Monday, July 28, 2008

The BBF interview: Writer/Director Nick Gaglia (part 1)

The BBF interview: Writer/Director Nick Gaglia (part 1)

Nick Gaglia knew he wanted to be a filmmaker since he was 11,
when he picked up a camera for the first time and wrote, directed,
and acted in his first short film. He was the youngest kid in his
theatre group and studied acting at Professional
Performing Arts School in Manhattan.

His personal life, however, started to deteriorate
when he got into drugs at age 13. Subsequently, his mother
checked him into an unregulated “tough love” drug rehab
(KIDS of North Jersey) that would change his life forever.

The rehab boasted of being the only place in the world that
could keep kids safe and sober, but what really went on
behind closed doors was quite the contrary;
corporal punishment, humiliation tactics, sleep and
food deprivation, false imprisonment, and mind control
were daily routines for Gaglia and group members.
After enduring the abuse for 2 ½ years,
Gaglia escaped the rehab and went on to study filmmaking
at Hunter College.

After honing his skills with several short films, Gaglia made his first
narrative feature, Over the GW, based on his unique experience
in rehab. GW premiered at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival,
where it was the first “under the radar” feature in the festival’s
13-year history to get a distribution deal after its first screening.
The film went on to play theatrically in New York, Los Angeles,
Chicago, and Maryland and was received with enthusiastic praise:

“…Mr. Gaglia has produced a work that’s as much an act of emesis
as of filmmaking…the rehab drama is here to stay.”
Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times

“‘Over the GW” is an assured first feature by 25-year-old
writer-director Nick Gaglia.” – V.A. Musetto, New York Post

“Not to be missed” – Chicago Sun-Times

“shocking…the film accrues a learned sense of what it feels like to have
the very fibers of one’s soul placed under a magnifying glass.”
– Rob Humanick, Slant Magazine

“…emotionally potent…” – Joe Leydon, Variety

Trailer for "Over the GW"

AB: Tell me about the inspiration behind this film.

Nick Gaglia: When I was a teenager, unbeknownst to my mother,

I was admitted into an abusive cult-like drug rehab. I was on drugs
and needed help but this place wasn't helping anyone. It was actually
more traumatizing than anything else. Eventually after 2 1/2 years
of brainwashing and abuse I was able to successfully escape.

This topic of abusive 'tough-love' drug rehabs has been the

best kept secret for decades now. No film has really been done
on this topic in an honest manner before Over the GW.

You had always intended to go into filmmaking and

tell various stories, was a variation on your experience
always the obvious choice for a debut film?

Even when I was in the program I would look around and say

to myself, 'this would make for a great movie!' So I always had
it swirling around in the back of my head.

In your writing process, how did you decide what

to dramatize and what to leave out, what to heighten, etc.?

I knew there were signature aspects to the institution that

needed to be in the film. Other than that, the scenes and characters
were largely composites of real stuff in order to make the narrative work.

There was a short film version of this shot before the feature,

Yes. I shot a short film on Super 16mm film based on the brutal
intake scene from the feature.

Was your decision to shoot on 24p motivated by budget
or keeping in like with the aesthetic you were interested
in for the film?

Well, after I watched the short film I felt it looked too beautiful or
too 'Hollywood.' Because it was shot on super 16 it looked

very polished which was not exactly what I was going for.
I needed a look that felt like you were watching something real
go on before your very eyes. With the s16 what you got was
the feeling as if you were looking into a world, and
not necessarily as if you were a part of that world. The look I got
with the 24p was that rugged, documentary-like, real life feeling
I was looking for.

It didn't hurt either that it cost a fraction of the price to shoot

on 24p versus s16. But if I felt that s16 was the way to go
and there were no other options, then I would've held out
'till I had the opportunity to shoot on it.

Did you always intend to shoot on such an intimate scale,

or did you intend originally to look for investors
and go ‘bigger’?

Before I shot the short I intended to shoot it on a much bigger level
and look for investors. But, as I just described I quickly realized that
there was a more efficient and effective way of telling this story.

Was your visual style in terms of camerawork/coverage

largely planned in advance or improvised?

I'm very vérité terms of the way I work. I like to see spontaneous
and real things happen before my very eyes. I encourage my actors
to improvise within the text. That way nobody knows

where they're going, not even them. That's how you get the real stuff.
I'm same way with my camera work. Let's face it, when someone's
filming a documentary they don't know what's going to happen
from moment to moment so why should I. Or why
should the actors for that matter, either.
That's the way real life is. If you want to create

a real moment you have to treat it like real life.

How far before shooting did you cast your leads?
They had amazing chemistry; every family dynamic
felt authentic; and I noticed one or two of your
family members actually appear in the film.

We found George (Gallagher) first. I learned that he was

a very talented actor and originally conceived of him for
a different role - one of the staff members. I introduced
him to to my sister, who was a producer on the project,
and she said, 'what about him for the lead.'

I said, 'no way. He's too old to play Tony.' In the original screenplay
Tony was supposed to be a 14-year-old. George could do 17 but not 14.

My sister said if he could bring the audience on an emotional journey,
then that's all that really matters. And you know what, she was right.
I revised the screenplay and tailored it to George. All the rest

of the cast fell into place from there.

George Gallagher on BACKSTAGE with Barry Nolan

How did George and Kether come aboard as producers?

The most successful actors in the world are also producers and
I think these two realize that. They cared so much about the project
that they made themselves available in every way possible.

Tell me about working with Albert (Insinnia) in shaping
his character (leader of the rehab center). He’s the antagonist in a way, unless you count the entire center/system as the antagonist; yet he’s got so many layers to him.

He’s too human for me to hate him and yet I wanted

to kill him at points in the story.

It's easy for an actor to take a character like Albert's and play him evil.
But, it's much scarier and more realistic if you play the character
as if you believe what you're doing is the right thing

and you're justified. So, that's what I discussed with Albert

in terms of character.

People in real life whether they're doing the right thing or the wrong one,
they always justify in their head that what they're doing is right for them.

One of the most disturbing aspects to the treatment center
in the film, personally, was the forbidding of reading.
Was that something that really happened?
What’s the reasoning behind that??

That was 100% true. The reasoning behind that was to not have
any distraction from the outside world and only be focused on
the information that they were supplying you.
Clever brainwashing technique.

REAL TALK interview with director Nick Gaglia,
actors/producers Kether Donohue and George Gallagher

Visit the film's website at

Part II of this interview can be found here.

-Adam Barnick


Anonymous said...

wow. crazy. i'd really like to see this film.
great interview. can't wait for next installment.

RogerFranklin said...

The story of Nick Gaglia is very interesting. The story of his childhood was superb. This movie is very nice and the interview is great.
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