Mar 15, 2018
From the moment you see the credits appear on different casket lids, the movie Getting Grace hooks you. Within just the first five minutes, you become immediately invested in the movie’s characters, setting and important themes. At the 2017 NFDA Convention, I had an opportunity to screen the first third of the film and was moved by its sharp writing, compelling acting and fresh portrayal on the funeral profession. The poignancy of the film, coupled with the way it dispels many misconceptions, make this movie a rare gem that every funeral director should see.
In honor of the
movie’s upcoming release on
March 23, here are 7 reasons funeral
directors should be excited about
1. Realistic Portrayal
of Funeral Professionals
As Ed Defort, Publisher of The Director, stated before the film screening at the NFDA
Convention, funeral director characters in movies are very rarely main
protagonists. Their depictions in both film and television are usually
relegated to shifty or untrustworthy characterizations.
Getting Grace turns that well-worn formula on its head by telling
the story of a disaffected funeral director who discovers how to better embrace
life from a teenage girl with terminal cancer.
At the 2017 NFDA Convention, ASD had an opportunity to meet
Daniel Roebuck, who wrote, directed and stars in
Getting Grace. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the film and what is involved with directing a movie that largely takes place inside a funeral home.
Daniel Roebuck at the 2017 NFDA Convention
Daniel plays Bill Jankowski, a funeral director who
has difficulty relating to other people and whose perspective is completely
transformed by Grace, a 16-year-old girl dying of cancer. In the film, you also
get to meet Bill’s sister, Mary Jankowski, who is played by Diane Wagner. The
film does a wonderful job of showing how differently funeral directors might
approach their work. There is a great line Mary gives early in the movie where
she explains how in the funeral business, “there are huggers, and
ugh!-ers” – meaning that some directors
get involved in funeral service because they love to be around people and
others prefer to work behind the scenes.
Daniel Roebuck and Diane Wagner who play Funeral Directors, Bill and Mary Jankowski in Getting Grace
The dynamic between Bill and Mary is such a joy to watch
because never before in any movie or television show have you seen a
relationship like theirs. Sibling banter blends seamlessly with funeral home
jargon, producing dialogue that is both hilarious and sincere. The characters are fully formed and seem very
much like real people. While Bill is very cynical and disenchanted with his
life in the beginning of the film, he is still a character the audience can
easily identify with and relate to.
Although the TV show Six
did a superb job of showing what goes on behind the scenes in a
funeral family, it had many adult themes, some of which were very dark and not
appropriate for minors.
on the other hand, gives funeral families the opportunity to watch a movie
together and see their lives represented on screen for the first time.
In addition to its genuine portrayal of funeral directors, Getting Grace has done an exceptional
job at authentically depicting the profession as a whole. Every detail was
considered heavily to ensure that the film was a true reflection of what goes
on inside a funeral home.
ASD learned that much of the basis for Daniel’s understanding
of the funeral profession came from real-life funeral directors, Demetrios and
Paula Herron. Daniel and Demetrios attended the same High School in Bethlehem,
PA where the movie takes place and where John F. Herron Funeral Home & Crematory is located. Daniel
knew that his friend’s advice and wisdom would be instrumental in developing
his character, not to mention the filming of the movie. Much of the film is
shot within the John F. Herron Funeral Home in Bethlehem, PA as well as the Sell-Herron Funeral Home in Allentown, PA which are owned and operated by Demetrios and Paula.
“If it wasn’t for Paula and Demetrios, it would not be
authentic,” Daniel stated during the Q&A Panel that took place after the
movie screening. “They were always concerned about making things look dignified
and making sure filming was respectful to families in the funeral home.”
John F. Herron Funeral Home & Crematory in Bethlehem, PA, one of the locations where Getting Grace was filmed
How many times have you seen a funeral scene in a movie or
TV show only to find yourself counting inaccuracies rather than watching the
action? How many times have you asked, ‘why couldn’t they have just asked a
funeral director?’ The producers of
were careful not to make this mistake. According to Daniel, Demetrios
and Paula helped the film producers with set design and the placement of props
in the funeral scenes. They also read over the script to assist with
terminology. The entire funeral profession owes a debt of gratitude for these directors
who took time out of their busy schedules to help ensure this movie accurately represented
the funeral home business. The outcome of the their efforts will no doubt have
a positive impact for all.
“I wish that more people could see that funeral directors
are just normal people,” Paula stated during the Q&A Panel. Indeed,
Getting Grace will certainly go a long
way in helping people to better understand the rewards and challenges of being
a funeral home director in a way that no other movie has done before.
3. The Storyline
While funeral directors will find a lot to love in the movie
Getting Grace, the storyline of the
heartfelt dramedy will resonate with many people. It is a story about finding
the right perspective to fully live your life and explores how people can
unexpectedly alter your preconceived notions. The movie is centered around
Grace, an exuberant teenager with terminal cancer who is determined to explore
every aspect of life. This journey along the spectrum of human emotion results
in Grace having a profound effect on just about every person she encounters in
the movie, inspiring them to ask themselves,
am I really living my life?
