One of the high points of my role with Keep Oregon Well is that I’m given the opportunity to meet and collaborate with so many great people doing their part to fight the stigma of mental illness. Jason is one of those people. I was able to screen the film DONOVAN and I was extremely impressed with the way the film portrayed Donavan’s struggle with bipolar disorder and the complexities of balancing that with his professional and personal lives. This is a film that should be viewed and talked about and I’m glad we at #KeepOregonWell have a platform to share the talents of people like Jason. – Sai Stone – Keep Oregon Well
Thanks for chatting with me today. For people who may not be familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about who you are?
Absolutely, and thank you for having me, I’m excited to speak with you. I am a Texas-based filmmaker, musician, writer, husband, and dad. I’ve just released my first full-length feature film entitled DONOVAN—the story of a recently divorced advertising director who tries to be a good father to his young son while being torn apart by his own bipolar disorder. It is a raw and gritty look at what it is truly like to live through bipolar disorder and how it affects the individual and their relationships. The good, the bad, the ugly…the entire gamut.
You said filmmaker, but what specific role, or roles, did you contribute in the making of this film?
Haha..I think the shorter answer would be what roles did I not contribute. I wrote, directed, produced, played the lead role of Donovan…I was the janitor, the cook, my own intern, you name it, I had my hands on it. I even worked a bit on the soundtrack, it’s huge, including the original score and songs, the soundtrack has 26 songs on it!
That’s a lot of jobs to cover. Sounds like quite the passion project. Keep Oregon Well is a coming out movement for people with lived experience of mental and behavioral health struggles. What moved you personally to lean into this work and subject matter?
At the tail-end of the 90s, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Finding a sense of “stability” was a huge hurdle for me. Actually, it was hell. I suffered immensely, the ups and downs, the emotional back and forth. The biggest issue for me though was that I never took the condition seriously until 2007 when I had a massive psychotic episode that probably should have put me in the hospital. My face was black and blue by my own hand, another relationship destroyed, I was financially broke and physically, emotionally, and mentally broken. I had nothing with the exception of my then 3-year-old son. But, it was in that darkness that I finally realized I had to change or my little boy was going to grow up without a father. That thought broke my heart, but also made me find my reason to take my condition seriously, find a doctor that would work with me, and get up the next day, and the next, and so on until things started making sense again.
As my life began to look better, I found myself wanting to lend my own voice to this idea of advocacy for mental health and helping others make sense of their own journeys. For me, writing my story was part of it, but allowing others to really see it, to expose myself visually as well as emotionally might, in my mind, reach more people from the perspective of being more relatable. From day one, it was always about reaching others in their own struggles and letting them know, you’re not alone, it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s okay to ask for help. I wanted to bring a story of inspiration, but walk you through hell to get there.
When I finished writing the story, one thing kinda led to another. I was budgeting what was needed to make the film, finding the talent in terms of crew that I thought would do the story the greatest justice. We created a spec-trailer to shop around to investors, got incredibly lucky to find some, not at all overnight, mind you, but that’s a completely different story, haha… Next thing, I’m casting, hiring more crew, setting locations, directing, playing Donovan himself. It was quite the whirlwind but so much fun, and challenging, and rewarding. I worked hard on this film, but I could not have made the movie you saw if it weren’t for all the people that jumped on board to help me. Every one of them believed in the story and the “why” we were doing it. This project took much longer than other projects they were working on and every single person stuck with me through it. It meant the world to me, to see that kind of support. To know every one of them had my back and they all knew where the story came from. It was magical.
How were you able to juggle so many roles?
I think part of it was truly the incredible support of everyone else involved in the project. There was a collaborative spirit among all of us, and again, the firm belief in why we were making this film. Everyone went above and beyond what they’d normally consider “their job” on this, so it wasn’t just me doing more than one role. My wife and kids as well. Their constant support allowed me to feel not only free, but able to stick with it and tackle this thing.
There’s a sub-context around superheroes and their powers throughout the film, and without trying to sound all “delusions of grandeur,” I think another reason I was able to do so much is somewhat attributable to my being bipolar. I’ve kinda found my own “superpower” within where I could shift gears from the day’s rewrites for a scene if someone couldn’t be there (some funny stories around all that), to directing out the scene, to jumping into character and playing out the scene, whatever was needed for the day. I found a way to kinda navigate through my brain to different positions and execute them as needed. I felt really weird about saying that until I talked through it with my doctor—when I’m not on my meds, I’m worthless, I can hardly function, but when I’m consistent to my treatment and my daily accountability, I’m unstoppable. I did my part in making this film while taking care of myself. The mania didn’t do it, the depression didn’t stop it, I did this…my part of it anyway. And if I can take control of my own bipolar disorder and do something like make a friggin’ movie about it, there are others out there with the same abilities, you just gotta take care of yourself first.
You mentioned portraying the main character of this film which is based on your own experiences with bipolar disorder. How was that? Essentially playing a character through such an intense array of conditions, many of which you’ve probably been through before?
