Breaking the Silence

In November 2014, I met Paulie O’Byrne as part of a video interview series created for the Possible Campaign.  As Paulie started to tell his story of the sexual abuse that he has suffered at the age of 21, I was taken back on how he just owned it, and proclaimed that he wasn’t going to let it control his life anymore.  

After we wrapped his interview, I was overwhelmed with need to start a conversation with Paulie.  He inspired me to say something out loud that I’ve told very few people in my life. 

When I was a child, I was sexually abused over the span of 3 years by two different predators.  Both of these men enforced my silence with threats to my family if I spoke up.  Both of my parents had no clue that this was happening to me, because I was terrified to say a word.  My parents were living separately, and both of these instances took place without their knowledge by people who were friends, and invited into their homes.  

All of it would have stopped if I had just broken the silence that I was told I must keep.  This is where predators have all of the power… in the silence that they force their victims to take. 

For 30 years, I have kept my silence.

Today I hope to take some of the power back, and start to heal a part of my soul that has felt broken for so long.  For so many years I was ashamed of what happened to me, and kept it locked away in a very safe place.  It is something that I think about everyday, and on some days, I let it get the better of me.  

Starting a conversation about abuse, is the first step to healing.  Paulie’s strength and bravery has inspired me to tell my story.  

Happy Birthday, Clerks.

20 years ago, I worked for a local printing house. My job was to drive bingo plate dies, stamps and attache cases of printed stocks across the border from London, Ontario to Port Huron, Michigan.    The van that I drove was equipped with a Cassette/AM/FM radio in it, and the magical corridor of the Highway 402 between London & Sarnia was a radio dead-zone.  So, I would listen to cassettes in the van when I couldn't get reception.  Times would arrive when I would forget to bring music with me, so I would stop in a local record store in Port Huron.  One day I saw the soundtrack for a film called Clerks.  Reading the song titles, there was a song called "Chewbacca" on it.  I had never heard of the film, but there was a song on it named after a wookie, it was $6 so why not.  

Listening to it play, there were snippets of the film's dialogue spliced in between each song.  By the time I had heard the two characters having a conversation about Star Wars I was hooked.  Oh, and "Chewbacca" was nothing short of amazing on it's first listen.  

Patiently I had to wait for the movie to come onto VHS.  The day it was released I rented it from Blockbuster and proceeded to keep it for the next 4 weeks.  Watching the film and hearing people talk about the kind of conversations that I would have with my friends was something that really connected with me.  

I have since been a very huge fan of all of Kevin Smith's films, and I have have enjoyed his journey as an artist.  Today I wanted to say happy birthday to the film that connected me to one of favourite storytellers.

Transforming the Arts Project

Tasked with creating the support videos for “Behind the Curtain: How we Survive”, I knew that I wanted to do something with floating pictures of loved ones lost.

Shooting in natural light was important to me.  Located downtown, in London, Ontario, there exists a community art space known as “The Arts Project”. The third floor studio is a decent sized room, with old exposed brick walls, three floor ceiling windows and a whole bunch of character.  

Upon my visit to the Arts Project to book the studio, they informed me that we couldn’t suspend anything from the ceiling or attach anything to the walls.

This posed the problem, how do we suspend pictures above the subject and allow them to walk through them.  As this was a project funded by donation, budget was very tight.

After thinking about it, I thought that constructing a “Cage” of sorts from PVC pipe may be an option. It would be me the opportunity to create ‘lanes’ of suspended pictures where I could have Carly walk behind a few rows of pictures, each moving at different time on the frame. 

I had to figure out how this would look and if it was possible.  First step was creating a blueprint to figure out the design.  Creating a 1/10th mockup in Illustrator, I was able to figure out the measurements of each piece needed.

Since I was going to make this from PVC pipe, the challenge was finding connectors with the configurations that I needed.  After a trip to three of the local Big Box hardware stores, I found out quickly that stock ABS connectors only come in a few options, not enough to cover the what I needed. Enter FormuFit, a company out of the US specializing in furniture grade PVC connectors.  The added bonus, was that they provided the Sketchup models for all of their products. I chose PVC compared to making this from wood so I could easy dismantle this, if I needed to, and the entire cage also needed to fit in my car.

