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INTERVIEWKathryn Prescott

Kathryn Prescott on the set of her short film "Dear You" (Image © Annette Brown).

Kathryn Prescott on the set of her short film "Dear You" (Image © Annette Brown).

Drunk Monkeys had the opportunity to speak with Kathryn Prescott about her recent short film, “Dear You.” Prescott is known for her work in film and television, notably appearing in Skins, 24:Legacy, Finding Carter, and most recently in AMC’s The Son. “Dear You” has a strong emotional impact despite its 4-minute running time. The film represents her first time as a writer-director; yet, it commands the screen with the depth and poignancy expected of a seasoned filmmaker. Part personal project, part PSA, Prescott’s film will linger in your mind and prompt multiple viewings. Drunk Monkeys staff writer Sean Woodard spoke to Prescott about her film and the opioid epidemic it addresses. 

Please introduce your film, "Dear You," to our readers.

'Dear You' is a short film-style PSA to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic's devastating effect on America's youth. It explores the intimate relationship users can feel they have with opioids while highlighting the cyclical nature of pain and isolation when it comes to addiction.

I understand one of the main reasons you chose to do this film was because of a visit to Homeless Health Care Los Angeles (HHCLA). Can you describe that visit and how it influenced you?

Yes, I was visiting Homeless Health Care Los Angeles' Arts and Wellness Centre in Downtown Los Angeles and was being given a tour of the building when I saw a map of Los Angeles on the wall. The map was covered with little blue pins, clustered together in certain areas but spread all over. When I asked what the pins were for, they told me that each one represented a life saved by administering the opioid-reversal drug 'naloxone'. I was shocked. Firstly I had no idea that so many people were suffering from opioid overdoses and secondly, I had never heard of naloxone, despite the fact that a close family member of mine was suffering through a pretty debilitating opioid addiction at the time.

After that visit, I became really interested in the scope of this epidemic. Almost every other person I spoke to about it had some connection to it- a friend, a sister, a cousin who was addicted to an opioid- but they weren't aware that so many other people were in the same position as them, that this was a country-wide epidemic. I started speaking to a friend of mine who works in healthcare about how addicts and addiction are portrayed in the media and drug awareness campaigns. So often they are shown in this very stereotypical, almost judgemental light- their negative behaviours and the external effects of their addiction are demonstrated, even exaggerated, while their inner pain and the factors that may have led them to addiction in the first place are completely ignored. We wanted to show the pain of addiction in a slightly different light, without judging the person suffering from it or sugar coating the reality of what has now become a public health emergency.

How did you decide between shooting a short feature vs a documentary or PSA? In a way, you combine all three genres.

Originally I really wanted to make a documentary, I still do- the real personal stories behind this epidemic are far more powerful and heartbreaking than any narrative I could ever come up with. But the aim of this particular project was to tell a quick story that demonstrated the pain of addiction through a shared humanity and by purposely playing with viewers expectations of what the film was about. We decided to shoot a short, fictional narrative, based on two real people who had been through this as this was simply easier to manipulate into a story which could be construed in two different ways.

In your opinion, what advantages does a film platform offer stories such as this?

I've never made a documentary, so it's hard for me to say with complete conviction but I do feel like film and TV have this very specific power with which to inspire empathy. When someone watches the news or a documentary, in a way they have already decided to educate themselves about something and are perhaps prepared to have their views about it challenged. But often when someone sits down to watch an episode of TV or a film, they are just looking to be entertained. Because of this, films and TV, particularly those that are seen as simple entertainment, have this amazing ability to subtly challenge opinions about a person, topic or group.

Is this your first time writing and directing, and what challenges did you face during this process?

Yes, this was the first time I had ever written or directed anything. I knew literally nothing about writing when I started this and I felt like that was one of the biggest challenges. I eventually learnt that just because a line or an idea feels meaningful or realistic in your head does not mean it will translate that way onto paper that way or be meaningful to anyone else besides yourself. I think writing is like explaining a dream to someone. It's really easy to write something that you yourself find moving, because you have all the colours and feelings and emotions that came with the idea inside your head, but all anyone else has is the cold, black and white words you are giving them- hence why hearing other people's dreams is often so tedious to anyone other than the person telling them. It's really hard to differentiate between something that you yourself find moving or significant due to your own personal experiences and something that is objectively moving due to a shared humanity. I am absolutely in awe of writers who manage to do this successfully. Writing was definitely the hardest part of the process for me.

