Nearly fifty years ago, four members of a hippie cult broke into the home of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and murdered her and four friends. The following night, they went to the Los Feliz home of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca and killed them too. Both acts were committed at the order of their leader, Charles Manson. Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and Tex Watson, along with Manson, were later arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Watson was the oldest of the killers at 23. Van Houten was the youngest at 19. At a time when their lives should have been ahead of them, they lost their freedom for good. It’s easy to dismiss cult followers as crazy, and yet, before they met Manson, each killer seemed like they had pretty normal lives. Atkins sang in choir, Krenwinkel did well in school, Van Houten was homecoming queen and Watson played football. Reading about them, it’s striking not how different but how very similar they are. Beyond that, if our lives had made any different turns, could we have become killers ourselves?
In sorting through all of this came the idea for Eagle Rock and its protagonist, twenty-one year old Alex Altman. She is purposefully not a parallel to anyone in particular. In writing her, the goal has always been to make her an identifiable lead. Someone who we can see ourselves in. In the story, she meets Jay as a senior in high school, and is quickly drawn to the attention and love that he gives her. That is why I have felt compelled to tell this story. Collectively, we will never understand horrific events if we always distance ourselves from the perpetrators. By recognizing their humanity, I want this story to be a tool that helps others avoid going down the same path. With the Manson women, there’s also the layer of their femininity, and how it was inherent in the ways in which they were manipulated. In the story, we meet Alex in prison, but then we begin to understand more deeply—through flashbacks and her interactions with Jay, the cult’s leader—what led her there.
Currently, Eagle Rock is being crowdfunded, and a successful campaign will raise expenses for production next summer. Now, I know what you might be thinking. It may seem like there is currently an influx of stories about cults, especially ones directly about or inspired by the Manson family. But there’s a reason these stories continue to resonate nearly fifty years later. As humans, we all want to feel loved and accepted. And cults provide that. In telling this story, my goal is to understand these women.
I hope you will be a part of this journey with me.
Want your film project featured on Local Films? Fill out this form!