Austin Filmmaker Puts Personal Experience Into Rehab Drama
Lane Michael Stanley's Addict Named Hal shows the long road of 12 steps
Just because a movie isn't wholly autobiographical, that doesn't mean that a filmmaker doesn't pour themselves into it. Writer/director and UT alum Lane Michael Stanley drew on their own personal experiences for their debut movie, Addict Named Hal, which premieres locally at the Austin Film Festival this weekend. They said, "There hasn't really been a time in my sobriety when I wasn't living in a halfway house or working on this movie."
The film's roots are in tragedy, in Stanley's alcoholism after the sudden death of their fiancé in 2016, an addiction that sent them to a recovery house. Stanley's focused that trauma and growth through several formats: first an award-winning one-act play, then a short film, now a feature that Stanley filmed in early 2020 around Austin, with a crew drawing heavily from UT Radio-Television-Film students and grads. In this version, a young woman, Amy (Natalie L'Amoreaux), tries to suppress her grief over her father's death with booze, only to be sent to a recovery house. Deep in denial, that's where she meets recovering heroin addict Hal (Ray Roberts II). It's quickly revealed that while alcoholism remains the socially acceptable addiction, they're not really that different. Stanley said, "I have friends with DUIs talk about, oh, they would never do heroin, in a way that makes it sound like they're judging them, [but] it's the exact same addict behavior.
"It takes people a little longer to be forced to sober up from alcoholism," Stanley added. That's why the filmmaker's experience with 12-step programs was in meetings for heroin addiction, "rather than alcohol, because the other people my age were there for heroin, whereas most people aren't going to make it to a halfway house for alcoholism until their 50s, and their liver is giving out."
Addict Named Hal's change in medium, from stage to short to feature, has meant completely reconsidering the story, and how to make the audience connect with the characters. "Real-time plays are very popular for a reason," Stanley said. "We feel like we're spending time with someone, spending time in their lives shooting the shit. ... In film, spending time with characters when they're not talking is going to build a stronger connection than when they're chatting about trivialities." Real-time plays also lend themselves to a single location, and for Stanley, cinema is stronger if the audience sees characters in different circumstances. "If I know what someone looks like when they're brushing their teeth, or at a work meeting, or on a date, I'm getting to know who they are, the different faces that they put on."
Those faces change over time, just as the filmmaker is not the young playwright who first focused their grief and addiction issues into that play. Yet Stanley also described a distance from that old, raw, emotional immediacy. "It's not scratching at the wound for me. ... In the first couple of years, people would mention my fiancé and then they would feel bad for bringing him up, and I'd be like, 'This is constantly on my mind. You can't bring him up to me. This is just my constant reality.'" Now the experiences are "more compartmentalized, and recovery is a big and ongoing part of my life, so it's very different, working on the film."
Addict Named HalAustin Premiere
Sat., Oct. 23, 4:15pm, Rollins Theatre
Mon., Oct. 25, 9:45pm, Galaxy Highland
Austin Film Festival, Oct. 21-28. Find all our news, reviews, and interviews at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.