In The Aftermath Of Suicide & Depression, These 3 Filmmakers Found A Way To Change The World
When I met Tyler Atkins and Ari Blinder about this time last year, I couldn’t know then that these two actors from different sides of the globe would be my partners in one of the most meaningful and influential experiences of our lives.
A journey through life and death, depression and joy, gift and sacrifice, the three of us have shared an unforgettable adventure — in an effort to create something real and authentic — art that demonstrates the mystery and the power of love.
The finished product is a short film that tells the story of two men wrestling with depression and suicide in very different ways — men whose unexpected friendship reminds them what makes life worth the struggle.
The film, titled THE LOVE EFFECT, is so much more than that now. Through these friendships, mirrored in the film, a mental health-centric organization and a movement for social awareness have grown. But let me go back to the beginning.
It all started with Tyler.
Tyler Atkins is one of those rare souls that few ever come across, but immediately recognize when they do. An Australian actor, surfer, raw food chef and yoga teacher, Tyler has a thirst for knowledge and spirituality and a compassion for all living things.
Raised on a surfboard, Tyler defeated kidney disease in 2010 after spending a year and a half alone in a hospital. Tyler has responded to heartache with accomplishment, to abandonment with soul-searching. He went on to win Australia’s Amazing Race, star in a TV show, and move to L.A. to continue pursuing acting.
A short time before making his move to The States, Tyler had faced three extraordinarily difficult life experiences in quick sequence. These haunting events became the primary source of inspiration for The Love Effect.
Tyler witnessed a woman jump off a bridge while he was driving. Her body landed directly in front of his car. Horrified, he froze and only just avoided running over her. Understandably, he spent the next week nauseated and traumatized by what he had seen.
Just when he was beginning to recover his equilibrium, Charlotte Dawson (an Australian actress and mother figure to Tyler) took her own life. She had nurtured Tyler in the early days of his acting career. He struggled with the shock and guilt of realizing how much pain she had been in — of his having had no idea what she was struggling with — for a long time.
Not long after, on a surfing excursion (which he considers a form of meditation), he saw a human body wash onto shore. All told, he was tormented. He wondered why he had to keep seeing these things.
As someone who believed in spirituality, Tyler’s answer was to be found in his own purpose. What was he supposed to do with these experiences?
With a sudden burst of inspiration — maybe he was the vessel for a story that needed to be told —Tyler scribbled a draft on a scrap of paper. Two men, each wrestling with loss, depression and suicide, find ways to connect with one another, even in their darkest moments. That connection is what saves them.
It was Tyler’s way of asking, “If you had a chance to stop someone from hurting themselves, how would you do it?” He asked that question onscreen to answer it in his own life.
It wasn’t until he started an L.A.-based acting class that he met Ari Blinder, with whom he translated his idea into a screenplay.
East Coast-born Ari is another singular character — exceptionally creative, but not satisfied with “acting to act.” He is driven to make a difference. At only 27 years old, Ari was asked to start teaching acting classes, while also appearing on shows like Homeland and The Mentalist, writing and producing, and working actively with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, in honor of his brother who was lost to Crohn’s disease.
Ari and Tyler quickly discovered each other’s integrity, talent, and shared desire to help others. Working together seemed like a no-brainer.
That’s when Tyler brought Ari in on THE LOVE EFFECT. Determined to see their script developed, they looked for the right person everywhere. Eventually, they found me.
After losing my father to an undiagnosed aneurysm and my 87-year-old grandmother to suicide, while under the stress of 70-hour work weeks, I needed a break, and time with family. So I went home for the holidays.
When I saw my sister, she immediately told me I just had to meet this friend of her boyfriend’s family. She described Tyler as “a sort of surf-yoga hippie who had just moved back from Australia to start working full time as an actor.”
When I met him, Tyler was slumped on the couch with an iPhone covered in homemade stickers: “PARIS, NEW YORK, LOS ANGELES, UNICORN.” He was typing away, in sweatpants, clashing socks, and shirtless — exposing various tattoos of rainbows, hearts and quotes. Still sussing each other out, we talked about what we had in common: film. Pretty soon, we realized we had similar views on cinema and wanted to make meaningful work: stories with “socially redeeming values,” as my Dad used to say.
About a week after we met, Tyler sent me the film script. It painted a beautiful, heartbreaking picture of a melancholy universe: A vast expanse of grey-green ocean and pale blue sky where two lost, lonely men sat in solitude and contemplated their purpose — if such a thing could exist.
