Jason Charnick Fights the Stereotypes of Addiction in His Documentary Getting Over
Indie Film Junction | August 14, 2020
Indie Film Junction | August 14, 2020
Every film has the capacity to be intensely personal, but when you make a documentary about your own relatives and their struggles with addiction, personal takes on a new meaning. Jason Charnick spoke to us about navigating this difficult terrain, working with publicists, and the importance of having a marketing strategy – all things he learned while directing the documentary Getting Over.
IFJ: Getting Over is a very personal film. Can you tell us what inspired you to share your father’s tragic story?
JC: Getting Over is primarily the story of my father and his heroin addiction. He was a life-long drug addict and a person like that is often stereotyped as little more than a street junkie. Even though I didn’t see him very frequently as a child, I always knew his life was worth more than that, more than just being another statistic. I also knew I was one day going to tell his story, something positive to leave behind in his memory, so that his life and his struggles wouldn’t be forgotten. That was the main impetus behind the concept of the film, even though the actual film itself would go take many forms over the years.
IFJ: How did you become a filmmaker?
JC: I first started pursuing film as a career during my junior year in college. Considering my father was in trouble with the law for most of his adult life, it might not come as any surprise that I was originally supposed to be a criminal lawyer. That was the plan when I first went to school at Boston University, but I started taking some cinema studies courses on a lark during the summer semester between junior and senior year, and I fell in love. It was too late to change course, so I ended up graduating with a psychology degree in 1997, and took the Intensive Film course at NYU’s School of Continuing Education – not their famous Tisch School for the Arts – later that year. Ended up working on the thesis films of a few Tisch students, then moved out to LA in 1999, and been working in post-production, while pursuing personal projects, ever since.
IFJ: You’ve made narrative films in the past. Did you always want to produce documentaries as well?
JC: No, I never really considered pursuing documentary for my own projects. Other than Getting Over, which is my first feature, I directed 5:19 To Molina, a short doc, a few years prior to that. But Molina was done more as a comedic piece, one where I train to race a major league baseball player to first base. I never really think about genre when developing a project, I just like to tell the best stories I can, whether they’re true or not.
IFJ: A lot of filmmakers focus on either documentaries or narrative films, but rarely both. How did your experience with narrative films inform the choices you made for this movie?
JC: Well, like I mentioned, I try not to think much about genre when developing a project – that is to say narrative vs. documentary – because it’s all about whether the story speaks to me and whether or not I think I can translate that interest to the audience. But I will say that during production and post on Getting Over, it was good to be able to lean back on my experience with narrative film as it helped get a wrangle on the story and what direction we wanted to take the film in. Unlike narrative, where the script is your road map, with documentary you often hit the road without knowing where you’re going. Having that experience with dramatic structure – along with a helluva core team – came in very handy when crafting the shape of the film, and seeing dramatic tension in places where you wouldn’t think to find them.
IFJ: What was the process like for discovering and shaping the story? Did you know it going into the project, or did it take shape during production and post-production?
JC: It definitely took shape during production and post. Since the film consists of a lot of archival interviews my uncle conducted with my dad before he passed away, I did have a foundation to build upon and gave us some general direction. A lot of the scenes and interviews that we shot for the film were chosen based upon the stories my father tells in these interviews. But the structure of the film was very fluid during production. I owe most of the credit for how it turned out to my editor, the incomparable Sharon Rutter, who took the transcripts of those original interviews with my dad, read through every word and pulled out what she thought were the best pieces to build upon.
IFJ: With documentary films, especially those dealing with past events, there are limitations on what you have to work with. Did you run into any issues in the edit where you felt like something was missing? How did you resolve them?
JC: Luckily, since we had those archival interviews already serving as our foundation for the production of the film, we didn’t really have any major instances where we felt we didn’t have what we needed by the time we wrapped. There were a few times where we had to kill a scene we wanted to shoot because of lack of access, but we had options with the film structure at the time, so it became easy to navigate around obstacles like that. It helped that I was a subject in the film as well. If we had to reshoot anything, I was pretty sure I could get a hold of myself!
IFJ: As you were putting Getting Over together, did you have any reservations about sharing the film with the world? If so, what made you decide to move forward with the release?
