Tell My Family I Love Them includes a diverse cast and crew. It shows the story of a multiracial lower-class family coming together in a time of tragedy. We are focused on accurately portraying grief, love, and loss in a way that can connect with audiences from all walks of life.
Tell My Family I Love Them shows the fleeting moments of a 4th of July weekend when high school athlete Thomas Higgins loses his older brother in a multi-fatal car accident. As Thomas processes the immediate grief of tragedy, he must come to terms with the strained relationships he has created as a result of his past behavior.
WHY THIS MOVIE?
Growing up during the rise of social media I’ve seen a shift in the way people connect with each other. We talk about the highlights and the good times yet sometimes these interactions feel fake and lacking in vulnerability. Above all else, Tell My Family I Love Them is about being vulnerable.
I lost my older brother at the age of 17 and in the same accident my best friend lost his brother. Our families came together to grieve and heal, and in the process, formed incredibly meaningful relationships that we might not have otherwise. So for me, this story is my way of expressing my utmost vulnerability on a topic that I know all too well yet rarely every talk about.
I was forced into a life-changing, painful, and horribly uncomfortable position at a young age. Although I will never get the chance to let my brother know what he meant to me, I have learned to live with new compassion going forward, even if all that means is simply telling my family I love them.
Shawnee Post: https://shawneemissionpost.com/2018/06/15/four-years-after-brothers-death-in-car-wreck-sm-east-grad-explores-grief-with-film-project-71994
University Daily Kansan: https://kansan.atavist.com/tell-my-family-i-love-them
10 QUESTIONS WITH THE DIRECTOR
Why the title?
I came up with the name Tell My Family I Love Them because it’s misleading in a way. It initially makes you think of death as if it were the last thing someone said to their family. Throughout the film, through the character of Thomas, we learn to appreciate “Tell My Family I Love Them” as a sentiment towards how we should treat those closest to us.
How similar to your real-life is this film?
The key events are certainly pretty cut and dry. I did run track. I did have a difficult relationship with my mom. My brother (and best friend’s older brother) did die in a car accident near a lake. His real name was Mark. The weekend before was actually quite pleasant in my life. One of the reasons I had such a hard time accepting everything was that my relationship with my brother was just starting to blossom; my summer had been so fun. That all got cut short and I learned a lot because of it.
How did your family take to you making this?
Everyone, and I mean everyone was supportive. In a lot of ways. My definition of family has grown a lot since the accident, and my family is closer than ever to me. My mom and my “other mom,” Kerry Auchard, actually did craft services on the film. The Millers let me use their lake-house. My old high school coach let me use the track. My Dad, Step-Mom and Uncle lent me some money to film and so did my Grandma. To me this is as much a family endeavor as personal endeavor.
I know a lot of them also had a hard time dealing with reliving this. I had family drop by set a couple times. It was always short-lived and filled with some tears. Emotions and memories come to the surface that you forgot were ever there. For me this project was all about understanding that those emotions are ok. I think my family knew that and were very supportive because of it.
What were some of the biggest hurdles in making this project?
Just about everything except for the inspiration. I wanted to tell this story and wanted to do it “right” but had zero idea what that even entailed. I learned a lot of hands-on lessons (some the hard way) about casting actors, hiring crew, raising money, navigating SAG, locations, budgeting, food.. basically everything we did was a first for me.
How did you prepare for doing something like this?
I talked with a lot of people who were a lot smarter, and more experienced, than I am. Laura Kirk, Kevin Wilmott, Sam Findlay, Matt Jacobson a few names that come to mind. I got a gig on a feature-length film in May which taught me a ton about working on a set like this. I also met a lot of my crew that way.
My creative partner, Gary, and had worked a lot together before this and it helped to have that trusting relationship in place. Early in the process I brought my fellow student, Jake, onboard to produce. He worked his ass off and put me in a position to where I could focus on the creative side. I couldn’t have done it without those support networks and now I have a lot of great friends because of it.
How did you deal with Thomas’ athletic requirements in the film?
Alex, who plays Thomas, nailed the part. The only issue was he had never hurdled and we needed it to be realistic for someone who is receiving college offers. Lavel Schley ended up playing Mark but was on the short list for Thomas because he had actually hurdled in the past. I was fortunate that Alex was a reasonable body double to me so I went ahead and stunt-hurdled. Lavel’s energy was such a perfect fit for Mark and I was so excited to be able to work with both of these extremely talented actors.
How did you approach directing Laura and Alex in the emotional hospital scene?
There was a lot of discussion before that scene. I knew, especially with Laura and the big reaction she displayed, we had limited takes. Laura was my acting professor before I shot this film so I already knew a lot about how she worked. I’m also thankful that we had a strong personal connection with the subject matter.
Why the reveal of the dead body in the opening parts of the film?
Initially I never showed that until halfway through. In rough cuts people were so focused on the fact that someone dies that I felt like they were missing the message. I ultimately want this to be about Thomas’s relationship with the living. It’s what he, or any of us, can control.
What was the idea behind the Super 8 montages?
It was the perfect medium to capture those final sentimental moments. My heart still aches a little bit every time I see the end credits, and I’ve probably seen them 1000 times. It’s so beautiful and dreamy, yet a little bit fuzzy too. If I had to describe how my last memories with my brother look, it would be like that.
What would you do differently?
Oh boy. Let me just make another movie about that topic. I would’ve planned a more comprehensive shot list. I accidentally underexposed a solid half the 8mm film stock and it was useless. I nearly lost an entire day of digital footage after not making a back-up copy. I made a LOT of mistakes, but together we did a lot of things right. At the end of the day I’d change nothing. I came here to learn and tell this story; I feel like both goals were accomplished.