A powerful United States Senator lives out every American parent’s worst nightmare when she receives a call from her teenage son as he desperately tries to survive a school shooting.

‘Thoughts and Prayers’ covers what can be one of the most horrifying moments for any parent. As school shootings keep getting more prominent in the US, politicians keep failing at taking legislative action. Often pointing fingers at each other and undoing the other’s work. Director Evan Miller and co-writer Hardy Janson turned the tables and put a powerful US Senator in the victim’s seat as her teenage son’s school is under attack by a shooter. The film takes us through the terrifying moments as a mother tries to talk her endangered son. An all-star cast with Adrianne Palicki (John Wick, The Orville) and Zachary Levi (Shazam!) quickly paint a shining picture on this film with memorable performances. We gracefully got time from director Evan Miller who answered a few of our questions on the film.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

I come from a family of educators and, when that’s the case, you aren’t really interested in school shootings as a political football. You want to meet people where they are and hope to make an impact where you can. It was through having conversations about that viewpoint with my writing partner Hardy Janson that the idea for the film came to us.

How did you go about casting for ‘Thoughts and Prayers’?

Well, it all started with Adrianne Palicki — which is a thing any director wants to be able to say! She’s an old friend, was truly passionate about the project and is just a fantastic actor. From there, she shared it with Zachary Levi who responded to the material and, after a phone call about my approach, decided to join the project. Zach was the one actor I didn’t know before shooting, and I’m so fortunate that he was willing to take a chance on the project and on me as a director.

Obviously, with the two of them in place, I began to fill out the rest of the cast with other actors I knew (this being COVID time, everyone was someone I had a personal relationship with). To me, when you look at the caliber of actors we were able to get, I am truly one of the luckiest short film directors of all time—just a truly seasoned cast of actors. I mean, I even lucked out with the kid! I thought, if I’m going to try and get a little kid to do what I say on set, I probably better go for one who knows me—so I cast my 4-year-old nephew, and he crushed it.

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

The most challenging scene to film was most certainly the scene at the end. To have that many moving parts on a short film is always going to prove challenging, but I think we were able to achieve what we wanted as far as scale while still never losing the personal intimacy the piece demanded.

What has this film taught you about filmmaking?

First and foremost that it takes a team, and you will only ever be as good as the team you surround yourself with. I couldn’t have asked for a better team on this and I’m truly honored they were willing to follow me on this journey. I also learned that you can put together a wonderful plan, but nothing survives the process fully intact—so make sure you are listening to what something wants to be in the moment.

Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers?

Never forget that it’s about story. When everything starts flying at you a million miles a minute, that’s your North Star—and moment to moment, decision to decision, you should be asking yourself “how do I effectively communicate this story?”. If that POV becomes infected with something else, you have already lost. So, guard it with all you have.

Oh, and if you are making a no-budget short film I wouldn’t recommend having external shots of a vehicle entering and exiting the freeway—wait, and do that when you have money!

What do you hope people will take away from ‘Thoughts and Prayers’?

My personal viewpoint is that a film should be engaging, first and foremost. And I always say that art’s job is to highlight a truth in the world which might otherwise not be seen or understood. If people give their time to watch our film, I hope to reward them with those two things.

What are your favorite short films?

Oh, man. I remember a Canadian short film that was nominated for an Oscar several years ago calle “Fauve” (Watch on FS). That one still swims in my head. Of course, when I watched McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” (which I loved), I thought back to what he did to that poor bunny in “Six Shooter“. It’s tough to be an animal in his films—short, or otherwise.

Which films you can say directly inspired this film?

In the lead up to filming, I watched a lot of Paul Greengrass (like a lot, a lot), and a good deal of Peter Berg. As far as the big inspiration it would certainly be, “United 93”—my DP Jonathan Nicholas and I talked a lot about that film and the sequence when the passengers make their heroic charge to the front of the plane.