Mental Illness: You Are Not Alone

“You are not alone.” Mental illness among today’s youth is the focus of a film from three young filmmakers from Maine. College students Becca Hurd, Kate Doherty and Daniel Sinclair just wrapped on production for their film Invisible Things. They’ll spend the next year editing, targeting the film festival circuit in the summer of 2017.

Poster

Poster

“Mental illness is something that we’ve seen affect a lot of people close to us,” says Daniel Sinclair, “and a lot of young people in general as they are trying to find their place in the world.” Sinclair believes mental illness is also something that merely talking about can help. “We can help people know how to talk about it, help people know they’re not alone.”

Giving a Voice to the Issues

Becca Hurd first crafted the story as a one-act play, which she produced and directed for the college stage. The production was so well received, the three friends decided to develop the original story into a screenplay. In the process the story evolved as they worked to give the audience a greater opportunity to identify with the characters.

Sinclair says, “From a story standpoint, Becca has crafted these characters who feel real to us. They are more than their issues, and that makes them the perfect characters to raise awareness of the issues. They are believable and identifiable. Changing mediums from stage to film has only given us more opportunity to expand upon these characters.”

In the film, the main character accompanies her OCD-afflicted sister on a visit to her therapist. Suffering with depression herself, she tries with limited success to relate to her sister. But she meets and bonds with another patient who struggles with alcoholism and depression.

The filmmakers offer first a broad message of “You are not alone.” When drilling down to specific mental illnesses and conditions, they feel, “If we get too specific, we risk audience members feeling like it does not apply to them.”

Co-directing the Film

On set

On set

“Becca and I (Daniel) are co-directing, while Kate is handling property and set dressing during production. During pre-production, Kate aided with scheduling.”

Sinclair says, “When I had mentioned the c-word (co-directing) to people more experienced, the responses were about the same: Staring at me for a while, then ‘oh boy.’ And I get it, there’s a lot that can go wrong if the two people in charge of the direction of a project have different visions. For us though, we had taken time to ensure that the finished films in our minds’ eye were quite similar.

“Also, Becca has more directing experience from stage, and I had the knowledge of the film world. So knowing what each of us brought to the table helped us with our roles on set.”

The three attend different schools, so each will be reviewing the footage for the edit process. “I will assemble rough cuts of each scene,” Sinclair says, “and Becca will be able to let me know if she noticed moments from other takes that work better. I am using Premiere and building out a timeline for each scene. This keeps me focused on only the world of that scene until I move on to the next.”

Challenges

Invisible Things

Invisible Things

On set, working with a small crew, an overlap of responsibility among crew is inevitable. “We had a core crew,” Sinclair says, “with some others swinging by from day to day based on work schedules: A necessary compromise when you can’t pay your crew.

“Everyone is volunteering, which means they have other things going on in their lives. There was one late night, about two weeks before production, when due to new scheduling information, Kate and I printed out the stripboard and cut it up and rearranged it all so we could wrap two actors before a certain date.”

Sinclair says, “Estimating how much time it will take to film something vs. how much time it actually takes is still something I’m trying to be more accurate about. It will come with more experience.

“We had some slow days where we were all exhausted, but also some days which even now, I’m not certain how we managed to get as much done as we did. (Ten pages in one day.) Our cast and crew were fantastic throughout this entire endeavor. The amount of dedication shown is reflected in our ability to undertake something of this magnitude.”

Gear

Filming

Filming

“I am a student at the New England School of Communications of Husson up in Bangor, Maine,” says Sinclair. “We have equipment used for school projects, and they were very kind, allowing me to take some out for the duration of the project, as myself and several of the crew were students. The result was a mashup of professional and ultra low budget gear that many of us had. One scene could have both an HMI and a cheap can light. The camera we used was our 1st AD’s (Sony) A7s that our DP had experience with.

“Our budget is very small. It pays for the costs of feeding our crew and film festival entry once we reach that point. People have been very supportive of our efforts with donations and locations. Our local fire department even gave us use of an ambulance one night.”

You Are Not Alone

“It is very humbling,” Sinclair says, “to see how much people have dedicated to this project and to this message, and at the end of it all, we are all here trying to create something.”

