For those of you who do not know, Shadow is one of the several social awareness short films produced by my fledgling film production company, King-Collins. Shadow is a film about depression, mainly in students. Its job is to push aside some of the myths surrounding the mental illness, like the stereotypical victim image. While it doesn’t really dive into the subject, its job more to open the debate rather than take part in it, as a director, I did bury several small narrative beats under the surface of the pretext. For those of you that enjoyed my short and, while waiting for the next social awareness campaign, almost finished in the edit as we speak, perhaps this small reading companion to Shadow can help you further enjoy the piece I have already finished.
0:01: We open with the selfie. I love the idea of selfies as a narrative device. I try to use it in as much of my work as possible. For one, it is a recent trend, only just entered into the Oxford Dictionary as an official word. The addition of selfies gives social awareness shorts like Shadow a more modern feel. The point of a selfie in this instance is simply to open empathy with our lead characters. For a lot of people, depression is something separate to them, a statistic that happens to other people. In opening the short film, with a popular trend, we begin to build the bridge between stereotypes. There is also the symbolism of memories that come with a selfie, but that is better explained at the end of the short.
0:09: The school setting was very important to the producer and writer of the short, Jason Collins. Again, we wanted to focus on this age group, because it tends to coast by unsupervised at this young age. College and school are distressing times for young people and a boiling pot of emotions that can give birth to depression. In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
0:17: Gabriel Sermon, playing the male character, hears the footsteps which signify the mental illness creeping in. It was important to us that it was the male who turned out to suffer from depression. For one, making the female character turn out to be the victim of a mental illness, might not do much to sway the public perception that depression is something that happens to a certain type of person. It can happen to anyone, of any age, given the right circumstances. We purposefully cast Gabe, because he looks like the opposite of what you would expect from a mental illness victim. He is in the prime of his life, bright-eyed, handsome. When the film opens and you see him, taking a selfie with a pretty girl, you almost want to be him. One of the key ideas behind the very first draft of the script was that we wanted this kind of stereotype to be the one with the invisible monkey on his back.
0:22: This is one of the most important moments in the short for me. As the footsteps begin to fill Gabe’s mind, a noise he is unable to tear out of his thoughts, he turns to his girlfriend, played wonderfully by Daisy Mackle, for help. He wants to not be in this situation alone. However, depression is a very lonely affliction. There is the briefest flicker, portrayed amazingly well from Gabe subtle acting prowess, where the character realises that the noise is in his mind alone. These are his demons to bear. Looking back, this one look could be one of the more quietly powerful shots in Shadow.
It is also worth commenting on how vital a role Daisy Mackle’s girlfriend character is in the short. A lot of the crew came from a background of depression, but there were some of us, who, while never experiencing the mental illness ourselves, had lived with someone who had. We wanted to touch upon how depression doesn’t just affect the person it is happening to, but, to a lesser degree, the people around them. While we understand that it is in no way as severe a struggle as the actual victim, it is a plight which King-Collins believed earned recognition. Here, the girlfriend, while not being able to hear the footsteps that Gabe can hear, she is so caught up in how affected her boyfriend is by his situation, that she is wrapped up in this moment of terror.
0:37: Note the holding of hands. There is a very important mini-arc between the two characters here, in terms of their connection to each other. At this point in the short, they are fighting depression together, a solid team. However, as the mental illness takes its toll, they stop holding hands and there is a undeniable lack of contact. While we can be there for those suffering depression, it is an isolating illness that means we can only do so much for them. It can also be read into this moment that depression destroys our close relationships with people around us.
0:48: They return to the main atrium, only to find it emptier than they left it. This could be seen as depression eroding their lives slowly over the course of time. While depression is a severe illness, it is also a patient one that creeps up on you over time. We also purposefully brought in extras for the opening seconds of the short to show how busy a school can be, but how isolated a person can be from it too. As the depression sinks in, Gabe’s character slowly comes to realise how empty a space it truly is.
0:57: This short is mainly spent with Gabe running, or trying to run from depression. He is trying to hide from his mental illness, outrun it before it can take him. Even victims can be fooled by the stereotype surrounding depression. In thinking that only weak people suffer it, accepting you have depression can be a tough pill to swallow. This is one of the main jobs of Shadow, opening up this wider reading of the illness. There are no such things as stereotypes to a mental illness.
1:07: There is a lot of spiralling in Shadow. The downwards spiral on the stairs, this spinning shot from underneath Gabe… the shot speaks for itself when it comes to the descent into depression that the character is now suffering.
1:44: The titular Shadow is our chosen symbol for depression. In other forms of awareness ads, depression is symbolised by a black dog, stalking the victim. We took this sense of depression manifesting itself as a following presence, but chose the more humanoid figure of a shadow. Harmless at first, but ever omnipresent and impossible to get rid of. How can you run from your own shadow?
2:03: We wrote in the fact that the Shadow never made a physical appearance in the short. He didn’t need to. Depression isn’t a physical thing and while the characters are terrified that the door will open and they will face their fears, that isn’t what depression is about. It is enough that you feel the fear, that depression has settled onto your mind.
2:07: One of the key images that made it through from the final draft was the idea of Gabe’s face being blacked out, even after the presence of the Shadow was gone. Producer Jason felt strongly about the concept of depression being a form of identity theft. This boy, full of life, has had his happiness stolen by mental illness. It was a strong message to close the short on.
2:11: And Shadow circles back to the selfie, a memory of a happier time shattered by depression. It suggests that as well as stealing the identity from Gabe’s character, it also also distorted his happier memories. He can never get back to that happy time.
All a little miserable, isn’t it? There is a lot of talk of never getting happiness back or fighting depression alone in this short. Of course, this is a short about the unknowing victim, the young boy in college who chooses to flee from his depression, deny its existence and soldier on regardless. In not reaching out and suffering alone, he has put himself into this position, a faceless Shadow of his former self. However, even in this stage of his depression, there is help. There is still a happy ending. Don’t suffer alone. Seek out help. Reach out to the services available to you. There is nothing weak about you or other victims of depression. Shadow hopes to smash that stigma and spread this message to a wider audience.