Ah, haha… it was therapeutic, cathartic, scary as hell, and forgiving. Going back to what I said about exposing myself visually, I also wanted to be absolutely honest and authentic to the subject-matter. I opened myself up completely when writing the story and I knew that no one would be able to portray this character quite like I could, largely in part because so much of it is based on my own life struggles. At the same time, I also knew if we were to cast a known-actor as the lead role, Donovan as a character would lose a lot of his anonymity. No one knows who the hell Jason Bee is, but there is a great advantage to putting him in this particular lead role—Donovan then becomes the “any man,” he could be your brother, your neighbor, the guy down the street, this person going through all this turmoil could be anyone, even you. Combine that with how relatable the story is and I think that’s a big reason the film is having the effect it is on audiences. I’m blown away by the reactions I get through Facebook, Twitter, email, or in person. Without breaking my arm patting myself on the back, it really is a special kind of film. I’m fortunate to be a part of it.
So what are your plans in getting the film out there?
The film is currently available on DVD and Digital Download through the website at https://donovanthemovie.com/. We’ve had a few local screenings here in Dallas, but not a full theatrical push. In terms of distribution, I’ve been doing everything on my own, which has been a special kind of challenging, but people are seeing it. In fact, our conversation now has a bit of perfect timing associated with it. Earlier today, I launched a new promotion for the holidays. Anyone can go to our website or the Facebook page and see the first ten minutes of the movie absolutely free. If you like what you see, we’ve made the DVDs and Digital Downloads of the film available for only $10 each. They’re normally $17.99 and $19.99, so now is a really good time to grab a copy!
What would success for this film look like?
I think this film is already working its way toward its own success. The stories I hear in how it is impacting people that are watching it are so motivating. It’s amazing to see so many people “get it” and to feel compelled to do something for themselves after watching it. I got an email the other day from a guy who told me that the film “galvanized” him to finally reach out for help. I had to look up galvanized because all I could picture was the old school Transformer, Galvatron. But that kind of stuff is powerful and I think it speaks to the message people receive from this film. I had another audience member in one of our screenings who is a psychiatrist. He told me that what we’ve done with this film, that he’s never seen before, was to take him, and professionals like him, “beyond the walls of the patient,” and to witness the side of them that professionals don’t see in their offices. I’ll never forget, he said, “We only see people when they want help. This helps me see them when they don’t.” Even Andy Behrman, who is a highly and well regarded advocate in this space of bipolar disorder, said that the film explained much of the pain and shame he had hidden around his own bipolar disorder. When you and I first spoke in our initial introduction, you mentioned how you could relate to so much within the film and the story of the “father/son” dynamic was a powerful one for you. For me, the success is in the stories beyond this story. DONAVAN itself is so much bigger than me, it’s really the story about so many others. I just got to be the lucky one to tell it.
How can people get involved?
Check out the first ten minutes of the film. If you like what you see, order a copy and watch the rest. If the film impacts you in any way, tell your friends—social media or wherever you hang in real life—not only about the film itself but how it affected you, what you’re going through. That’s how the conversations get started, that’s how we work at ending the stigma associated with mental illnesses in general. Slapping a rating or review on IMDb wouldn’t hurt either!
Behind every labor of love lives a big vision. In the end, what do you hope the creation of Donovan accomplishes?
At the end of the day, we all struggle with something—whether that’s a mental illness, a learning disability, physical shortcomings, our sexuality, addiction, or even being a scorpio hahaha… We all deal with something that we must fully embrace in order to give 100% of ourselves to our loved ones. And that’s what DONAVAN is about, and if people recognize that from this film and can reflect within themselves and take something from it that gives them some hope or just another perspective around mental health they hadn’t thought of before, then I’m doing my job. By the end of this film, you should need a deep breath and a cigarette, or the equivalent for non-smokers such as myself, but you get the idea.
Anything else you would like our readers and followers to know about this project before we go?
I would just quickly add that the soundtrack is phenomenal and definitely worth checking out. It tells a story all on its own outside the film. I found some incredible musicians and bands to put on this sucker. Peter Lobo wrote such a superb and intense score. I hand selected the songs to include on the “songs” side of it to speak to people from a mental health and behavioral perspective without making it too obvious while playing within the movie, but when you listen to the soundtrack outside, it makes complete sense. For example, there’s a song on there called “Superman” by Ghost Ovell, which is an epic love ballad from the perspective of “Mania” calling out to its bipolar victim who is currently in a state of depression and offering that person promises of false hope—which is what mania does to us. There’s an inspirational tune called “Stand When You Fall,” that’s gotten some great attention as well. Just a couple out of twenty six to mention. The soundtrack is only available as a digital download and absolutely worth listening to over and over.
Also, just thank you Sai. Not only to you for taking the time to chat with me, but also to all the readers and followers for taking some time to read about this project. It’s been, like you said, a labor of love—multiple years labor of love—and I just hope DONOVAN connects with people in a way similar to how it connected with you.
Direct link to trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2xi97LpJTE
Preview link to Superman from the soundtrack: https://donovanthemovie.com/superman/
Audience reaction clips from the premiere screening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcJ34rznCP4