READ MORE: INVISIBLE THINGS

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Dead Along the Way

“I was on my knees in every sense and I had some industry people telling me that I was biting off more than I could chew.” Filmmaker Maurice O’Carroll talks about bringing his first feature-length film, Dead Along the Way, to the film festival circuit. “The biggest challenge was to stand back up and make everyone believe we were going to make a good a film with the available resources at hand.”

Filmmaker Maurice O'Carroll

Maurice O’Carroll

From Shorts to Feature-Length

O’Carroll has years of experience making short films. Feature-length was a whole new experience for him. Time and effort are the greatest differences. A feature film involves so much time and planning from script to completion to marketing and distribution. I always work hard but I’ve never worked harder in my life these past couple of years.”

O’Carroll’s biggest challenge? No budget.

“Everything is a challenge when you have no budget. And when I say no budget I mean no budget. After a run of horrible luck I was stone broke and principal photography was due to begin in five days. Locations were falling through, we lost a couple of actors last minute, my car died, I got hit with a severe bronchial infection.”

O’Carroll stood up to the challenge. “I’m too stubborn and obsessed with filmmaking to fail. Looking from ‘the outside in’ it was the worst possible time in my life to embark on a feature film. However, I knew that I simply had to make Dead Along The Way. And, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”

Dead Along the Way

Dead Along the Way

Dead Along the Way – the Story

“In this Irish crime comedy, hapless wedding videographers Wacker and Tony find themselves unexpectedly dealing with a dead body, overly-enthusiastic Gardaí, fertility treatment, and a vengeful gangster… oh, and an imminent wedding.”

O’Carroll says, “Getting the film made and getting selected for Ireland’s most prestigious film festival, Galway Film Fleadh, has boosted my appetite and confidence to make another film… like now already!” The Galway festival features a packed program with more than 150 films, including 16 world premieres, from over 30 countries around the world.

Democratized Cinema

O’Carroll’s first cinema experience was Star Wars. “I was five years of age and I suppose I’ve been chasing that experience ever since. However, filmmaking was always a world away from me, inaccessible, and I grew up as an aspiring writer until the digital age democratized cinema. As soon as I picked up my first camera – which was 12 years ago – I knew in an instant that I was finally at home.”

 

O'Carroll on set

O’Carroll on set

Story

Visual storytelling defines O’Carroll’s heart. “Story holds a mirror up to humanity and it helps us explore our emotions, educates us, thrills us, and it sympathises with us. And, for me, story in film is often best when it is a heightened sense of reality that changes us in some small way through its message.”

Collaborating

“I built my own (film) collective,” says O’Carroll. “I used to live in an isolated part of Ireland and when I decided to go on this journey I was on my own. My wife Elaine – who probably has more credits on all my films than I do – promised to support me no matter what it took and I suppose that was the most important launch pad to begin with.

“I met Sinead O’Riordan (the film’s co-producer) and Tom Lawlor (a principal actor) when I was making my first short film and they became long-term collaborators. I stressed from the beginning that it was important to find great people, and I always try to foster a ‘film family’ atmosphere on and off set. Respect, teamwork, and good energy are paramount and a catalyst for good work.”

Film Gear Choices

O’Carroll’s budget limitations applied to the gear as well. “I went into this project with the philosophy: we film with what we’ve got. I own quite a bit of prosumer gear and I also have a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K which we shot on. FilmEquipmentHire.com in Dublin showed faith in our project off the back of previous work. They were incredibly generous with a deal on Zeiss lenses and many other accessories. The owner, Colin Browne, was literally trying to fill my car with gear.

“Shooting on such a low budget meant that we ran into problems, of course. But I had an amazing crew, guys and girls that I have learned to trust over the years, and they always managed to find solutions.”

Feed Your Crew

“But everything worked out because Dead Along The Way had a simple but concrete cinematic language and we never wavered from it. We all knew and embraced our boundaries and we worked to the best of our creative abilities within those limitations. And we always had great, home-cooked food… that’s more important than any camera sensor.”

film poster

Film Poster

See more on Maurice O’Carroll’s work here.

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Storytelling in advertising

Storytelling in business. Two examples of companies marketing themselves by telling a story in their ads: Amazon Prime and Subaru. And both involve dogs! Both are catchy little stories, and both are effective because it’s easy to remember the product being featured.

