A couple months ago I joined a film project called 9 Days With Cambria as a producer and an actor. It was written as a web series of 9 monologues for 9 different women except there was a catch— we were all going to play the same character: Cambria.
Well there were a few catches.
We could only have 1 day to learn our lines, and no one was allowed to read the whole script—only our own part. We weren’t allowed to meet or talk to each other until after filming. We weren’t allowed to discuss wardrobe or makeup at all, and we weren’t going to have any direction on set. The idea was to have as ‘clean’ a reading of the mysterious Cambria as possible and yes, the lack of guidance and collaboration was challenging and a bit scary. We started shooting within 4 days of the project being pitched, and were wrapped 36 hours later. It was a whirlwind.
I knew that as a producer I may have been taking a gamble, but I trusted my team—even if I hadn’t met the majority of them yet.
“If I didn’t see it represented on screen, I wanted to give it a voice. Life isn’t a meme on Facebook…”
On June 12th, we had a screening for cast and crew and it was unlike anything I’ve experienced. It was the first time the actors got to meet. It was the first time we heard the rest of the script— the first time we got to know the whole story. It was the first time we really got to meet Cambria— and she blew us away.
As a female producer I felt the kind of excitement in the pit of my stomach that I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. I had so many thoughts and so did the rest of the actors.
“Cambria is so real. Her story isn’t black and white. There was such a range of emotions and realities that fleshed out her experiences…It was so natural…It was like they had taken it out of my head and put it on paper…how did they do that?”
Those were the words that bubbled up on the 12th, when we were all finally able to discuss the way our individual monologues made us feel, and how the whole documentary style series shook us to the core.
“When I was going over my monologue I had a feeling that maybe it was about sexual assault but I kept thinking and hoping it wasn’t…” We all nodded except for the actors whose monologues had dealt with the issue. But then they were stuck wondering what actually happened with Cambria—if she ever got over it, if she was ever able to move on. We all agreed that the Cambria we got to know was unique and not something seen in mainstream film or television.
“If I didn’t see it represented on screen, I wanted to give it a voice. Life isn’t a meme on Facebook. You can’t just post something and think that it’s actually helping. I wanted to show how important it is…That generalities don’t help anybody…anxiety, sexuality, depression, coping mechanisms…these are complex things that don’t speak in general terms.” Co-director and co-writer Mike Klassen and I had worked together through this whole project and it was the first time we were able to have this conversation.
“It’s easy to show something like a broken leg on screen. It’s a visual concept. But mental health is different. Sure, we have symptoms we can act out but guess what? Anxiety attacks are different for everyone. Things are not black and white…but these days when we hear something that ‘doesn’t fit’ with general descriptions we say ‘well that’s not right’. Actually, it is…there is a realism and complexity to experiences. Some kids are going through things that are hard enough, but because they can’t articulate their feelings, and they don’t relate to the generalities out there, they don’t exist. That needs to stop.”
As a producer on the project I absolutely agreed with Klassen and Armstrong’s approach. As someone who has dealt with anxiety disorders I nodded gratefully at the narrative breakthrough, and as someone who had overcome and finally found closure to sexual assault I quaked with euphoric melancholy that finally the differences and varieties of experience that we have all encountered could surface in narrative.
Klassen is right. A lot of women and men choose silence over a strange existence under the microscope. And then in the quietude something terrible surfaces in our social media feeds, in our 24 hour news cycle; and we pounce on it to amplify it.
Sometimes it’s enough to see the same question being asked again and again even though there are no answers.
We do it because we need to express our outrage of course, but sadly it’s also then that we talk about helping each other— finally we can share. That’s when we talk about symptoms to watch for, how to get help and what to do if you are in a situation. We talk about underfunded programs. We talk about negligence. And then just when it seems like it’s safe to open up or take the walls down and add your voice the talk turns. It turns political. It turns to meme making. It intellectualizes pain and turns those who might help against each other. We all know this cycle. All of a sudden the outrage of senseless actions against women and men, or the importance of mental health become nothing more but an ethical orgy of words arguing legislation, elections, religion; even degrees of feminism. All of a sudden grief and reality become another talking point in a campaign.
Unfortunately that means we never get to the part of the conversation that is so important. It’s the part that discusses mental health symptoms that are not on the list; it’s talking about the feelings which are so normal, but which (without reaffirmation and true listening) seem doomed to bounce between the compartmentalized generalities found in textbooks. And that is where most of us with mental health issues live. That is where survivors take root.
When I was 20 years old I was assaulted. It was in my own bed. Beside my boyfriend who was fast asleep. The confusion I felt about what had happened and my own feelings while I was processing it (over many years) were inexplicable. I spent so much time looking through pamphlets, looking through checklists to see if what I felt was on them. Now, at the time there were no forums, or Facebook. There were no search engines or status updates. But even now in this world of hyper-knowledge we don’t talk about what really matters— and we still all quietly jump to our confidant Google to ask the questions we’re afraid to ask of others in real life.
Sometimes it’s enough to see the same question being asked again and again even though there are no answers. Sometimes that ‘answerless answer’ makes you feel like you’re not alone.
That’s when I truly realized what our project was.
9 Women, 9 Conversations, 1 Cambria.
9 Days With Cambria is the product of two talented writers, who were motivated by a true story to give a woman a voice when she couldn’t speak. It is poignant and timely even though sadly, it was never meant to be.
9 Days With Cambria is about the whole story, and how we never know it all.
9 Days With Cambria is an answer. An answerless answer that says you don’t have to fit on a checklist or a pamphlet to be real or validated, because you are real— and you are not alone.
9 Days With Cambria is universal. We can all relate. We shouldn’t have to, but we do. And in this strange world where bad things happen, Cambria is a language. And even if one person can’t speak it, 9 others, and hopefully many more, are there to give it a voice.
9 Days With Cambria launches on Monday June 27th, on Facebook and YouTube.
The web series is a Skeleton Key Global Films and Darkwater Entertainment co-production, written and directed by Mike Klassen and Jason Armstrong. The series stars Kathryn Aboya, Emily Alatalo, Sharon Belle, Raven Cousins, Kat Inokai, Chandler Loryn, Cydney Penner, Rachel Sellan, and Jessica Vano.
Join the conversation now: #9DaysWithCambria
This post shamelessly promotes my work. I am proud to be involved in this project and encourage everyone to watch it.
If you are press and would like to see a series screener, epk, or contact the cast or crew for interviews, please connect with Kat Inokai here.