Drew Carson is a Scottish independent filmmaker, so independent his latest work was all finished behind the barrier of his front door. His debut feature Mind Garden is a documentary that looks into the realities of social anxiety, a condition that very much affects his own life. It will be available on Amazon Prime and other VOD platforms from November 2nd.
Entirely made without leaving his house, it comprises of a short prologue into the reality of social anxiety and then shows five people who suffer from it as they talk about their life stories and how they’ve been affected. Far from him letting his problems slow him down, Drew has made contact with many artists and aspiring creators via Terror Firma, which acts as a networking space where people can discuss and share their work freely in a supportive environment.
He met people in the documentary through Terror Firma, though each has an experience entirely their own. Which I appreciated; one of the only connective factors of these stories is social anxiety. How they got it and how it has affected their lives are stories all on their own. I won’t go into anything specific-I’d recommend seeing the movie yourselves-their stories are quite poignant and admirable in how much depth they go into. It really does feel like it’s a natural heart pouring out with our director being the comforting ear, which he even offers to himself in the final segment of the film.
I chatted with Drew about everything that went into this movie, and other aspects of his work:
Social anxiety is a difficult one for people to broach if they suffer from it personally. What made you consider tackling it for the subject of a documentary?
I have encountered people in my life, even family members who do not fully understand the complexities of the condition and so I wanted to shine a light onto it in some form to raise much needed awareness. I first considered writing a radio play where the lead character would suffer from the condition and it would be putting the audience into his head over a mundane to some turbulent to him bus commute. I have some experience with radio plays as I had just released my first audio drama series on an online radio station, but I realised for it to have the kind of impact on people it would need to have, it would have to be 100% true. So, I started working out the logistics of putting the documentary together.
The five people who spoke about their experiences were sourced through your networking group. Did the subject of their issues come up naturally or did you approach them with the purposes of speaking in the doc.?
In the case of Blaine I knew somewhat of his own experiences through our communications over the 6 months or so I had known him at that point. We had recorded various podcast episodes together by then and were comfortable enough to be open about our issues with each other. The rest volunteered through a post I put in the group mentioning the documentary and what I wanted to achieve with it. As I say in the documentary I suspected some of the interviewees may have issues and others I had no clue which just shows how hidden a condition that is so emotionally crippling can be.
There is a lot of really sensitive information detailed in the doc., from serious allegations to childhood abuses. How did your interviewees feel about divulging these facts for the purposes of public consumption?
I think you would have to ask them how they feel about divulging what they did, but I think each and every one of them felt as strongly as I do about raising awareness and trying to reach people who may be going through something similar and who feel they have no way to cope other than to take drastic action, which, unfortunately is a common occurrence with sufferers. I think they were all far braver than I was, and each gave more of themselves over to the audience than I could ever do. I am forever in their debts for sharing their stories in such an honest and often heart-breaking way.
Some of your subjects are allotted more time than others. Was this a deliberate choice on your part or did you just let them talk and use what you felt was appropriate/interesting?
When I was first putting the documentary together it was going to be a series of TED-like talks on YouTube with each interviewee talking for as long as they felt comfortable with. Its why I am so quiet during their interviews for the most part. Some of the interviewees were more relaxed on camera, some maybe shared more. I don’t want to say some had a bigger story to tell as everyone was going through something horrible or had done in their pasts, but some simply recorded for longer than others. It was only after showing a close filmmaking friend of mine some of the raw footage that he told me I had the bones of a documentary that could make a large impact but that would require some gentle editing here and there for pacing and to keep the run time of the documentary to a watchable length. I remember I just cut the interviews back-to-back for the first time and the run time of that alone was over five hours. So, editing all the interviews down was required.
How did it feel to open up about your own issues on camera like that, fully cognizant that such a personal reality for you will be viewed publicly?
For me, talking about my past and my present was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I recorded multiple times and it was emotionally draining to say the least. I think the weakest part of the documentary is that section because I found it so difficult to watch back and to work on. I could have done with another editor for that section for sure. I have family and close friends that don’t know I even suffered from social anxiety and those that did I don’t think for the most part understood how much it affects my daily life. Mental health is something my generation just don’t really talk about in Scotland, that is changing but it’s still thought of as a sign of weakness so most play down what they are going through even to the ones they love most. I couldn’t afford to do that as I knew my wife wouldn’t let me hear the end of it if I did haha so I had to be as open and honest as I could be. I have seen the final film on multiple occasions now and I still leave the room during that section.