In an interview with PBS, Daniel Roebuck explained, “It is
weird when you say I’ve got this comedy about a teenage girl dying of cancer,
but when you meet Grace in this movie, you will see why it’s a comedy. We have
an irascible, wonderful, beautiful, charming, silly girl who in the last few
months of her life goes in and teaches everyone else to remember to live life
to the fullest and only a character like that could.”
In the beginning of the movie, Grace decides to visit a
funeral home after seeing the funeral director out front and pondering what his
existence might be like. Like most of her decisions in the movie, it is driven
by a spontaneous whim. This type of mindset is foreign to people like Funeral
Director, Bill Jankowski, who is immediately put off by Grace when she
frightens off a couple interested in preplanning. Initially, Bill does not take
Grace seriously when she says she wants to learn what will happen to her after
she is gone. But then, when he realizes she isn’t going anywhere, he decides it
would be better for his sister to talk to Grace.
Obviously Grace and Bill’s relationship does not end there
but to see how it all plays out you’ll have to see the film for yourself. We
will tell you that there is one part involving cookies inside the pocket of a
corpse that is likely to become your new favorite funeral movie scene of all
From the Getting Grace
website description: “It is an extraordinary story with a lead character who is
able to affect a chain of positive events in the lives of all she come in
contact with, be they doctors or morticians.”
4. The Acting
Everyone has a different movie or TV show they remember
Daniel Roebuck appearing in. His career as a character actor spans three
decades. Many recognize him from his roles in the movies like
The Fugitive or Final Destination. TV fans might remember his characters on shows
Lost (who could forget that
dynamite stick scene?) and
documentary fan remembers being moved by Daniel’s performance in
Soaked In Bleach, a film about the PI
who investigated Kurt Cobain’s death. His range as an actor is pretty
incredible and that is very apparent in
. Of all the characters in the movie, Bill Jankowski (played by
Daniel), undergoes the biggest transformation. We were very moved by Daniel’s
honest and raw performance during the movie screening at the NFDA Convention.
The rest of the cast of Getting
rounded out by incredible veteran actors like Dana Ashbrook (Ron
Christopher) and Diane Wagner (Mary Jankowski) as well as several talented young
actors making their film debut.
“We cast all of our lead kids from the Lehigh Valley,”
Daniel explains in the making-of documentary below.
Many of the actors were discovered at local theaters and
performing art centers in and around Bethlehem, PA where the movie takes place
(about 65 miles away from ASD). Madelyn Dundon, the young woman who plays the
title character Grace, is truly a revelation. It is hard to believe this is her
first starring movie role because she is so real it almost feels like she could
walk right out of the film and into your life. While watching, you often have
to remind yourself that you are watching a scripted movie instead of a
documentary because of the powerful and believable performances of the entire
5. The Buzz
Getting Grace has
certainly garnered a great deal of well-deserved attention and praise. At the
2017 Northeast Film Festival,
was awarded the Audience Choice Award and was recognized as the Best
Feature Film. Daniel Roebuck also scored a Best Director award, while actress
Madelyn Dundon took home Best Actress in a Feature Film. The movie was
nominated for a total of nine awards at the festival and it is likely that more
accolades will follow once the movie hits theatres nationwide later this month.
In the video below, you can see how visibly moved audience
members were after watching a sneak peak screening of
It’s possible that we may be a bit partial to movies that
are set in small, quaint Pennsylvania towns. ASD’s office is only about an hour
away from Bethlehem, PA where
was filmed and we are very familiar with the majestic beauty the
Lehigh Valley region of the state offers. Daniel Roebuck and the other film
producers truly could not have chosen a better location for their film. In many
ways, the setting is like a character in the movie.
“I’ve got this old character who is an old fashioned person. Bethlehem
is an old fashioned town that’s kind of reborn, and this guy is reborn too,”
Daniel explained in an interview.
A View of Bethlehem, PA
Kofsky, Jared/CC By-SA 3.0
There is something really special and authentic about a
movie that is filmed in a real place, not on a Hollywood movie set. In addition
to providing the perfect backdrop for the story, Bethlehem was essential to the
Getting Grace because so
many people from the area contributed to the movie.
In a press release, Daniel explained, “Getting Grace will only be the first of many movies I hope to make
here in the Lehigh Valley. We have the most beautiful locations, great actors,
great young crew members, and the support of my fellow Pennsylvanians, which is
heartwarming for a filmmaker.”
7. Humor and Heart
Getting Grace is a
film that asks its audience, ‘what does it mean to be truly alive?’ It does not
shy away from important themes or rely on clichés to tell the story. At the
same time, it is a movie that understands how intertwined humor and tragedy are
and how sometimes in life you want to cry so hard that you end up laughing
instead. The film demonstrates how in life, many things are out of your
control, but you can’t allow that to stop you from living fully.
“The movie is about faith, but we’re not dictating what type
of faith that is, just that there’s something more,” Daniel states in an
With sharp writing, compelling acting and an amazing story, Getting Grace is a movie that is likely
to make you bust a gut laughing at some parts and wiping away tears at others.
It truly is the perfect blend of humor and heart. We are certain that once you
have “gotten Grace”, you won’t soon forget her.
opens nationwide on Friday, March 23rd. Click here to find a theater
near you that will be showing the film. Be sure to check back often as new
theaters will be added as they are booked.
To learn more, visit GettingGraceTheMovie.com.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com