Denise Harrison tells us about the incredible journey that led to award-winning short film, This Is Depression.
I never saw myself as a filmmaker. I’m a writer, pure and simple. I run an online blog, write features for magazines and causes I believe in, and, up until a couple of years ago, I was quite happy simply just doing that. Putting my thoughts into words, my words into sentences and weaving those sentences into a story that people could read and hopefully relate to. Writing is my passion, because long story short, writing helped to save my life when I didn’t have anything else to cling to.
I was living in a hostel, and newly in recovery, after a horrendous year that put my life into freefall. I was living in a strange town with strange people and I needed a way to deal with that, which didn’t involve me propping up a bar and drinking myself unconscious every night. And so, after taking advice from a very wise friend, I picked up a pen, poured my heart into a blog, and the rest, as they say, is history. I wrote constantly. About nothing – about everything and, as my confidence grew, I started to post my work online. I wrote a blog called ‘This is Depression’. I wanted to document just how low and how lost I had been during that horrendous time, and so I curled up on my bed, poured my heart out onto the page and then I posted it to Twitter. I had a pretty loyal following already, but ‘This Is Depression’ raised the bar. My Twitter feed went crazy, and soon I was receiving emails and private messages from all over the world, as total strangers opened up and began sharing their own stories of heartbreak and depression with me.
The idea for a short film began to form… it was absolutely brilliant except for one tiny detail: I’d never made a film before.
I had the plot and the storyline, which was a start, and I knew that I wanted the film to be dark enough to reflect what I wanted to talk about, yet not so dark that it became hopeless. I decided it needed to be an animated film, albeit a dark one… something along the lines of The Nightmare Before Christmas was the idea that I originally had in my head when I tried to visualise it. The film would be based on real-life events and would be telling my story, therefore I knew that the girl in the film needed to look like me, yet also be anonymous enough for others to relate to. Which is why my character in the film has my crazy, curly hair, but you never quite get to see her features.
The cat that you see in the opening scenes of the final film was massively important to me in real life too. He was the glue that kept me together for a while when everything in my life went horribly wrong, and his death was the catalyst that sent me into an even deeper spiral of despair. He is the ‘little man’ I refer to in the film (his real name was Bear) and the only way I could think to pay tribute to him when I was well enough to think straight was to make him immortal. First in a story form, and then secondly in this film.
I had the bare bones of what it was I was looking for. The next step was to source the people I hoped would be able to help me bring the idea to life: an illustrator to draw the characters and the scenery, an animator who could bring those scenes to life and someone who could help create a soundtrack.
I got my thinking head on, prayed for a miracle, crossed my fingers and logged into Twitter… where I met Juli Dosad. An incredible illustrator with an imagination to match, and an absolute powerhouse of enthusiasm and ideas, I knew as soon as I saw her work that she would be perfect to bring ‘me’ to life as a character, so I picked up the phone, pitched my idea, and asked her to help me. Long story short, I sent her the script, she said yes, and we agreed to meet in person a few weeks later in London to band around some ideas. Juli bought along an animator friend, a Spanish guy called Miguel Letang, and so the three of us sat huddled on benches in a tiny restaurant somewhere, munching on breadsticks and trying to formulate something semi-resembling a plan. Then a few hours later, buzzing with ideas, we went our separate ways and real actual work on the film began.
The soundtrack for the film was written by singer/songwriter legend Ricky Wilde, and we had crossed paths when he messaged me to tell me how moved he had been by my blog. We kept in touch after that, and so when he heard that I was trying to put together a soundtrack for the film, not only did he offer to write it, he asked his sister – 80s pop sensation Kim Wilde – to sing the lead vocals.
It was a really surreal conversation to be having, and I think that was when I knew this film would be way, way, bigger than any of us could ever have imagined at the time. The soundtrack is incredible, and still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. We all had our roles to play, and each of us did our absolute best to put together a film that was real, raw, honest and just a little bit heartbreaking. The reviews have been incredible, and we are all extremely proud to be a part of the film.
This Is Depression made its film debut in Manchester back in 2018, and then on a whim I began to enter it into film festivals. Almost immediately, it won best animation in July 2019. In America. In October 2019, This Is Depression made its big screen debut at The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, and later that evening we were ecstatic to win Best Adaptation at the prestigious Discover Film Awards. There were 5,000 entries into the film festival, less than 50 films were screened, and out of those only a tiny handful of films won an award on the night, so this was a huge, huge deal for us.
This Is Depression has since been watched by thousands of people, online, at film festivals, art galleries and private screenings, and now my story, borne out of that horrendous, dark and horrible time, has morphed into this tiny but magical little film, that has since gone on to impact, inspire and educate many… some of whom I’m guessing may have had their own demons to slay. This little film changed everything for me. My hopes, my dreams and the way that I am finally able to view myself.
I made a promise to myself back in 2017 when I was sitting in that homeless hostel, that the minute I felt my head was working again properly I would find a way to make a bad thing good. This Is Depression is that thing.
You can find Denise’s blog at www.justagirl.emyspot.com