JC: I always knew I was opening myself up for scrutiny and criticism by making such a personal doc in the first place, so I was able to come to terms with my own issues early on in the process. It also helped that I’m a post-production guy by trade, so very quickly during editorial, I was able to put my personal feelings on the back burner and just focus on task of making the film as good as it could be, without even thinking too much that I was staring at myself most of the time. There were a couple things about my own addictive nature that are alluded to in the film that I was initially on the fence about including, but it was important to the story of my relationship with my father that I include them, and I’m glad I did.
IFJ: Once you completed post on Getting Over, did you have a marketing and distribution strategy?
JC: No, and it’s one of my greatest regrets! Much like my short films, I always thought we’d bang this flick out, toss it on YouTube and call it a day. We were in production for 6 years on Getting Over, and most of that time was spent off the grid so to speak. I wasn’t paying much attention to the marketplace for features, or the festival circuit at the time, and never really considered it a product worthy of being sold to a distributor. It’s not that I didn’t think the project was worthwhile, obviously not, I just never thought of the film as a product to be marketed at all, until after everything was finished. And by that time, SXSW had accepted us, and then it became a whole different situation!
IFJ: Did you work with a publicist?
JC: And that situation was one that warranted a publicist! After our SXSW acceptance, I was contacted by a number of PR outlets, and since I had never been on the feature festival circuit myself, let alone at one of the biggest festivals in the world, my wife and I felt it was a prudent expenditure to go out of pocket for one, and we brought in Jim Dobson from IndiePR to rep us, and it was a great decision. Jim got the film from day 1 and was a staunch champion of ours at the festival. We got some great reviews out of it, and Jim’s become a dear friend since then.
IFJ: If you’re comfortable sharing it, what was the budget for the film?
JC: Totally comfortable with sharing, we microbudget filmmakers need to stick together! All in, we spent approximately $65,000 over the course of the 6 years of production. About half of that was crowdfunded – we did both a Kickstarter back in 2011, and an Indiegogo for finishing funds in 2015 – and the other half was completely self-funded. And that total includes the publicist’s fee, our travel to festivals across the country and all the festival submission fees. We never had an official budget or top sheet either, it was just pay as you go, and try not to go too high!
IFJ: Did you have an active role in marketing Getting Over? If so, what did you learn from the experience that you wish you knew at the beginning?
JC: I’ve basically been the only one doing the marketing, and that role has been active indeed. As I mentioned, we didn’t really consider any marketing during the making of the film, and even after we ended up selling the picture to Gravitas Ventures, they haven’t done ANY marketing on their own. I’m also a graphic designer and editor, so I put together the trailer and poster myself, and I do all the social media outreach myself. Even though we’ve been out for almost two years now, I still try and stay active and keep all the big social platforms up to date with posts every couple of weeks or so.
IFJ: Are you interested in Producing and directing more documentaries?
JC: Yes! Even though I started out coming from the narrative world, working in documentary for the past few years has introduced me to a whole new world of storytelling, one that I find incredibly fulfilling!
IFJ: Do you have any advice for filmmakers that are about to embark on a documentary or are struggling to piece together what they have?
JC: Patience, patience, patience! I am an incredibly impatient person by nature, and I had to check that at the door when it comes to documentary. I remember when we first did our Kickstarter back in early 2012, I was promising a finished film to the backers by June 2013. And I thought that was PLENTY of time! We ended up working on the film for a full 6 years (and it was gestating for about 10 years before that!) and I’ve come to learn that’s nothing for a documentary. Many docs released today have been in production for a decade or longer, so it’s extremely important to take the proper time necessary to tell the story YOU want to tell, and it will be ready when it’s ready, and don’t be too hard on yourself if your timelines start to slack. Just maybe don’t make promises your film can’t keep, that’s all!
IFJ: What’s next for you?
JC: I’m currently producing and hosting Head Above Water, a podcast focused on filmmaking and mental health. Trying to make a career as a filmmaker is an incredibly difficult and stressful thing to do, and I’m trying to shine a light on mental health so we can learn to take care of ourselves better – inside and out – while trying to make our films. Other than that, I have a a few documentary and narrative projects I’m developing, and hopefully one of them will be ready to swing into action once the coronavirus pandemic is finally our rearview mirror.
Director Jason Charnick
Runtime 79 min
A man discovers a box of interviews with his father, a life-long heroin addict who died of AIDS in 1997. What he finds will uncover generations of family secrets, forcing him to redefine his own past, doubt his present, and question his future.More