Riding Out the Storm

Supercell writer-director Jamie Winterstern on how his mother came to life in his new movie, through Anne Heche's vital performance.

What does it mean to be a man? This is a question I’ve often asked myself since I was a young boy.

I still remember the size of my father’s hands on the steering wheel as he drove me to hockey practice. The image of him affectionately touching my face with his seasoned knuckles, while deep in thought, is burned into my memory. And yet, no matter how much I longed to understand what it meant to be him, I would never feel the weight of his thoughts.

My dad was my protector. He stood as the frontline between me and the rest of the world. He was weathered, strong and brazen in his approach to life. I can still recall the coarse fabric of his worn jacket, the fade in his Levi jeans, the musk of his cologne … his armor. A real-life version of Bill Brody, the father of the protagonist in my new movie, Supercell.

A photo of Jamie Winterstern as a baby with his mom, Cathy Winterstern.

Everything changed when my mom got sick with early-onset Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed at age 50, and over the next few years I watched her lose her ability to dress herself, speak coherently and eventually swallow. Her battle – her painful fight to remember – was something my father could not protect me from.

After eight years of watching my mom slowly disappear, I started asking different questions … Where do we go when we die? Will I ever see my mom again? Did I appreciate her enough when she remembered me?

Supercell is about a boy chasing after his father’s shadow, and what the main character, William Brody, learns mirrors what I discovered through losing my mom.

My father was only the man he was because of my mother.

She was a hero all along, the one who made my dad my role model.

It was her strength of heart that I had overlooked my entire life, as I took for granted her powerful presence, thinking she’d always be there as the supporting character, the quiet champion.

Jamie Winterstern on the set of Supercell. (Photo by Sarah Orbanic.)

When writing Supercell, it was easy for me to identify with the childhood myth of my father. I had previously struggled writing maternal characters. In hindsight, I recognize that I was creatively blocked, as it was too painful to face my mother’s decline. However, when she finally surrendered to her disease in 2020, all I wanted to do was bring her to life. I found myself pouring her essence into Dr. Quinn Brody, the movie’s matriarch. It flowed out of me, like a lever had finally been lifted and I could give my mother a voice. But who was going to portray Quinn, the sacrificial scientist, the OU professor who turned housekeeper when her husband got two students killed in a storm?

I will never forget my introductory FaceTime call with Anne Heche. I was in Montana prepping for my first days on set, and she had just moved into her new loft in Los Angeles.

After I shared with her the story of my mom, Anne and I locked eyes, tears falling, and she promised me she would do her best to bring my mother to life through Quinn.

On set, after we’d film a scene, she would often ask, “Do you see her? Do you feel her?” She was relentless in her commitment to that promise she made. The moment I called “Action!”, Anne transformed herself instantly, as if she became a conduit through which my mother came alive. It was unbelievable. In those moments, I felt like I was reunited with her.

Daniel Diemer and Anne Heche in Supercell. (Image courtesy Saban Films.)

After we wrapped, our friendship blossomed. We went to see Spielberg’s West Side Story at the Century City Mall. We’d enjoy many conversations discussing religion and God. Anne was fascinated with the science of spirituality. My favorite experiment of hers was when she took two rounded glass cups and with each hand pressed them together. She started spinning the glasses slowly so there was always a single point of contact. She explained how each glass represented our soul and that the present moment was the point of contact, only to be produced once, always different and eternally moving forward.

While I didn’t know much about the past hardships Anne had to overcome, what I did know was a mom to two boys who were her whole world.

Last summer, everything changed. We lost Anne to a tragic car accident. I thought a lot about her two boys, especially her 13-year-old, Atlas. Losing my mom as an adult has been incredibly hard; I can’t imagine how difficult it is for her kids. And it makes me sad that, like my mom, she never had a chance to watch Supercell.

Her legacy as a prolific actress will always remain intact, providing a unique and almost underrated comedic intensity to her roles. For me, I will always remember her for her unrelenting kindness and affection towards anyone who crossed her path, especially her boys.

A Photoshopped image of Cathy Winterstern and Anne Heche’s character together, a tribute to Cathy seen in the background of Will’s room in Supercell.

Although I’m not sure if I’ll see my mom again when this life ends, thanks to Anne, I do know I can access her through Quinn in Supercell — a full-time mom who put her family first, who sacrificed everything for her child, who loved unconditionally.

At the end of the film, Quinn says, “Dad would be proud.” And William responds, “I did it for you.” Because I did, I did it all for my mom.

Featured image, showing Anne Heche in Supercell, is courtesy Saban Films.

Herbert James Winterstern‘s debut feature, the drama thriller Supercell, starring Daniel Diemer, Skeet Ulrich, Anne Heche and Alec Baldwin, is out now in theaters, on digital and on demand through Saban Films. Jamie did his MFA and BA at USC film school, where he Jamie was awarded the Thomas B. Bush Memorial Scholarship for excellence in cinematography and directing. Upon graduation, he went on to direct, edit and produce the primetime drama series Siberia for NBC. In 2015, he created Swipemarket, a creative agency focused on bringing a more cinematic approach to big tech corporate marketing. He has directed and produced over 200 commercials for brands including Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Intel. Aside from directing, he devotes time in his personal life to working with the Alzheimer’s Association in efforts to raise awareness for research and funding. (Photo by Sarah Orbanic.)