2006-02-23 / Community

Locally shot film tackles suicide

By Daniel Wolowicz danielw@theacorn.com

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers MOVIE MAKERS—Mariel Hemingway, one of the stars of “My Suicide,”  visits  the  set  with  T.O.  businessman  Larry  Janss, excutive producer of the black comedy.  Several area locations, including the Janss Marketplace, will be featured in the film. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers MOVIE MAKERS—Mariel Hemingway, one of the stars of “My Suicide,” visits the set with T.O. businessman Larry Janss, excutive producer of the black comedy. Several area locations, including the Janss Marketplace, will be featured in the film. Comedy and suicide—strange bedfellows for sure—but fodder for a bankable feature film? Thousand Oaks businessman Larry Janss and a collection of Hollywood talent sure hope so.

Janss is the executive producer of “My Suicide,” a locally shot dark comedy that recently wrapped principal photography. The film centers on Archie, a nerdy high school student who shocks his friends, family and fellow classmates when he reveals his intention to commit suicide following the completion of his student film on the morose subject.

Janss is quick to point out that although suicide remains a taboo subject in today’s culture, everyone he’s talked to about the film has known someone who’s been affected by suicide.

“I’ve had friends who have committed suicide,” Janss said. “Whenever I’ve told the story of the picture . . . (investors) don’t ask questions about the technical side, or about the financial side— they want to tell their own story about how suicide affected them.”

Directed and co-written by Thousand Oaks-based filmmaker David Miller, the story was born out of Miller’s interaction with the teens and family members he met through Regenerate, a nonprofit he founded in 2002.

Regenerate was formed to help teens produce and distribute commercials and documentaries about life’s tough issues—specifically, suicide, teen traffic deaths and violence in society.

“I’ve lost friends to drug addictions, which was really suicidal behavior,” Miller said. “For me, it’s more about Regenerate. Regenerate works with family who’ve lost loved ones, so I deal with people who’ve lost loved ones every day.”

Janss said Miller had only a rough sketch of the film’s screenplay when the two first started talking about the project, and it wasn’t until the screenwriter met the film’s lead, Gabriel Sunday, that the rest of the story fell into place.

Sunday’s path to the picture was an unlikely one that started nearly 500 miles from Hollywood in Petaluma, Calif., where the 20year-old comic was discovered by the picture’s co-writer, Eric Adams, during a comedy show.

Janss calls Sunday the “next Robin Williams,” and it was the newcomer’s comedic presence that inspired both Miller and Adams to finish the screenplay with Sunday in mind as the lead.

Around the same time Sunday was cast as the lead, producer Todd Traina was brought on board to help Janss find financing for the independent film—not an easy task.

“The problems were simply that we needed to raise money on our own because a suicidethemed film with an unknown actor gets you the bus fare to nowhere,” Traina said. “So Larry Janss and I figured we’d raise money from other investors and just make the film in a traditional, independent sense.”

To help raise the needed cash, Traina turned to his stepmother, best-selling author Danielle Steel. Known primarily for her romance novels, Steel wrote about the suicide of her stepson Nick Traina— Todd’s teenage brother—in the 1997 memoir “His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina.”

Steel went on to found the Nick Traina Foundation, established to help families identify and effectively treat teens suffering from depression and at risk of suicide.

Traina said Steel agreed to help finance the film after he promised to donate a portion of his profits back to the foundation named for Traina’s brother.

With the $200,000 in hand needed to fund the 20-day shoot —a collection of nonprofits also helped with financing—the team of producers went to work casting the film.

“Our production has been smiled upon by the casting gods, as we can boast a stellar cast, especially for the little indy we are,” Janss said.

The film’s supporting cast is indeed a coup for such a small production. Its stars include David Carradine, Nora Dunn, Mariel Hemingway and Joe Mantegna.

Hemingway knows the pain of losing someone to suicide. Both her father, the Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, and her sister, model-turned-actress Margaux Hemingway, committed suicide.

“My hope for this film is that people, especially young people, will understand that suicide and depression is a very common issue,” Hemingway said. “Kids need to realize that no energy or feeling ever stays the same. They need to be aware that you can get past whatever it may be, other people are feeling the same way, help has been found before, and that there is help available for you, too.”

For Mantegna and Carradine, acting in the film had more to do with the message than money.

“‘My Suicide’ is not just a figment of someone’s imagination,” Mantegna said. “It is a result of a lot of people’s involvement in the field of dealing with the problem of teen suicide. It’s a very serious, important subject being handled in a very creative, entertaining and funny way. But humor can be a really strong avenue to deliver a message. I feel that this film has the potential to do that.”

Miller said the film will likely be rated R because of the subject matter and because of the audience he hopes to target. “If we’re going to talk authentically to youth, we’re going to have to speak their language, and youth speak ‘hard R,’ if not beyond,” he said.

The producers will begin postproduction work on the film this month. Janss said they plan to screen “My Suicide” at several film festivals next year, hoping to spark a distribution deal .

For details on Regenerate or the Nick Traina Foundation, visit their respective websites, www.regenerate.org and www.nicktrainafoundation.org.

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