Writer-Director Dan Jenski Talks About His First Feature Film ADDicted

It occurred to me while watching ADDIcted, written and directed by Dan Jenski, that there are not many films these days that deal with the kind of prescribed drug dependency that hovers in and out of young lives, potentially ruining their futures. ADDicted, the clever title indicates the Adderall drug, centers on college students are those around them, family, friends – and how they are all affected in different ways by this common problem.

A fine cast, including familiar faces Starring Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13) and Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal) providing veteran support, young Luke Guldan takes the lead role, with Lauren Sweetser, perhaps the stand-out here given her final act story-curve. ADDicted also plays strong hands towards other legitimate issues, the high pressure of education, the importance of a hard-worked career, painful relationships ending, parenthood – all seemingly balanced without all the melodrama. Dan Jenski took some personal experiences of college into his film here, shooting on location at his former college, University of Missouri. The writer-director kindly spared me some ADDitional time to throw some questions at him.

Drew Dawson (Luke Guldan) holding his forehead while studying

So, ice-breaker, did you get an opportunity to see Dunkirk in IMAX?

I have not! I’m definitely interested in checking it out, but going to a theater to see a film
just isn’t my thing, especially nowadays in the digital era. The last movie I saw in a theater, outside of a film festival, was Django Unchained in 2012.

Wow. So, how much do you follow or take notice of the awards season that is now warming up?

Not as much as I used to. Back in the day when acting was my main pursuit, it meant more to me. I used them as sources of motivation.

And did you write creatively as a child and growing up?

Nope. I actually hated writing growing up! It was too long of a process. Still is for me at times. I work extremely fast in my own head and don’t need to write a lot down; I can just draw upon it when needed. I don’t write anything out until it becomes a necessity. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the writing process and the infinite possibilities that come with creating ideas and stories out of thin air; I just procrastinate like heck before I put fingers to the keyboard.

Drew Dawson (Luke Guldan) and Kate Dawson (Kathleen Quinlan) in kitchen, still 2

Which filmmakers did you admire? And what are some of your favorite films?

In the early ’80’s it was all [Steven] Spielberg and John Hughes movies. In the 90’s, it was [Martin] Scorsese, David Fincher and Oliver Stone. The 2000s were when I started considering filmmaking as a career and my focus shifted to show runners like David Simon (The Wire) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad). I want to be running my own show, which is like filming numerous movies back to back to back.

With movies, where do I even begin? The Shawshank Redemption, Jaws, Seven, Cool Hand Luke, Goodfellas, Scarface, Indiana Jones, Evil Dead, Weird Science, Office Space, Dumb and Dumber… So many genres!

Who inspired you to pursue your own journey? Both filmmakers and people in your life.

While I’ve found various filmmakers inspiring, it was me, myself and God that actually made it happen. I’ve always rejected this idea that we’re all supposed to have the same cookie-cutter life. We go to school, go to college, find a career, get a mortgage, start a family, retire at 65… Even as a kid I knew there was more to life.

When I got to college, my plan was to go to law school, but I wasn’t in love with that idea. My mom was, but not me. I started taking acting classes to fill some credits and that’s when I knew I had found what I loved. I hid my love of acting from friends and family because I knew I’d be looked down upon.

With actual filmmaking, everything changed for me when I watched The Wire on HBO. David Simon headed that series and it was so real — not only the drug and cop game but gritty, real life in general. It really showed me that writing/creating is limitless and made me up my game as a writer.

Ashley Ross (Lauren Sweetser) and Kristin (Taylor Black) studying, still 2

So ADDicted. I found the film handled the subject of young addiction very well. What did you know about this kind of problem with prescription drugs going into this project? And any personal experience?

First of all, I’m glad you feel this way about how the film portrays addiction. I purposely didn’t want to shove an agenda down anyone’s throat or be too on-the-nose, so I’m happy you got what I was serving. The problem with prescription pill abuse, especially Adderall, is that it’s cultivated in a system that allows for addicts to be created. Western medicine is for-profit meaning if something isn’t wrong with you, they’re not making money. And they need customers. Throughout Western medicine you have pushers, promoters and enablers — from doctors and Big Pharma to politicians and lobbyists. Even teachers are financially incentivized to refer kids to psychiatrists! It’s so sad how easily people are bought. I’m not saying all people in this industry are that way but as long as enablers exist, prescription pill abuse will continue.

