A complex story for a ‘Simple Life’

By HermineBloom

At the young age of 15, Columbia alumna Kamelya Alexan not only wrote a feature-length script, but she also traveled to Columbia from Niles North High School every day after school to

observe film classes.

In 2007, Alexan teamed up with some of her fellow Columbia colleagues, as well as working film professionals she met on the set of The Dark Knight, to make a 21-minute short film called One Simple Life.

Columbia alumnus Brian Soszynski met Alexan almost five years ago through a mutual friend while working on a music video together for a local artist. A year later, Alexan asked Soszynski to write a script about a troubled young man with schizophrenia based on the life of her

23-year-old cousin.

In the story, six years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Mark tries to come to terms with the constant loneliness and voices in his head as a result of the mental illness. He observes a mysterious girl and confides in his psychiatrist in an attempt to make some sense of his puzzled life, said Brian Soszynski, who plays Mark in the film One Simple Life as well as having written the script and executive-produced the film.

Alexan explained that her uncle, who works for the government, found out that his son had schizophrenia and challenged her to make a film where people could understand what young people with schizophrenia go through, while also serving as a coping mechanism for parents of children with the mental illness.

Accepting such a challenge, the two of them flew to California for Thanksgiving break in 2007 to visit the clinic where Alexan’s cousin stayed, in order to conduct research for the film. They spoke to doctors and patients and studied their behavior, Soszynski said.

The film was ultimately made possible by Alexan assembling friends of hers that she made in the Film and Video Department at Columbia, and striking up conversations with professionals on big budget film shoots, which she attributes to networking at the school. A teacher’s assistant, Jason Potash, offered Alexan a chance to work on The Express as a production assistant, which subsequently led to working on The Dark Knight.

“From there, I saved my money from the set from working long hours in the bottom of lower Wacker [Drive],” Alexan said. “I watched Christopher Nolan direct and he’s one of my idols. I met more production assistants who were just as ambitious as I was.”

George Hambach played the role of the psychiatrist in One Simple Life after Alexan met him on the set of The Dark Knight, in which he played a detective. Hambach has extensive experience in the business with over 300 TV appearances and 70 motion pictures under his belt.

One Simple Life took a total of six days to shoot. Alexan claims that being both the director and producer was no easy task.

“At times, insurance issues would come up on set and I would have to put on my producer hat,” Alexan said. “At times, I’d have to be super creative and put on my director’s hat. It’s very intense to be both.”

Though the rest of the 50-person cast and crew weren’t as closely connected to the subject matter, they believed in the spirit of the project enough to work creatively for free.

Michael Stanislawski, the film’s cinematographer, used several different tactics to put the audience in the perspective of the person with the illness.

“I really wanted to show the fragmented nature of the main character’s mind,” Stanislawski said. “To do that, I played with almost surreal lighting set-ups very dark, a lot of negative space. [It was] disjointed, confusing, I played with color palettes and shadows—things that may seem like they’re there, but they’re not actually there upon

further inspection.”

The film screening, which took place on Nov. 22 at Skokie Theatre, 7924 N. Lincoln Ave., validated the fact that the cast and crew did provide the audience with a clear depiction of a young person’s struggle with the illness when it came time for the question and answer section, Soszynski said.

“Four people in the audience that know this disease, a nurse and three other people with family members who have schizophrenia, raised their hands in the question and answer section to tell us how on point we were,” Soszynski said. “As soon as we heard that, we did our job. That’s exactly what

we wanted.”

The next screening of One Simple Life is Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. For additional information, visit OneSimpleLifeMovie.com.