Angeline Riesterer: I’m here with John-Henry Keenan, director of the just-released short film "Worth It," which gives a beautiful, honest account of a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and the joys, and struggles, she experiences after deciding to keep her baby.
First off, my hat’s off to you and your crew on packing so much in just three minutes! I hope I’m not spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen it yet by saying this film packs an emotional punch. It is a fresh, affecting approach to a message that’s been told in many ways before.
John-Henry Keenan: Thank you! My goal with this film is to give people hope and confidence in life. Whatever rhetoric people mask it with, abortion is fundamentally an act of despair. Abortion is always a statement that someone’s life is not worth living. And that is never true.
ARR: The “a” word—you went straight to it! But in the film, John-Henry, I found it interesting, and frankly refreshing, that abortion—one of the most polarizing, hot-under-the-collar political issues—was never directly mentioned, yet the message of life was explicitly clear. Tell me a little about that.
JHK: So the two main audiences I had in mind for this film were first, women who are in this situation and don’t have hope. I wanted to show how rewarding choosing life can be while acknowledging the real-life struggle and pain for the mother.
Second, this film is for young people who aren’t all that political but might immediately react to overtly pro-life buzzwords and arguments. Honestly, many of my peers have bought into the lie peddled by Planned Parenthood and others that if a woman finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy, she should think first about herself and how to get out of this situation with the least amount of trouble. I wanted to portray that the truly beautiful, most rewarding choice is to respect the gift of human life, and that even though there are ups and downs, if you commit to life—your own or someone else’s—it is always worth it. That’s true logically, but it’s also true emotionally. This is an emotional piece—drawing on emotions in service of the truth.
ARR: So good. And it’s wise in our current climate to recognize that people, especially youth, throw up defenses when it comes to hot-button topics. "Worth It" is disarming. You are caught up in this young woman’s story, the cinematography, the score. And yet the message—the gift of life—hasn’t been diluted at all. If anything, it’s more powerful because you’ve removed distractions and placed the viewer on common ground with the actors. This is real life, there are real consequences, and there are also real, tear-filled joys.
JHK: Exactly. I pray this will be a useful tool in the pro-life tool kit.
ARR: Switching gears, John-Henry, everyone loves a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a film. You had three production days on location in Chicago, right? That can’t have been easy.
JHK: Boy, let’s see, we shot about 10 scenes spanning 30 years, with seven principal actors, a dozen crew members, hundreds of props, more than a dozen extras, in 72 hours. That presented logistical challenges on every level. The first scene is in the ‘70s (orange and yellow and retro, oh my!), and we end in the mid-2000s. I wish there had been more space to showcase all the elements the crew pulled together. You do get glimpses of a vintage Ford truck, Children’s Choice magazines, ‘80s math textbooks.
ARR: As a child of the ‘80s, I appreciate the authentic details.
JHK: My personal favorite scene was the first one—a ‘70s party. Who doesn’t love the ‘70s era? And the wardrobe, cinematography, production design in that opening scene—thanks to our hard-working team, it all came together brilliantly.
ARR: On any film set, there are things that surprise you or don’t go exactly as planned. Give us a snapshot of one of two of those moments.
JHK: There was an actress we wanted to cast but she was unavailable because she was pregnant, which was wonderfully ironic. But I think it was meant to be, both for her and her baby, and for the production because the cast we ended up with worked out really well and did a great job.
There’s a shot where the main character’s toddler uses her lipstick to draw on an unfinished painting. We’d had a professional artist draw the lipstick marks on the painting, but as soon as we handed the toddler the lipstick, he popped the cap off and began drawing on the canvas. It was good to know we’d really gotten into the mind of a toddler on what to do with lipstick.
ARR: And all the parents of toddlers out there are sighing as they look at the pen markings on their walls… Speaking of the painting in the film, can you talk a little about the symbolism behind it?
JHK: We needed some object to tie things together and convey the message—the painting is a metaphor for her life. She keeps her baby, of course, and then a couple years later as a toddler, he “ruins” the painting with her lipstick. But as we see by the end of the film, what was initially marred becomes beautiful.
ARR: Gosh, I feel like we should close with those words.
JHK: Let me just add, in closing, this couldn’t have been possible without the incredibly talented cast and crew—thank you! And to every person who watches "Worth It," our prayer is that you feel hope. Yes, the path ahead is difficult and unknown, but none of us will ever regret putting someone else’s life ahead of our own. It might be hard today, but it’s always worth it.
Unfortunately, this kind of extreme legislation is not unexpected: Roe v. Wade paved the way for it.