Prescott with Ben Winchell on the set of "Dear You" (Image © Annette Brown).

Prescott with Ben Winchell on the set of "Dear You" (Image © Annette Brown).

How was working on this film different, compared to your previous work in film and television? What support did you receive from HHCLA and other organizations for the project?

I think having worked as an actor with various directors definitely helped me when it came to directing our actors. I felt like I had a lot more control as a director than I have ever done as an actor, which was nice but also terrifying. When you're an actor you are somewhat subject to the quality of the script, to the director's notes etc, but generally, you only have to look out for your character, and protecting the reality of that character. When you are the director you're having to protect the reality of the entire story, and that can be intimidating.

HHCLA were very supportive, they helped us develop the script and put us in touch with various other organizations who helped me research this project and this epidemic. We also had help from TONI (Texas Naloxone Initiative), Utah Naloxone, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Safety Council, New America, The National Campus Leadership Council, The American Society of Addiction Medicine and NASADAD in terms of research and getting the film out there.

The film features a nameless narrator, addressing his former addiction in voice-over. When scripting the film, what helped you determine this was the most effective way to tell the story? As it is, the conclusion is emotionally heartbreaking.

I spoke to several people in long-term recovery from opioid addiction who told me that their relationship with opioids was one of the most intimate they had ever had in their life. I had also read letters online from people in recovery addressed to heroin as if it were a close friend or lover that they were saying goodbye to. This was the inspiration for the narrative of this project. We wanted to show the pain of addiction by explaining it in terms that most people could connect to, at least in some small way. Not everyone has experienced addiction or the factors or circumstances that can lead to it, but most people have experienced heartbreak or loneliness, at least to some degree. We wanted to use this to hint at the pain of addiction, though in no way are we suggesting that the two are exactly the same.

We decided that using voice over was the best way to create that sense of loneliness and isolation.

Could you expand on the overall message the film presents and do you feel the final product reflects your original idea for the film?

With this film, we wanted to highlight the idea that addiction is often the result of deep pain. When we vilify addicts or paint them as morally vacant or selfish, we completely overlook the root causes of addiction. We focus on the result of pain, rather than the cause of it. We just wanted to show the humanity and the pain behind addiction. It's hard to say objectively but I hope we achieved this in some way.

What type of reception has the film garnered and how did you approach distributing the film?

We wanted as many people as possible to see this film, so we released it on Youtube and Vimeo and used social media to promote it. The reception has generally been good. Many people who have experienced opioid addiction personally have said that it depicts the difficulty of recovery in a realistic light. A couple of people have said that the film could be seen as glorifying heroin use. While the boy in the film does end up using heroin to numb his pain, we see his relapse as an objectively negative thing, as would most people who have experienced relapse themselves. The boy we are watching is so tortured by his addiction, so alone, that using again seems like his only escape. The film is simply meant to highlight the tragedy in this.

You include an In Memorandum to Mitchell Blain at the end of your film. How personal was this project for you?

Mitchell Blain was a friend of mine who helped develop the script for this film and was part of the crew. He died shortly after production due to complications from his years of addiction, despite having successfully overcome his addiction to heroin. My brother also helped develop the story for this film. He struggled with opioid addiction from the ages of 15-21 after being prescribed codeine and various other prescription opioids following an unsuccessful back surgery that left him with chronic pain. He has since overcome his addiction to opioids and believes that the more people talk about this issue, the less it will be allowed to lie in the darkness of the same shame and stigma that prevent people from reaching out for help with it.

Do you anticipate working on more societal-conscious driven projects in the future?

Yes, I think film and TV have this power to connect people of all backgrounds, faith and race. I'd love to be able to tell stories that connect people from different ends of each of those spectrums.

Is there anything you would like to add about the film or the awareness you're raising regarding opioid substance use and youth education?

Yes, if you are struggling with opioid addiction, or you know someone who is, call SAMHSA on 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.

If you know someone who may be at risk of an opioid overdose please find your location on this map to see where you can get a dose of the opioid overdose-reversal drug 'naloxone'. Or go to the 'Naloxone' page of our website to learn more about this medication.

If you'd like to organize an opioid awareness event at your local community centre, school or college, please visit the 'Take Action' page of our website for resources and information on how to do this.

Kathryn Prescott was most recently featured in the Netflix film Dude, and will be featured on the AMC series The Son later this year.