"Write what you know." This is perhaps the most oft-repeated advice to anyone who's every hammered away at a keyboard.
So when Brittany Ackerman set out to develop a screenplay set in the city where she hangs out, one aspect of it was dominant: the drug and alcohol recovery industry. That provides the backdrop and plot line for the resulting film, Delray.
The roots of the film go way back to middle school at North Broward Prep in Coconut Creek. There, Ackerman, an aspiring
Ackerman went on to graduate from Florida Atlantic University's master's program in creative writing, and she currently teaches creative writing at A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. Stampone got into acting and filmmaking, teaching himself technique and starting a YouTube channel, Inspiration Through Entertainment, featuring a mix of funny and serious short clips. (Sample titles: "Gay Bro 2" and "Shakespearean Sock Puppets.") Soon, Ackerman began collaborating with him on animations.
Ackerman eventually shared with Stampone a short story she'd written called The Lost Boys, a nod to her love of Disney's Peter Pan. "I'm kind of obsessed with Disney," she says. (It has nothing to do with the Kiefer Sutherland cult film, which Ackerman has never seen. She was born in 1989, two years after it came out.)
"The story follows a 23-year-old named Randy Martinelli," says Ackerman. The New Jersey kid is "thrust into a 12-step program in Delray Beach and interacts with other members of the recovery community." Although the film's plot revolves around Martinelli's struggle to connect with people and his fight for sobriety, the backdrop of the film is just as compelling.
"Delray was renamed the recovery capital of the United States in 2007 because of the number of halfway houses that are here," Ackerman says. "There's more than anywhere in the country. There is Malibu, in California, but this is where most people come for treatment."
The recovery business is sort of hiding in plain sight, Ackerman says. "Most [tourists or residents] will say, 'We're going to Atlantic Avenue for a steak dinner' " – alluding to the city's main drag and its scores of notable restaurants – "but little do they know their waiter is trying to get off of heroin. These people all around as you're eating dinner tonight are just coming back from a meeting or have four years sober. That's where they live, and that's where they work."
Ackerman says that "for most of the 'research,' I would literally go to Starbucks on Atlantic Avenue and I would learn the language. I would tell them, 'I'm writing a movie about recovery,' and they would tell me this story. That's how I got some of the plot lines.
"We shot on Atlantic Avenue," remembers Ackerman. "In coffee shops, on the streets. We shot at my house. Extras were just people that were on the streets... the vaporizer store that gave us vaporizers for our shoots." She notes that "some of the actors and extras were in recovery and happy to have cameos in the film. Two people who were extras have since died from drug- and alcohol-related deaths — all the more reason that I think it's something we should talk about."
Production took about four months, five days a week, sometimes 12 hours per day. The budget was next to nothing. "Five hundred dollars," Ackerman says — mostly spent on buying dinners for helpers and a few props. Still, the film has a high production value.
Stampone already owned the camera gear (Canon 6D with multiple prime lenses), and his friend Ariana Gagne did all of the
Says Stampone: "I led our actors to encompass the minds of their characters by keeping them in the world of Delray by having a set rule: No one was allowed to call each other by their real names, only by their character names." Ackerman has a cameo, and Stampone played the antagonist character of Mike Grassi.
Antony Payne plays the main character. He's also a musician and scored the film. Stampone did all of the editing using Adobe Premier Pro. Its running time came in at 31 minutes.
The movie screened at the inaugural Hollywood Florida Film Festival and got accepted into the Reel Recovery Film Festival, to take place in Fort Lauderdale this fall. It can also be seen on YouTube.