"I: The Series" Exposes the Underside of Trauma and Healing

By Seth Sandronsky 06/21/18

We Q&A with filmmaker Mary Beth Eversole on trauma, the inspirations for her new series, and the challenges of making an indie film.

graphic with woman's face and text reading: I: The Series
The first episode takes us into the mind of MB, a traumatized person dealing with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, and PTSD from multiple traumas

Mary Beth Eversole is the creator and executive producer of I: The Series, in pre-production. The short film series explores the damage of trauma—from ordinary events to major catastrophes—and its impact on individuals as they learn how to heal. Episode 1 takes us into the mind of MB, a traumatized person dealing with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, and PTSD from multiple traumas. Using "the magic of mirrors, lighting, prosthetics, and CGI editing, we watch as MB's nightmare comes to life right before her eyes."

The Fix recently had the pleasure of discussing this project with Eversole. 

The Fix: What spurred you to pursue filmmaking?

Mary Beth Eversole: I am an actress, voice over (VO) artist, musician, and content creator. I have acted and taught and performed music since I was very young. Voiceover came after I had a traumatic car accident that ended my operatic and musical theater singing career. I had to re-evaluate how I would still have my voice be heard as an artist. It was a very troubled time for me that included PTSD and depression.

One of my student's parents suggested I try voiceover work and got me an audition at iHeart Radio in Northern Colorado. The producer signed me as a contracted VO artist that day! From there, I continued to do plays and began to study the art of acting in film, which is different from acting on stage. I love the pace of it, the fact that I could play several different characters within the span of a short time frame, and that I met so many amazing creatives and collaborators. As I booked more on-camera and voiceover work, I began to learn a lot about the behind-the-scenes work and what goes into making a film or TV show happen. I realized that my voice could continue to be heard through filmmaking, not only in characters that others wrote for me, but also in what I wrote for others and myself.

I have had a very traumatized life. I have battled anorexia, body dysmorphia, drug use, depression and PTSD. I have been hospitalized, worked through a treatment plan, been in continuous therapy, experienced 12-step programs, and done a lot of healing through music, film, theater, and other healing forces. People tell me my life story is inspiring to them and that I should share it. I realized a few years ago that it was through filmmaking that I would be able to do that and inspire others to know they are not alone and they can heal.

Describe some challenges that you encountered at the start.

I will say I encounter challenges all along the route during the process of making a film or TV series as I think most filmmakers do. Many of the challenges have always come from funding or lack thereof. As an indie filmmaker, funding is usually scarce unless you know someone with deep pockets or have an in with a studio, which most indie filmmakers do not.

The same challenges are popping up again for "I", the film series I am currently working on. We need $65,000 in order to film and edit the first episode of "I". Why? Because we are paying our crew what they should be paid and the film involves many prosthetics and computer generated imagery (CGI) effects, both expensive ticket items for a film. If we were a full feature film being created by a studio with the same storyline, it would cost upwards of $455k and that is on the super low end. Other feature films that have had similar amounts of prosthetics and CGI with studio backing have been around the $15 million range. Therefore, in the grand scheme, $65,000 is not much, but to a small indie film like us, it is a huge mountain to climb.

While we are doing great at building our crowd, it has been more challenging to find those funds. Currently we are running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and we would love to have more people head there to make donations. The cool thing about crowdfunding is the donations do not have to be huge. While it will help us to get a few $1,000-$10,000 donors, the majority of the donations will come from people who donate $15-$100. Social media and direct message shares are also super helpful to get the word out and find more backers. If we do not reach our goal through Indiegogo, we will be applying for grants, but those are very competitive and the likelihood of us getting much funding that way is very slim.

How did you arrive at the idea for the "I" film series?

"I" was originally just one short film, based on my personal life experience with trauma and how it led to anorexia, body dysmorphia, depression, and PTSD. My traumas include growing up with a parent with an undiagnosed mental disorder, boyfriend emotional abuse as a teen, two sexual assaults, being diagnosed with 7 major food allergies and at least 15 other food sensitivities that put me in the hospital multiple times and led to organ failure, and two major hit and run car accidents, one that ended my music career as I knew it. I have had more trauma, but those were the major ones that resulted in the mental disorders I still deal with.

I was watching the Netflix film To The Bone and I realized that this was the first time a dramatic film or TV show had gone this in depth with what actually happens with someone suffering from an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. I also realized this film, along with others about the same subject, still only focused on the external symptoms, what people see on the outside. While the film went into the thought process of an eating disordered person a bit through actions and dialogue, it still only skirted it. Furthermore, I realized it did not talk much about what led to the eating disorder.

When the film was done, I had an overwhelming urge to write down my experience in script form, and to give a true inside account of what happens in my head when that "critical voice"—or as I call it ED—takes over my ability to function as a human being. The script was there, all there, instantly.

I wrote it down. [Then] I read it, and read it again, and I realized this was how I was going to inspire others to seek help, heal, and how I might possibly be able to prevent these mental disorders caused by trauma from happening in the first place. From there I showed it to a good friend and director, Brad Etter, because I knew he needed to be the one to direct it. His eye for cinematography is beautiful and I knew he would instantly understand what I was going for. He said yes immediately. After that, we began cobbling together the crew heads to come up with ideas for how we could get this film made and what it would cost.

All along the way, we have had doors opening and people who I never thought I could get to come on to this project attach themselves to it. In fact, it was Lori Alan, celebrity voiceover artist, actress, and the beautiful voice of episode 1 for this film series, who suggested I consider turning it into a series. I decided that instead of making it a series about just my life, I wanted to make each episode about a different trauma and set of repercussions and healing forces based on true stories from what our fan base shared on our social media pages.

Which film or films have inspired you and why?

The films that came out this past year and addressed true life events and movements in a dramatic way, like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and To The Bone, as well as TV shows like Chicago Med and Law & Order: SVU that take headlines and dramatically interpret them, have influenced me. My film is based on true stories, but told through dramatic film, which gives us the liberty to construct the inside of the mind and interpret how it is seen through the eye of the traumatized person artistically while still getting the story and the message across.

My director, Brad Etter, and my director of photography, Terrence Magee, are both using inspiration for the look of the film from the Guillermo del Torro films The Shape of Water, Pan's Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak.

What surprised you the most in the filmmaking process?

First, how hard it is to fund a film. It truly is very hard! However, I think what has surprised me the most with this project has been the outpouring of support I have received from the people who are now crew, core team members for our campaign, and just fans of what I am trying to do by bringing awareness to trauma and how we heal from it, working to break the stigma surrounding these issues. I have received countless messages from friends and family saying "keep going, what you are doing is amazing." I have received more specific messages from friends and colleagues who are or were in the social work and psychology fields that have given me advice, as well as words of encouragement saying they have been looking for a project to do this for a long time. We even have interest already from two health clinics who want us to share this series in their clinic when it is made!

Find more info at Indiegogo and connect on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

(This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.)

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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento-based writer for Capital & Main, Comstock's magazine, CounterPunch, Monthly Review, MultiBriefs.com, The Progressive Populist, The Fix and The Sacramento Bee. He won the 2013 Sacramento Press journalism open award. Read his writing at http://sethsandronsky.contently.com/.