Amazon Prime above, Subaru below.

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The Power of Storytelling

The Power of Storytelling

“I think… the power of all storytelling… is to change the way people think. To have them ask questions or question their way of thinking in ways they hadn’t before.” Filmmaker Sachi Cunningham co-directs the documentary Crutch, chronicling the life of Bill Shannon, an internationally renowned artist, break dancer and skate punk… and a man on crutches since childhood. Filmmaker, photographer and Assistant Professor of Multimedia Journalism at San Francisco State University, Cunningham’s documentaries focus on international conflict, the arts, disability, and the ocean environment.

Degenerative Disability

Now running a Kickstarter campaign to fund completion of the film, Cunningham describes Crutch as “the emotional journey of an artist’s struggle from childhood ‘cripple’ to international provocateur.”

Bill Shannon

Bill Shannon

She says: Crutch examines Bill Shannon’s controversial street performances where he exposes a hidden world of prejudices that disabled people encounter in public daily. Shannon often pushes back against strangers’ Good Samaritan impulses to make his point—and his art. The film explores how a degenerative disability and chronic physical pain have fueled both the beauty of his movements and his in-your-face attitude.

A Decade-Plus Investment

“I’ve actually invested 14 years in Bill Shannon’s story,” says Cunningham. “I filmed my first interview with him in 2001 when I was still working as an assistant to director/producer/writer Barry Levinson. I was living in New Haven at the time and Bill was living in New York City. I went to the city to interview Bill after he told me that he had been hired by Cirque du Soleil to choreograph their Verekai show in Montreal. I was looking for a documentary project of my own at that time. When Bill told me about his new job I knew I had the seed of a story. Little did I know how long it would take for that seed to grow to where it is now!”

A Complicated Story

Cunningham is co-directing the documentary with Chandler Evans. Developing the film has taken so long because “… it’s a complicated story and Chandler and I wanted to make sure we were getting the story right. Bill is a childhood friend, so I want to also be transparent in saying that I have felt a strong personal obligation to get his story right. As someone who has an invisible disability myself, I am also personally invested in making sure we get the disability message of this story correct. I have worked closely with the Longmore Institute on Disability Studies at San Francisco State over the last three years in order to educate myself more about disability studies and to make sure that we’re contributing positively to the discourse. I think I personally needed that experience and education in order to have the confidence to tell this story.”

Skills and Funding

Cunningham says that, when she began the project, her documentary filmmaking skills were in their infancy. “Embarking on this project,” she says, “made me realize that while I had experience with feature and commercial filmmaking, I had very little knowledge of documentary filmmaking. The film motivated me to apply to graduate schools for documentary film. I ended up going to journalism school at UC Berkeley to study with Jon Else and Deborah Hoffmann. Journalism school opened up a bunch of new and exciting career opportunities for me, so a lot of those 14 years were spent bouncing between school, new jobs and filming.

“As most documentaries go, there has never been full funding for the project, so some of the reason for the long production time has been due to the economic realities of the project. Bill has almost always been on the East Coast and Chandler, my co-director, and I have almost always lived on the West Coast. Many of Bill’s performances have been overseas, so in order to scrape together the money to document Bill we always needed to at minimum cover the cost of a plane ticket (though we used plenty of airline miles over the years as well!).”

Developing Technology

Sachi Cunningham

Sachi Cunningham

“Readers might also need to be reminded,” says Cunningham, “that 14 years ago, while cameras and editing gear were starting to get cheaper, it still wasn’t as easy as pointing your iPhone on a subject and uploading to You Tube (no smart phones! no FB! no You Tube!). The average production flow would be for me to work at a job for a year, quit with enough money saved to film for a few months and then to start another job and repeat. As I got more skilled, my jobs became bigger and more time consuming, so the shoots would fall on long weekends or during my vacation time.

“I was thrilled to get my current job as a tenure track professor at San Francisco State, as finally I had a job that would require me to finish this film in order to advance. I’m currently on leave from teaching due to a Presidential Award that I received from the university that has allowed me to concentrate 100% on this film.