The script was incredible. It spoke to something I felt resonated with everyone. It had been only a few months since I had talked my own father out of harming himself. His undiagnosed ailment had sent him into a deep depression. He held on until the end, but in my emotional state and with my existing commitments at that stage of film production,
I felt I lacked the necessary time and insight to turn this powerful screenplay into a film that spoke directly to such a difficult human experience. I didn’t want to participate halfway, and I didn’t have the resources or the courage to really commit
When I called Tyler to explain, he simply said, “I believe in you, what you can do and what we can do together. If you believe in something with your whole heart, wouldn’t you find a way to make the time?” And my answer was, “Yeah, actually, I would.”
That’s been my attitude my whole life. I had sacrificed and dedicated everything to make movies that mattered. So, rather than go through my spiel of reasons I couldn’t do it, I ended the conversation with a firm commitment: “Let’s do this.”
Before starting the project in earnest, I wanted to get to know Tyler and Ari, to understand their personal connections to the film. We met for the first time on New Year’s Eve. I had planned to attend two big parties in Venice, but told Tyler I could join him for some spiritual events earlier in the evening.
Our destination was a Kundalini yoga event where Tyler’s mentor Guru Singh was teaching. As a practicing Sikh, Tyler wanted to share this part of his world with me.
When we got to the event, the room was packed with babies, teenagers, adults of all ages — all in white. We chanted, we sang, we meditated. We looked into our neighbors’ eyes, hugged them and thanked them for being who they were.
It was my first yoga experience and it lasted over three hours. This was the first of many bonding moments for me and Tyler.
Later, we headed to his Sikh temple where I met some of his extended religious family and where I met Ari for the first time.
We spent the evening on the floor of the temple, praying, chanting, eating, and meeting people who, like Ari and I, were unaccustomed to this type of multi-cultural religious experience. It was profound. I was so present, I forgot about the other parties I’d planned to attend. Instead, I chanted and chatted until 2 a.m. Then, Ari, Tyler and I started to talk about the possibilities of The Love Effect.
The night was so cold, we could see our breath. But we stood outside the temple, not even feeling the chill, baring our souls to each other, and moving forward on the journey for which — I’d argue now — we were destined.
We spent six months workshopping, researching, developing and rewriting the script — often not even breaking for sleep. Eventually, we were accepted to several mental health seminars, where we began to share our cause on a global level.
Ari interviewed courageous individuals who had dealt with depression and suicide. I took the lead on the writing. We didn’t stop till it felt right.
We scouted locations that could convey the isolation and seclusion guiding the story. Rehearsing and developing our story on location in The Bay Area bonded us further. We homed in on the words and movements that would convey depression, suicidal feelings, and the redemptive power of love.
We returned to find out that Ari’s cousin had committed suicide, knitting us even more closely together, and deeply affecting Ari in his preparation for the film. We all kept trying — Ari more than ever — to answer the questions raised by the film. What is the point?
The day we were to start filming our Kickstarter video, a colleague of mine took his own life. I was devastated. For an eight-month stint, I saw Johnny Barba nearly every day. He was my confidante and true friend — as he was for so many. This blow drove home to us yet again how real this fight was. And the statistics back that up.
Every 40 seconds, someone in the world takes their own life. That adds up to one million deaths by suicide every single year. The number one cause of suicide? Depression.
As filmmakers, it’s both our privilege and our responsibility to tackle these incredibly important issues. What we’ve created, we hope, is a story of redemption and self-discovery.
My instinct that the content would resonate has, so far, proven accurate. Within four days, our Kickstarter campaign raised its entire budget.
With the film complete, we’re raising funds to recoup the film’s finishing costs and present our cause — To raise awareness on depression and suicide by demonstrating the powerful effect of love — worldwide.
But for us, this is just the beginning. What looked like a sequence of senseless tragedies and struggles have turned out to be signs. The universe led us together for this opportunity and this purpose. So, now, if you asked one of us, What is the point? our answer would be love.
This experience has changed each of our lives, and allowed us to positively impact the lives of people around us. The pain that shook our individual perspectives on destiny, faith and spirituality has come to define those concepts through our mission.
We hope our story will inspire you to make a change. The effect is love, and it can change the world.
To support The Love Effect, click here.
Photo courtesy of the author