Our interview with March TABOO speaker Michael Venn. Director of The Heroin Effect.
PKX: How did the idea of The Heroin Effect film begin?
Michael: With this film, it was an idea I had very quickly, and I knew that I couldn’t NOT do it.
Once I made the decision, suddenly every headline I was seeing, whether the Portsmouth Herald or the NY Times, was about the heroin epidemic. Growing up in Miami, I was used to that headline - but not in Portsmouth NH.
After I made the decision to do the film, I was walking back home from the coffee shop where I had seen all the headlines, and I ran into an old friend who told me his entire story of his heroin addiction. He totaled his car and went through sober living facility and was now 11 months clean etc.
My jaw just hit the floor.
I say that because this guy, he was the kind of all american kid that you would want to set your daughter up with or who you wanted your son to grow up to be like. He has a masters degree, he’s an athlete. And on top of it, he looks like he could have just stepped of the cover of GQ.
So for me, it just literally twisted the stereotype of what people think is a heroin addict on it’s head.
After that 5 minute interaction, I walked home and immediately wrote down two pages of what was to become the entire film.
I started to tell everyone I knew about it, and suddenly this momentum started happening. And that set me on the path toward this film.
PKX: What else did you learn in making this film?
Michael: The story of heroin addiction is not the story you “think” you know.
The story I heard over and over again is pretty normal. It goes like: “I blew my knee out, and my doctor gave me a 30 day prescription for Oxycodone and I got addicted. My doctor wouldn’t give me more, and I couldn’t afford it on the street, so I switched to heroin.”
Everything we think we know about drug addiction is totally wrong.
It’s not all about homeless lone addict on the street. It happens to your next door neighbor. It’s not the person you think it is. I want to begin to erase that stigma or “taboo.”
No one sets out to be an opiate addict. The path is not as obvious as you see in the media.
I wanted to stay away from the typical “needle-porn” type footage. That is not the story.
I wanted to tell it from a different angle and begin to change that perception so that people would start talking about it and not pretend that it’s something happening outside. It’s your neighbor. And there is help.
PKX: Where do you get creative inspiration from?
Michael: There are wonderful moments when you are shooting, when you realize “this is going to be great.” And it’s never the moments you think it will be. Documentary film usually happens by accident. Those happy accidents or screw ups. You have to be in the moment, always.
If real estate is location, location, location. Film is story, story, story.
PKX: Does your creative process meander around, or do you have a pretty clear idea?
Michael: I knew I wanted to change perception and do it differently. Everybody has a “vision” of what they think heroin addicts look like. I knew I wanted to change that.
The creative process just consumes you.
You wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. It gets to a point where you just HAVE to do it.
PKX: Tell us about your technical process of filmmaking.
Michael: I didn’t go to film school. I don’t know the “right way” to make a documentary. I just made a story that I would want to watch.
You have 5 minutes with a film - it either grabs you right away, or it doesn’t.
We got some great advice from Werner Herzog’s editor: just jump right into the story. Don’t need to lay it out in a montage - just dive in. The story will pull everybody in.
PKX: Talk to us about our global CreativeMornings topic of TABOO.
What is more taboo than heroin addiction?
It’s pretty taboo. People don’t talk about it.
But, the version everyone has in their head of this taboo is not the one I have seen or wanted to tell. The homeless addict you see on the street is at the very tail end of a story that started probably fairly harmlessly, who knows how many years before. They could have been helped if it WASN’T so taboo.
Think about other taboo topics - gender, sex, etc that nobody ever wanted to talk about a few years ago. But the new story seems to heading toward “Let’s figure out what unites us - not what divides us.”