Do you want to give people an insight into TFAU? How was it formed, how did it grow? How, in your own words, do you feel it has helped yourself, or others, keep to network in spite of your social anxiety?
The TFAU is an artist union that formed out of the ashes of my old fans group for a podcast I used to record called the Terror Firma podcast. I had been a member of various groups on Facebook and most seem to be run by moderators only looking to stroke their own egos or use its members to build an email list. I wanted to create a group that was for artists (Film, TV, Music, Radio, Comedians, Musicians, Video Game creators, etc.) to come together, network and help each other reach the next steps in their careers. Slowly over the last year we have grown and become something even more creative than I could ever have dreamed of. For example, because of that group people have come together to create films, a television pilot, a bunch of audio dramas, podcasts and I am currently adapting Todd, from the documentary’s, horror series “Zomblog” into a TV pilot. We are all there for each other and everyone is out to help each other. It has helped tremendously with my anxiety as I have been able to come out of my shell a little more and form some amazing friendships.
You told me you filmed the movie without leaving your home. What was that experience like? What advantages or disadvantages do you feel it brought?
Firstly, it cut down on any costs. There was no crew, no equipment, no transport or accommodation costs and no craft services. On the other side of the coin I was very limited to film angles. No two camera set-ups, no Hollywood interview lighting and most importantly as the interviews were conducted over the internet I had multiple audio lag, frozen image or poor image quality issues I had to fix in post and did I mention no craft services? My home office was my set, production office and my desk chair a rather large, clumsy and faded director’s chair. On a plus side I was in the location I am most anxiety free and most creative and I quickly found ways around the drawbacks.
Your film uses a lot of B-roll footage to break up the webcam-style interviews and as bridging fodder. How did you accumulate it all? I know filmmakers, aspiring and professional, who struggle to get royalty free filler like that, I’m sure they’d love to hear some tricks of the trade.
It was a mix bag of friend’s B-Roll footage that they had bought from various sites, images and footage provided by the interviewees and some great footage I found on a site called Pexels.com. I can’t recommend them enough. They have unbelievable stock footage, even 4K footage that you can use for free as well as some paid for content. I also managed to recycle shots with various effects added to disguise them enough. There is a clip used in the interview with Samson of a church that wasn’t very exciting until I used some effects trickery to create a kaleidoscope effect that made it pop a bit more. I used subtle effects to pop a lot of the footage not to show off but to enhance them in a way that gave a visual representation of what the interviewees were communicating so openly. I felt the images had to attempt to match what they were giving.
Is there any advice you’d give to those in your position, suffering from social anxiety but looking for a creative outlet that you have found, on how to approach creating and finding a network of those who can help and support their endeavours?
Not to sound like a massive mark for myself or my group but if you are looking to channel your anxiety into art you could do a lot worse than joining the TFAU because you will find someone in any field of creativity you could imagine helping you explore what your potential could be. For me writing is what helps me best, I have written screenplays in the past that have been optioned. I have written a novel which currently sits on a shelf in my office awaiting a final edit before being released and my audio drama “Orchid Grove” will be coming back with season 2 next year. If writing is something that interests you I would highly recommend sitting down and developing a story for yourself and nobody else. Write that story be it a short story, novel or screenplay and when you have finished start your next one. Write until you are confident in what you are writing, and you have found your voice and when that happens then show someone else. Trust me the moment you hear someone talking about something you have written in a positive light will change you. Same thing for music, painting, podcasting or whatever it may be keep it for yourself until you are ready for it to be shared with the world and you will reap the rewards because even if you don’t ever feel ready to share it you will still receive the calm it brings you and that is the greatest reward art can bring.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed on your blog. I am a fan of your content, so this was a great experience for me. I hope you find the film enlightening, I never say “I hope you enjoy it” as I don’t think it’s that kind of documentary it’s a very close to the nerve subject matter after all, but I hope you don’t feel like it’s 97 minutes of your life you won’t get back at least. I would also like to thank everyone that has been shining a light on the documentary so far and for all those that took part in it. If this documentary helps even just one person find the help they need it makes the whole journey worth it and you have been a big part of that buddy so once again major thanks.
Mind Garden is available on Amazon Prime + VOD from November 2nd, and be later available at the Terror Firma website. Be sure to visit said website here or Mind Garden’s Facebook page for more information. You can also follow Drew on Twitter.