Turning to Google Sketchup, I was able to make a 3D model based on the actual measurements of the Arts Project, and shoot the set virtually to see if this was a viable option.  After a few hours of designing… in the virtual set, the PVC cage actually became a totally viable option, allowing me to suspend pictures from 7 feet from the ground.  I had my set.

nteractive 3D model of the arts project with PVC cage and photos

Pipe and fittings were ordered.  With my dad’s help, we cut the pipe and assembled the cage in their backyard to see if this thing would stand by itself.  A bit wobbly, but it worked perfectly.

Arriving on our first day at the arts project, and finally being able to assemble the cage in the actual space, I was pleasantly surprised that it worked out perfectly.  My measurements were a bit off, possibly due to the fact that I had to use pictures I took on my tour with a piece of paper in the corner for scale, and didn’t actually measure the room.

Problems faced with the construction of the set were the pictures.  The pictures would spin easily, or just fall down.  Granted we only used gaffer tape and fishing line to hold them up, but they needed to be able to be moved quickly and repositioned if needed as I was filming the music video, plus a series of interviews in the space.  Also, budget reared it’s ugly head as my original vision of filling the room with 300 pictures didn’t quite fit into our limited budget.

The music video for "I Remember You". 

In the end, being faced with the logistical challenges ended up being a lesson on overcoming physical restrictions and coming up with an alternate plan to complete my vision.  

Behind the Curtain: How We Survive

Two years ago, I was approached by two women, Nancy Hiron & Julie Varley to help tell their story on film. Their story was the loss of their children to suicide.  I was about 10th on the list of people that they had spoken to in a two year period trying to get their film made.

As a father of two, the thought of losing either of my children is an awful thought, I couldn’t pretend to imagine the grief.  

Their mandate for the film a bit challenging, they didn’t want to do a straight up documentary of talking heads. They wanted to be able to tell their story in an elegant way to honour the legacy of their children, and deliver a message for other survivors faced with grief. 

Iain Laird, met with them for the initial sessions and had the task of taking their stories and crafting the screenplay for us to use as a blueprint to tell their story.

The film’s budget was provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association through donations.  Their plan was to use the film to show other survivors of suicide to help deliver a positive message in time of need. With this in mind, we needed to cover points in the grieving process in the film as well.

To solve this, we broke the narrative of the film, from the first person to the third person and allowed both Julie and Nancy have a conversation on camera about the grieving process.  This also allowed them to talk about the differences between the loss of all three of their children.

In the end, we wrap the film with a positive message of hope.

The CMHA released the film in 2012 (Press: "Film Delivers Message of Hope"- London Free Press) but were cautious about having this film available as a public resource because it took the viewer on the emotional journey of loss, all on their own with no outlet for conversation afterwards. The film was screened in many public forums where both Julie and Nancy could speak about their experiences afterwards, it was meant to open up conversation, something that is impossible through a YouTube link.  

Nancy and Julie were nominated for the Champion of Mental Health Award in both 2013 & 2014 for speaking engagements and screenings of the film.

Moving ahead two years, we reunited over dinner to speak about the film, and how we could get it to more people. The idea was to create a website where both Julie and Nancy could blog, take questions, and also tell their story in accompaniment to the film.  

On Sept 10th, we launched, a new community resource for survivors of suicide.  

The website is home to the film, as well as interviews from both ladies and other survivors of suicide. 

Below is the film, updated this year to further show the growth of both Julie and Nancy.

My friend Carly Thomas wrote the song “I Remember You” for the film.  We have created a music video in memoriam of people lost to suicide.

The song is available for purchase here, all proceeds going towards the CMHA.

Completing a project of this emotional weight, has been an honour to work on, my sincere thanks to both Nancy and Julie for helping them advocate mental health wellness.