s the house I grew up in. It’s my mother’s and father’s house. I can’t go to it any more … except I can. In film. Things like that are really powerful to me.”
But her interest in weaving visual tapestries doesn’t stop there. It’s clear that – as an artist – she feels a compulsion to tell stories to the depths of her soul, and her Episcopalian faith constantly reminds her to focus not only on her passions but also her ability to discern which opportunity is best for both professionally and spiritually.
“How do we know what the spirit is leading us toward?” she asks. “How do we figure out the best path? Especially, as the CEO of a small film studio, what’s the next thing? It’s very important. It’s very profound. You need to choose correctly before you commit a year or two of peoples’ lives to the next thing. I do feel the weight of it, but it’s also a steadying factor.
“I love the immediacy of film,” she explains further. “You are right next to the face of the person. You’re in their thoughts. You’re breathing with them in a different way than you’re breathing with someone in a theatre play. It’s very intimate. Especially a close-up. It’s deeply subtle. It’s the opposite of theatre that way. I can craft a performance literally for years in editing. If I need to. I don’t usually need years. I can take time to craft a performance over many, many moments.
“I think this path that I’m on is a sense of calling. Why am I here? What am I put here to do? How do I embody what I’m called to do in the best way that feeds the most people? You have to have a sense of knowing, a sense of calling, a sense of purpose that keeps you at it even when you get slammed down so many times on the way. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t feel it was a sacred thing. As a person of faith, I need to be true to what I was created to do, and I have the incredible blessing of being able to sometimes do that.”
“We have completed (the script for) Part 2,” she confessed with great excitement. “And, yes, we are aware that we shot the first one in 2017 and that people aren’t 16 anymore. But it took us this long to bring it to fruition. We have ideas for a Part 3 and possibly a Part 4. But Part 2 is a much bigger show. We assumed that we’d have a bigger budget for it.”
When asked if she had other Science Fiction or Fantasy projects stored away in Kairos’ pipeline, she smiles and explains that – for legal reasons – she couldn’t talk about a few opportunities being explored … though I’ll admit her expression told me that she clearly wanted to. And it’s this kind of infectious enthusiasm that’s so pleasing to see when fans of genre entertainment are finally gifted with the chance to craft original content for the world to enjoy. It’s clear that she’s on a journey that brings her joy, and SciFiHistory.Net hopes hers will be a long and fruitful trip.
Her smile even grew wider when I told her so.
“When you put out a movie, it’s out there,” she confides. “It’s gone. You don’t know whether it’s registering or landing with people. And when they tell you it’s landed, it’s so sacred.”
NOTE: Portal Runner is available for streaming as of December 10, 2021. Also, folks interested in my review of the film can find it right here.