“Most documentaries about disability,” she says, “are fairly one sided. The person overcomes all obstacles to triumph over their limitations. There is certainly an authentic element of that in this film. But as with all good stories, Bill and his journey are way more complex than this. Part of these 14 years have been about giving Bill and his ideas time to express themselves clearly through his work and part has been about making sure we had the skills and visual material to then translate those ideas clearly to an audience.”

Filming in Japan

“Chandler and I knew we had reached the climax of this crystallization of ideas expressed through Bill’s work and our documentation of it when we followed Bill to Japan last summer. Bill appeared on two NHK TV shows last summer (basically like the BBC of Japan). It was Bill’s first time to Japan. I’m half Japanese and lived in Japan for three years and worked there many times over the years, so as the filmmaker I could make sure that nothing was lost in translation.”

Visually Stunning

“But because of the language and cultural differences, Bill was forced to really distill his message, which for us was exactly what we needed. For years we were waiting for a visually stunning and unusual performance by Bill that we could bookend the film with. We had actually dreamt that something would happen in Japan for over a decade, so it was an amazing feeling to get that shoot in the can.

“That shoot,” says Cunningham, “coincided with finally getting the interest of A-list Hollywood producers like Stephen Nemeth (Dog Town and ZBoys, The Sessions, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) who have been instrumental in helping to guide us to the finish line. But even Hollywood needs help finding money for documentaries!”

Cunningham says that building a community around Crutch is important, hence the Kickstarter campaign. “100K may seem like a lot of money,” she says, “but it’s going to take that plus the connections and work from our producers to secure that money and stretch it far enough to get the film to the big screen. It takes a village!”

Collaboration

Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans

Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans

“Regarding the time and drive that it’s taken to film one man’s story, I can say for sure that I couldn’t have done it if I was directing and producing this on my own. Chandler Evans, my co-producer, has kept the ball rolling in myriad ways over the years, from being a cheerleader to funding some of the shoots. It hasn’t been easy. But I can honestly say that every single time I am filming Bill, I am absolutely absorbed and mesmerized by his movement, his ideas, and knowing what his story can teach the world.”

Junkie for Unusual Stories

“At 42 now,” says Cunningham, “with experience making well over 200 video stories in places like Iraq and swimming in the lineup with the best big wave surfers in the world, I am a junkie for visually stunning, rare and unusual stories of people doing extraordinary things. But watching Bill still blows me away after all of these years. Keeping the camera on Bill and pressing play has been the easy part. I cried on the last day of shooting in Japan because I knew we had filmed the last scene of the movie. I literally had tears coming down my face while still shooting.”

Storytelling

“The importance of storytelling has many layers,” says Cunningham. “If if I may lean on some clichés, for me the top layers of journalism and documentary storytelling specifically are to bear witness, to document the first draft of history, to give voice to the voiceless and to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I am also personally drawn to stories that entertain and inspire. But I think the big north star and the power of all storytelling at its best for me is to change the way people think. To have them ask questions or question their way of thinking in ways they hadn’t before.”

Celebrate a Life Lived Outside the Box

“Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was the film that made me want to be a filmmaker. Before that I wanted to be a politician as I thought that was the most direct way to affect change. Race was always a topic I thought there needed to be more discussion and positive change around, but in my mind, the conversations sparked among my peers after that film, both at the positive and negative extreme, did more to change the way people thought about racial tensions than any law or policy would have done. I love that line from the short film about Ken Burns by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason about good storytelling being 1+1 = 3 where Burns talks about Jackie Robinson’s story and the dilemma of a racist fan. “If you’re a Brooklyn Dodger fan, what do you do when he arrives? You can change teams … or, you can … change.” I hope Crutch will change the way people think about disabilities within themselves and others and that it will open people’s minds to different ways of life and expression. The film is ultimately about celebrating a life lived outside of the box and making the most of what you have rather than succumbing to the pressures of conformity.”

See the Kickstarter campaign and see Sachi Cunningham on Vimeo.

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The Spirit Pauses

The spirit pauses. I’m sharing a Tweet I saw recently from playwright John Patrick Shanley (@johnjpshanley):

When the tide goes out, the ocean pauses. The spirit is similar. Remember. The tide will resume, and recover the lost ground. Depend on it.

Good advice.

the spirit pauses

The spirit pauses

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