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raymac Written by raymac
Aug. 28, 2007 | 4:43 AM

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SELF-MEDICATED is the true account of a young man’s struggle to come to terms with the death of his father and find his own identity.  Written and directed by 24-year-old Monty Lapica (who also stars), the story was inspired by his own experience as a troubled teenager.

At the age of 17, Lapica’s mother, concerned with his out-of-control behavior after the death of his father, hired a private company to forcibly kidnap and confine him to a locked-down adolescent hospital in St. George, Utah, called Brightway.  While incarcerated against his will, he witnessed first-hand the emotional and physical abuses committed by the institution.  Already an aspiring filmmaker at the time, he decided that one day he would make a film about the experience in an effort to expose these private, for-profit institutions.  SELF-MEDICATED is that film.

The script took Lapica six months to write, and nearly as long to finance.  “It’s tough to talk anyone into investing money in a first-time director, let alone one who is intent on playing the lead role,” he recalled.  “Thankfully, I was able to find some people who really responded to the script.  From the onset I made it clear that this was the only way I would make the film, and luckily for us, they eventually acquiesced.”

Although funding was in place, the limited budget meant that shooting would have to be done creatively.  Lapica’s vision for the project was big- having grown up on a steady diet of both mainstream and independent cinema, he knew immediately that he want to shoot on location, because the emotion and realism in the script would be difficult to extract on a soundstage.  The institution scenes were shot in a wing of a functioning California State Mental Hospital, and additional scenes were filmed in Hawaii and Sedona, Arizona.

The remainder of the film was shot on location in Las Vegas, Lapica’s former home town.  “I was born and raised in Vegas, so I wanted to show the city in a way that was different from the usual depiction and somehow convey what it’s like to grow up there,” he explained.  “As opposed to focusing solely on the casinos and glitz, I wanted to show how Vegas shapes an adolescence.”

Unlike many filmmakers of Lapica’s generation, who have embraced digital filmmaking, Lapica elected to shoot the film using Super 35mm.  “In my view, even with HD, there’s still nothing tantamount to the look you can achieve with 35mm,” he observed.  “It was my first experience working with 35mm, which is why I made sure that I had a very experienced crew surrounding me.  At the start, I presented Denis [Maloney, Director of Photography] with a detailed shot list and story boards, which, for a film of this budget, proved to be rather ambitious.  Fortunately, with Denis’ suggestions, we were able to find creative ways to realize most of what I had hoped to achieve photographically.”

Knowing that music would be crucial in setting the tone he wanted for the film, Lapica approached award-winning composer Anthony Marinelli to compose the score for the film.  “I sent him an early copy of the film through his agent,” Lapica recalled.  “He responded enthusiastically and wanted to work on the film.  However, we couldn’t come close to his usual fee.  Luckily for us, Anthony viewed the film as a great palette for his style and sensibilities as a composer, and agreed to sign on for a fraction of his asking price.”

With the crew in place, Lapica set out to find the perfect cast to flesh out his story.  He was quickly able to convince several notable actors to join the production, including award-winning actress Diane Venora as his mother “Louise”, and Michael Bowen and Greg Germann as Brightway counselors “Dan” and “Keith,” respectively.  “Diane and Michael were my first choices for the roles of Louise and Dan,” said Lapica.  “I was well aware of Diane from her work in HEAT and THE INSIDER, as Michael Mann is one of my favorite filmmakers.  When I saw Michael in MAGNOLIA and JACKIE BROWN, I knew he was perfect for Dan.  Great directors like P.T. Anderson and Quentin Tarantino were using him for a reason.  My casting director, Lindsay, recommended Greg, and after I saw a very impressive short film he had directed, I was convinced.”

Shooting took place over 40 days of non-consecutive shooting, based on the actors’ availabilities and the filmmakers’ financial resources.  Directing a film for the first time is always a challenge, but when you’re also the lead actor, it becomes a logistical trial-by-fire.  “As the main character in the story, I was constantly in front of the camera.  I didn’t have the luxury of watching shots through the monitor to see if something wasn’t working during the scene.  I had to rely solely on preparation and planning prior to filming,” Lapica recalls.  For the more difficult scenes, he was able to combine his memories of real life experiences with his formal training, which included a minor in theater and a period spent studying at Lee Strasberg in Hollywood.

Acting alongside several highly experienced actors was a huge step for Lapica.  His scenes with Venora were some of the most pivotal in the film, and required delicate displays of intense emotion.  Thankfully, they hit it off immediately.  “Initially, I was a bit intimidated about meeting Diane because she had starred in some of my favorite films.  She read the script and agreed to meet me for lunch -  we ended up talking for four hours,” said Lapica.  “On-set she was always wonderful to work with, and even though she has worked with some of the most esteemed directors in the industry, she always treated me simply as her director.”

Completed, the film went on the festival circuit and won acclaim across the globe, racking up an astounding 39 international film awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Rome Independent Film Festival, Best Feature Film and Best Actress (Venora) at the Australian International Film Festival, and a 2006 PRISM Award, a highly competitive award that recognizes the accurate depiction of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use in films.

The rash of reports of abuse at private, locked-down juvenile institutions is front-and-center of late.  The attention that SELF-MEDICATED has brought to the subject has been welcomed.  Following a recent investigation, government authorities shut down Brightway Adolescent Hospital, where Lapica was taken and held, indefinitely.  However, many similar institutions are still operating throughout the United States today.

SELF-MEDICATED opens Friday, August 31st at Laemmle’s Santa Monica 4-Plex and at a theatre near you.


View the trailer


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