The Integrity House Bate Adolescent Program, a long-term residential program for males age 13 to 17 with substance abuse, mental health and behavioral issues, has released a short film called “Boys of Bate” that premiered in late February at an event to support the organization’s post-chemical expression therapy efforts.
Made over the summer by the young men at Bate House, the film is 43 minutes long and promotes hope and transformation by depicting the dilemmas two friends face when choosing to be drug-free.
Addiction Professional recently spoke with Integrity House director Roman Petrocelli, MA, LPC, about the filming and production processes, the involvement of the residents and the value of the experience for them.
Based in Newark, N.J., the Bate Program provides evidence-based treatment through an adolescent-centric curriculum and is one of 17 programs launched by Integrity House, which has been in business since 1996. The program is named after prominent local legal professional and Integrity House board member Frank Bate, who was tragically killed in New York in 1989.
Shortly after Petrocelli joined the Bate staff in February 2014, he was contacted by Saladin Stafford, a corrections officer in Newark whose passion is producing hip hop videos. Around the same time, Saladin had finished turning one of his videos into a feature film called “NickNames” at the request of community leaders.
“[The film] had anti-bullying, anti-violence messages—very appropriate for my guys because it’s very real, not corny,” Petrocelli says.
After taking the residents to see the film, Petrocelli was able to have Saladin talk to them at the Bate House facility.
“After he left, I processed it with the main group and I said, ‘Well, do you think we could make a short film based on your experience here?” and they were so gung-ho about it [with] youthful exuberance … which, you don’t see a lot sometimes in this setting,” he says.
Petrocelli says he and another staff member reviewed guides such as “How to Make a Short Film for Dummies” and brought in story boards the next day. Upon realizing the project would take work, the kids were slightly crestfallen. But residents rose to the occasion, he says, writing the script themselves by combining four or five of their own personal stories to provide the storyline of the two main characters—Petrocelli directed and gave them guidance when asked—he had to approve the scripts, too—but the project was completely resident-driven.
“Everything that we were doing was basically trying to tie treatment concepts to these things,” he says. “The project really caught on and I had to keep raising my game because I’m not a professional filmmaker … I’ve made slideshows for my family when there’s a significant birthday or something.”
The staff worked the film’s production into the residents’ weekly structure, dividing the workload into groups for every aspect of the filming process. One of the most interesting aspects of the process, Petrocelli says, happened after he suggested one team create a song for the movie by rapping over an existing song. Instead, the group met up with a male mentor from the Integrity adult program who plays guitar and created a completely original song, called “Integrity Changed My Life,” a play-on-words on the importance of having integrity—a core teaching at Bate House—and on Integrity House itself.
“They really raised their game with the song, so I was like, 'I can’t just record this with a camera, I gotta get them to a recording studio,'” Petrocelli says. “We brought all the guys with us when they made the song and they got a tour of the studio.”
Petrocelli tried to keep everything local, and because the budget was limited he selected Nightstand Studios in Essex County because of a Living Social deal. Serendipitously, the owner of the recording studio, Randy Rossilli Jr., had gone to high school with Petrocelli and is a multi Emmy Award winner. The recording studio also turned out to be a TV studio.
Petrocelli was able to get two hours of studio time for $65 and Rossilli donated a scene that was filmed in the studio’s kitchen that depicts Integrity's “privilege pass," when residents are able to go home for the weekend to re-acclimate with their families.
“Something like that would be $1,800 for a day of filming, and that was given to us,” he says. “It was very empowering.”
Petrocelli continued to tap into his pool of acquaintances for assistance with the project, including individuals with acting and audio production experience who donated their time.
“There was one individual, John Carlos Fernandez, who totally got the vision these kids had,” says Petrocelli says. “He really was one of the best things that could’ve happened to us because he was able to communicate with the guys. Each step of the way, he’d show them what he was doing, empowering them by giving them the camera and talking to them, [asking] what they envisioned.”
For example, Petrocelli says, Fernandez would coach the boys on character development, asking if a character would say something simply or have more emotion.
“The guys would sometimes have an answer for him, sometimes they’d be perplexed and they’d discuss it, so it was really a wonderful learning process,” he says.
Notwithstanding the help that was received, the young men were the true directors of the movie.
“It was a collaborative effort between the clients [and the] most cohesion I’ve ever seen in treatment,” he says. “We’re trying to get a cohesive group because we want the group to heal.”