How My Mental Breakdown Led to Me Making a Horror Film

HYPOCHONDRIACCredit: KWPR
My terrible breakdown led to my first feature film! 

This post was written by Addison Heimann.

In the third title card of Hypochondriac, a movie written and directed by yours truly (hi! I’m Addison! I’m a kooky boy!), it says “based on a real breakdown.” Well, spoiler alert, it’s mine!

I mean, I hope this is implied, but you never know. And now you do! Long story short, I lost full function of my arms after an injury at work, convinced myself I was dying of ALS (thanks, Google!), and while all of this was happening, my mother was leaving me voicemails telling me not to trust my friends. This confluence of events caused me to crack.

So that’s how the movie came about. I wrote a bad draft while my arms rested on pillows, ice packs on them both, and wrote the first inklings of what would eventually become the movie. It wasn’t until I accepted I was trying to write a movie about my inherited trauma from my mother that I realized it into a working draft.

I met my producers in Wilmington, North Carolina, at a festival called Cucalorus (one of the best, if you can, I highly recommend going), we pulled together our resources, got the funds, and boom, the pandemic hit.

The Pandemic Kinda Helped 

But that was weirdly fortunate for us because we got to spend a year and a half in pre-production. I cast my actors early, we worked and hung out and discussed, and by the time we all got on set—we were extremely prepared. We shot on an Alexa Mini with Kowa Anamorphics, a pretty extensive zoom lens, and a lens baby.

The Kowas allowed us to have these wildly funky rounded edges that were perfect for a movie about losing your mind. With them, on top of the lens baby for dizziness sequences, and the zoom for tension building, we had an arsenal of tools to portray a mental breakdown in an honest way.

Also having one of the best cinematographers out there, Dustin Supencheck (hire him, you won’t regret it), really allowed us to be as creatively "out there" as we wanted to be.

Hypochondriac Credit: KWPR

What Was Production Like? 

The experience shooting it was honestly, surprisingly, extremely smooth. It’s a testament to my producers John Humber and Bay Dariz (hire them, duh), my AD Lizzy Walker (hire her), and truly the whole team (hire them, are you sensing a trend??). People usually ask if it was cathartic for me, and I say yes, but with a few caveats. It wasn’t one moment that I went “Aha! I’m cured!” Very much the opposite.

The purpose, I think, of this film, is that you’re never really okay, but with hard work and discipline, you can learn to live with your mental demons. There was one moment on set where I had a panic attack during a pretty emotional scene. I left for a moment to collect myself, came back, and the whole crew looked at me, wanting to make sure I was okay. We all took a collective deep breath together and continued shooting.

Those small moments. Those small moments. I’ll never forget and am truly grateful. 

Hypochondriac Credit: KWPR

What Happened in Post? 

After we shot, Mike Hugo (again, another fantastic human), edited on Adobe Premiere. We whipped up a picture lock in 10 weeks (after several test screenings in front of very lovely humans), and six months after we shot, we finished the movie and were accepted into SXSW. Now, a year after filming, we’re in theaters. 

Film is a collaborative art form. I would not be where I am today without the experts in every field standing next to me working diligently. Making this feature was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

And I can’t wait to do it again.     

Addison Heimann is a queer filmmaker currently residing in Los Angeles, California. His shorts and web series have played the Chicago International Film Festival, Fantasia, Inside Out, AtlantaInternational, Nashville Film Festival, Outfest, and New York Television Festival, among others. They can also be seen online via Dust, Omeleto, Film Shortage, and Revry. A genre nerd, Addison spends his time binge-watching anime, reading comics, and scouring the international feature section on Amazon for queer genre films to add to his Letterboxd watchlist. His goal in filmmaking is to elevate and empower queer characters in the genre space where those stories are sorely lacking.

Hypochondriac is his directorial debut.

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