Cindy McCreery on the set of the next movie to be made in Austin You’re not alone (photo by Tori McCarthy, courtesy of You Are Not Alone)
Remember that old adage that those who can’t, teach? You’re not alone, the new family drama from two staff members of UT’s radio-television-film department, aims to prove once again that their lessons come from hands-on experience. Professor Andrew Shea (best known for documentaries like Portrait of Wally) is in the director’s chair, working from a deeply personal script by his colleague, Associate Professor Cindy McCreery. In 2009, everyone was focused on the LA coroner’s office where Michael Jackson’s body lay after his death. But McCreery was more concerned about her brother, Scott, who was undergoing treatment for bladder cancer at the nearby USC Medical Center. In the film, fictionalized versions of the siblings — Jasmine Batchelor as Grace and Ryan Cooper as AJ — have a similar surreal experience, knowing the megastar died just down the street.
With Austin replacing LA, the Ascension Clinical Education Center on Red River doubled for USC. Normally filled with trainee medical personnel, in August the facility was between classes, so production moved to the upstairs teaching rooms, filled with blank-eyed training mannequins; but down there are still clinics and patients. McCreery said, “There are these people going through all these real life or death situations, and we’re here making a movie.”
Some productions are a little wary of leaving the writer on set (“They have to in this movie,” McCreery laughed), but having McCreery there gave the cast a rare opportunity to connect. with the inspirations behind the story. “Actually, knowing there’s a living, breathing person in the room makes my job a little easier,” Batchelor said, “because I can observe their humor and know what they would do in those similarities. “
Having McCreery on set also helped Cooper, with details like knowing where she could touch her brother without hitting any of the pain points that would leave him doubled over in agony. However, he was also able to spend time with Scott, to turn his side of the relationship into his performance. “He turns up the volume on his sassiness with his sister,” he said. “When I was able to talk to Scott I could hear him start to choke, but he covers it up with his humor and teasing.”
McCreery first penned her experiences as a screenplay in 2012, while working on projects for Nickelodeon and Paramount. She wrote what was to become You’re not alone as a play over a long weekend, “as therapy,” she said. “I didn’t write it to sell, and then Andrew asked me if I had any scripts lying around that I could work on independently, and that’s the only one I could think of.”
Shea quickly saw her potential, and then Austin Film Festival CEO Barbara Morgan came on board as a producer. She described the family medical drama as a universal story “with that common thread of Michael Jackson. Because the truth is, whatever the man’s ups and downs and legacy, the reality is that he has connected tons of people with his music.”
It was like that for McCreery. She recalled that one of the times she was closest to her brother was when Jackson’s album Thriller was dominating the charts and the airwaves, and that it was “super weird” that they reconnected when “he was so sick, and all around us were helicopters and mourners”.
You’re not alone is now in post-production.