I fortunately was never put on pills. I was almost put on Ritalin as a child for my behavior. I knew kids on Ritalin and I was also in college when Adderall burst onto the scene. I saw people faking symptoms for a prescription, selling it, buying it and freaking out whenever they ran out of it.

How do you go about writing a screenplay like this, balancing the importance of education, family, health, relationships without being too heavy-handed?

It was definitely a challenge to balance everything. It came down to trial and error in order to find the right mix. You try everything until it all makes sense. I tell people you can put anything you want into a script or into a movie, as long as it makes sense. Also, ADDicted is character-driven, as opposed to plot-driven. It would’ve been very easy to create a drug-induced rager of a film, but that’s simple thinking to me. We’ve seen that before in cinema. I want to look at the actual problems that lead to drug abuse so I portray real people in real moments. When you do something real, it kind of writes itself. You know what your characters will and won’t do and everything falls into place.

Kate Dawson (Kathleen Quinlan) talking to Drew Dawson (Luke Guldan), still 1

Some familiar faces in ADDicted, tell us a bit about the casting process.

There were two parts to this process. One was the casting call we put out via our casting director, which is how we found our lead actor, Luke Guldan as well as some  phenomenal talent for the supporting roles.

The second part was contacting a specific actor’s team to see if they’d be interested. For the role of Kate, played by Kathleen Quinlan, we originally reached out to another actor who had accepted the role. This actor’s manager also repped Gil Bellows and Lauren Sweetser so it was a very streamlined process. On day four of filming, we were told that the actress who was set to play Kate had to back out due to personal matters. We were given a list of actors who were also represented by the same agent, we chose Kathleen, and boy did she bring an element all her own to this character! One of the best things that happened to the movie and totally serendipitous!

Directing the picture, what difficulties did you face, and how did you overcome them? Like, which scenes were more challenging than others?

The biggest challenge to me was getting the cast and crew to trust that my team and I knew what we were doing. This was my first-ever feature, but I never went to film school and there were people working for me who had way more set experience. Also, when you film on location in the middle of the country, there’s added pressure to make everyone comfortable and feel at-home while on the road. There was never one huge difficult task or undertaking. It was figuring out how to handle the pressure while being a leader. If you’re the leader and are stressing out in front of everyone, what kind of environment does that create? This was the greatest learning lesson in handling drama, egos, hospitality and efficiency.

The only scenes that were challenging were the ones we had to alter and even improvise because we ran out of time for a given day. To the actors and crew involved: Holy crap we nailed them!

Drew Dawson (Luke Guldan) and Professor Jeff Mueller (Gil Bellows) talking in school hallway, close up

With streaming and video on demand growing all the time, how do you think these platforms are having a positive effect on the film industry?

For the individual filmmaker, it’s the best time to be one. Never before has this amount of exposure been at our fingertips. For instance, ADDicted was accepted onto Amazon Prime, starting December 3rd. Do you know how much exposure we just gained from that? We will soon be inside millions of people’s living rooms. Anyone can watch our film that has a Prime membership and most people do. You can’t put a price tag on that.

So what do you have planned next?

I’ve been developing new films as well as a scripted series that has become my dream project. Scripted series are where it’s at. They allow for so much more character development and story arcs compared to the traditional two-hour movie. I can’t elaborate too much about the subject matter but if you like what I did with ADDicted, you’re going to love what’s next.

I also want to have more of a teaching role in this industry. There are so many outdated ways of thinking and doing, as well as an overall lack of efficiency. I want to revolutionize the film set, the filmmaking process and even film schools. There’s a saying in this industry, “If you can’t, teach” and I’m afraid that too many teachers at film schools and acting coaches have never walked the walk, but they teach and collect a paycheck. These are the people who are supposed to be leading the next generation of filmmakers and thinkers?

So whether it’s through my projects or me directly teaching people as I gain more experience, I want to show everyone the power of thought and that anyone can accomplish whatever it is they want to do. That’s my next thing.

ADDicted was released on DVD/VOD on October 3rd.

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