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 that phrase takes on new meaning by the end of the film. Initially most people think immediately of death when they hear the title. By the end of the film the title takes on a new meaning with a more positive sentiment. Rather than someone's dying last words, "Tell My Family I Love Them" becomes an action that empowers the main character of the film.
How similar to your real-life is this film?
The key events are pretty close. 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. For dramatic purposes and otherwise there are some differences.
In the film I play up the tension heading into that fateful weekend, but in reality, the weekend before was actually really pleasant. My relationship with my mom was better and my relationship with my brother was truly starting to blossom. It felt like we were just turning a page and then it all got cut short. I learned a lot and it created a lot of feelings for everyone that would be interesting to explore in a longer format.
How did your family take to you making this?
It's been hard for everyone to relive this experience, but everyone has still been incredibly supportive. My mom and my “other mom,” Kerry Auchard, 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 money for the film and so did my Grandma. To me this is as much a family endeavor as personal endeavor.
What were some of the biggest hurdles in making this project?
Just about everything except for the inspiration. I wanted to tell this story the “right way” but had zero idea what that 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 started by talking with a lot of people who were a lot smarter and more experienced than I am. Laura Kirk, Kevin Willmott, Sam Findlay, and Matt Jacobson are a few names that come to mind. I worked on an indie feature two months before shooting this, which taught me a lot about the process.
My creative partner, Gary Lange, and I had already created a strong working relationship and when I brought my friend Jake Honer on to produce it kicked everything into gear.
How did you deal with Thomas’ athletic requirements in the film?
Alex, who plays Thomas, had never hurdled and we needed it to be realistic for someone who was receiving college offers. Fortunately, Alex and I had similar enough body-types that I ended up stunt doubling him for that shoot day.
Why the reveal of the dead body in the opening parts of the film?
Initially I never showed that until halfway through. In those rough cuts, people were so focused on the fact that someone dies during the film that I felt like they were missing the real pay-off. I ultimately want this to be about Thomas’ relationship with the living and the actions he could take within that framework.
What was you motivation for using Super 8 film at times?
It was the perfect medium to capture those final sentimental moments. The film stock is 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.
How did you approach directing Laura and Alex in the 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.
What would you do differently?
I would’ve planned a more comprehensive shot list. I accidentally underexposed about half the 8mm film stock. 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 wouldn't change much. There's always room to perfect little errors, but as a whole, I learned invaluable lessons, met amazing people, and got to be a part of telling a powerful story.