“Her Hope Haven” Casts West Virginia Women In Recovery For Locally Produced Pilot
The opioid crisis is at the center of a new project from West Virginia filmmaker Tijah Bumgarner. She’s producing a pilot for a fictional series that highlights the human connections formed during recovery, based on the real-life experiences of those who have endured the process themselves.
With funding from Charleston Creative Connections and private donors, the story is set at a fictional recovery center called Her Hope Haven, which is also the title of the video project. With hopes for an eventual full-fledged series, the pilot episode will air for a Charleston audience this fall.
Bumgarner enlisted women in recovery to act and shape the storyline.
“It's based on the treatment centers I've been in,” said Ashley Ellis, a creative consultant on the project.
Ellis doesn’t have acting, screenwriting or video expertise. But she offers her lived experience and a willingness to share painful truths with an audience of strangers.
“I don't care to tell my story. I don't care if it's out there. I think that helps people,” Ellis said.
Years ago, Ellis met filmmaker Tijah Bumgarner, who began making a documentary about her recovery process. Opioid use isn’t a new subject for the Marshall University film professor and Meadow Bridge (2017) writer-director. She has dealt with it personally through her father, who died from an overdose last year. But it is the first time she has tackled the issue from a fictional standpoint.
“There's something about fiction that can almost get to this other form of truth, because you can actually like build this world,” Bumgarner said.
She builds that world from the stories of Ellis and other women on the set. All the characters in recovery are played by women who have lived through it themselves. There’s a script, but actors are encouraged to make the lines their own.
“A story is written. But with the women who have had these experiences, we go into it and I'm like ‘change it’,” Bumgarner said.
The cast is made up of amateur actors who are encouraged to give input on phrasing and costumes based on what feels most natural and believable.
Cast member Lauren Brothers has been through the same experiences as her character, Rachel.
“She is a young girl. And she just had a baby, and she needs to be a better mom,” Brothers said.
Brothers spent a year at a recovery center similar to the one in the film.
In one scene, Rachel and her mother, Lisa, are daunted to find out how long the recovery program will take. The intake coordinator says Rachel needs to commit nine to 12 months to the process. They thought it would take only three.
The news comes as a shock to both of them. Rachel does not want to have to be away from her toddler, Pearl, for so long. Lisa gives her tough love throughout the episode, saying treatment is the only way to keep their family intact.
Brothers isn’t a professional actor, but she brings her own process to these emotional scenes.
“I could picture my baby saying goodbye. So that's how I can relate to that and get involved in that scene to make it look real,” she said.
Rachel’s internal conflict with herself over whether or not she can stay in treatment plays out over the course of the episode.
“You get to see how hard it is, that struggle of going and getting help, but also how bad you want it down inside. It's like you are in a war between yourself,” Brothers said.