Monday, August 4, 2008

The BBF Interview: Writer/Director Nick Gaglia (part II)

The BBF Interview: Writer/Director Nick Gaglia (part II)

click here for part one of this interview.

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.

Click HERE for part one of this interview.

AB: How did you get released? And when/how
was the program stopped?

Nick Gaglia: The program got shut down in '98 I believe, then
went underground and still took place illegally in people's houses.
I escaped one day on the GW bridge on the way to a host home.

When did you reveal to people working on this that the film
was based in truth?

Besides Kether, I never told anyone it was based on me.
I wanted the work to be about the subject and the text
and not exactly about me. After the film came out I made a decision
to make it public that it was based on me because I wanted
audiences to know that this is a real issue that's going on
and not just some movie I made up. So I think when the cast read
all the press on the film that's when they actually found out
it was based on my story.

What has been the reaction at festivals and during your
theatrical run been like, for general audiences
and survivors who have come to see it?

The film has been incredibly well received, especially by survivors.
It's really interesting though, when a general audience member
sees the film they're like, 'wow, this must be the severely dramatized
version of what went on.' And when survivors see it they're like,
'I really love the film but that's the watered down version.'
So I always laugh. I did water it down because I felt it would be too
tough to watch if I went all the way with it.
Especially for survivors, with PTSD and all.

Private screening of GW in New York;
many survivors in attendance:

Who did your music and sound design? They’re heads above

what we usually hear in low/no budget indies.

The music department was headed by John Presnell.

He was a supporter from very early on and brought on his crew

of talented musicians. Dale Chase was solely responsible for the

sound design. He's a one man army.

Was 2007 your first time at Slamdance?

How was the film received and that festival

experience overall?

2007 was my first time at Slamdance and I gotta say it was
one of the best experiences of my life! First off, when they say

you have to know someone to get into a big festival and it's

all political, that's bs when it comes to Slamdance. We submitted

a rough cut without knowing anyone on staff there

and they chose us based on the merit of our film.

After our first screening they had to stop our q & a because

it went on so long. And afterward I had a line out the door

of industry and various people wanting to speak with me.

And that's where we got approached for theatrical distribution

from Seventh Art. Afterward, I spoke with Dan Mirvish

(one of the festival founders) and he said that we were the first

'under-the-radar' narrative feature in the festival's 13-year history

to get offered a distribution deal after our very first screening.

How long did it take you to edit the film?

The editing was on-going as we shot the film. So, all in all,

it probably took about a year until we had picture lock.

That's mainly because we didn't shoot this in the traditional

way. We were very guerilla style in the sense that we shot

any free moment we had - nights, weekends, whenever,

until we finished.

Was the filmmaking process cathartic for the experience

you endured, or had you made piece with what had

happened to you before shooting? I found the film

surprisingly objective while still extremely personal.

The process was probably the most cathartic thing I've ever done.
On the 'objective' comment, I wanted to tell the story in the

least biased way possible and have the audience decide.

The details in the film were as it actually happened.

Tell us about the upcoming DVD release.

We were just picked up by Vanguard for DVD distribution.

Kether, George, and myself did a really fun commentary

together. It'll be available later on this year. And the soundtrack will

be available on iTunes this Fall.

What’s next for you as a director and/or writer?

I'm working on developing several projects right now.

One in particular is a documentary putting the teen

'tough-love' industry in context.

Please give us some words of wisdom.

All I can say is follow your passions no matter what.

That's all we have in this life.

"Over the GW" gets cited in a Congressional Hearing

on "Child Abuse and Deceptive Marketing by

Residential Programs for Teens."

-Adam Barnick


Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Thanks for spotlighting this filmmaker. we really need to support this kind of personal work.

Philip Laurette said...

There are thousands of people out here who have been through similar experiences; some good and some bad. Going through the program turned my life around but the ends may not justify the means. I just celebrated 25 years of sobriety and still can't bring myself to drive past the building where I was treated. I hope by bringing this issue to the mainstream, it will steer policymakers and individuals to view similar programs with an eye of skepticism and to regulate such institutions.

~Phil Laurette
(Straight Inc. Cincinnati; 83-85)

Adam Barnick said...

As a post-script, Over the GW is being released in the US on DVD on November 25!!