A study of addiction and recovery, this narrative film draws on director Lane Michael Stanley’s own experiences in rehab, spending six months there after the death of a fiancé. That knowledge shows in the intimate portrayal of such homes’ forced camaraderie, occasionally humorous embarrassments of personal space, and unclear track records for success in a system with inherent flaws. The film shows solid acting and clean filmmaking throughout.
It was produced by the Santa Barbara–based company Light Brigade Entertainment, run by Lowell Blank and Thane Swigart. “We have many film and TV projects in development, but Hal is our first production,” said Blank, who read Stanley’s play and started turning it into a short film four years ago, and then it blossomed into a feature. “I feel so incredibly lucky to have gone on this journey with Lane. We found an amazing cast of mostly unknowns and shot the film in Austin, Texas, in January 2020 before the lockdowns.”
Filmmakers Lane Michael Stanley recently answered some questions via email.
I read that this film is drawn from your own experiences. Can you elaborate on that?
I lived in a recovery house for drug and alcohol recovery for six months in 2016, after my fiancé died suddenly of a heart attack a month after we got engaged. The film is dedicated to him. I was just 23, but my drinking became so bad that my hands were shaking in the morning. Getting sober was incredibly difficult, especially because of the major trauma I was going through. Now, I am very grateful to be an alcoholic, because it gave me the 24/7 care and community that I needed to survive my fiancé’s death.
Are the characters based on real people?
Nearly all of the characters in the film are inspired by people I lived with in the recovery house, though most of them are amalgamations of several people. There is an incredible amount of turnover in a recovery house, as people relapse, die, or move on to their own apartments. Because of this, I lived with close to 100 people, and had an extended network of recovery beyond that.
Amy, our protagonist, is closest to my own experience feeling like a fish out of water in this recovery world. The film is essentially imagining what might have happened if I had made different choices while living in the house.
Of course, there are changes to all the characters (including Amy) for the sake of the story. Happily, Amy’s mom is in no way based on my mom, who has been nothing but supportive! The intention is to give viewers a sense of the people you meet in a recovery house, the community that forms, and the myriad of ways people end up in that space.
You portray an interesting mix of humor and despair in the rehab home.
That is an apt description of recovery house life. I used to joke that recovery houses could be summarized as: “It’s all fun and games until someone dies of an overdose.”
I was surprised when I first arrived by how much humor there was, how we would laugh incredibly hard at jokes about awful subjects as we swung on swingsets because we couldn’t afford any other entertainment. Then the next day, a close friend would die of an overdose. We were constantly oscillating between chaos and boredom, laughter and horror.
There is also the sense that the system is flawed, that succeeding in such an environment is difficult. Is that your opinion of the system?
The world of addiction treatment is very complex. There are people and institutions working very hard to make addiction treatment more accessible and more successful. However, there are also organizations that are more focused on profit than on helping people. Addiction research is chronically underfunded due to stigma and the idea that addicts should just be able to stop on their own. This means that finding a supportive environment can be difficult.
When I was in rehab, I was warned against going to a recovery house by some of the other women in my facility, who warned that they would be full of drugs. I was also encouraged by some women who shared that they had found real strength and community in recovery houses.
Of course, both of those experiences are real: There are people who will do drugs in their rooms, and there are people who will go to three meetings a day. It’s up to you to align yourself with the people who share your priorities in recovery — that’s how you can find deep, supportive community.
I believe you have a brief role in the film. What’s it like to direct yourself?
Yes, good catch! I am by no means an actor, but luckily I was just sharing part of my recovery story, which I have done in countless 12-step meetings over the past five years, including in prisons and homeless shelters.
I was very fortunate throughout this process to have a high level of trust with our production team, area heads, and crew. For this particular moment, I handed the directing reins to our cinematographer, John David Devirgiliis. He asked me questions that I responded to, and he guided me between each take. So really, I think I directed myself by asking JD to direct me!
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope that audiences understand how difficult early recovery is, and how recovering addicts form communities to uplift each other through this. The first three to six months of recovery are an incredibly vulnerable, complicated time. While support from family and friends who are not in recovery is obviously very helpful, finding support from other people who have been through the same thing is absolutely vital. When we share compassionate stories of addiction and recovery, we challenge the stigma against addiction and work toward a more caring approach to addicts and their needs.
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