Drink will premiere at Largo Cultural Center March 15.
LARGO – At 19, Cam Simon not only has big ambitions, but his own film premiering at Largo Cultural Center March 15.
The 25-minute film “Drink” is Simon’s tribute of respect to veterans and a message of hope to those struggling with alcoholism. The young director began writing the script with local actor Jessy Leros more than a year ago.
“In essence, Drink is about a Marine who comes home from war with PTSD and turns to alcoholism. But what it’s really about is it’s a spiritual journey to overcoming, finding a new way of living your life and becoming a new kind of man,” Simon said.
“Drink” will premiere Saturday, March 15, 8 p.m., at the Largo Cultural Center, 120 Central Park Drive. Tickets are $5, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit veterans organization, Silver Star Families of America. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Simon, who lives in Clearwater, has been shooting films since he was 14. As a skateboarder, he brought a camera to the skate park to capture his friends doing their best tricks. Those shots became two full-length videos featuring eight skateboarders, sold in local skate shops as well as internationally, Simon said.
From there, Simon’s interests fell out of skateboarding and into telling stories with film. He worked on music videos for local musicians. For the last year and a half, he’s worked with his mother at Citizens Commission on Human Rights Florida, helping produce commercial videos and social media campaigns. He’s studied directing under Tony Armer, co-founder of the St. Petersburg-based Sunscreen Film Festival.
Simon met Leros at an acting class in Clearwater, which he was taking to help better understand the acting process as a director. After shooting a short film together in December 2012, the two decided to tackle a bigger film project with a higher production value.
The first draft of what would be “Drink” took only about a week to write, but rewrites took another month.
“We had to dig deep into the characters’ minds and make sure that, word for word, this is what the character would say,” Simon said. “The end-product script looked nothing like the first draft.”
While they were writing, Simon’s grandmother passed away, after a life-long struggle with alcoholism. Suddenly, the film’s main theme was more poignant.
“It was just more inspiration and motivation to get the film done,” Simon said.
The film is dedicated to her. Simon remembers watching the disease change his grandmother, even when he was too young to understand what was happening.
“I would see what the alcohol would do to her, how it just deteriorates somebody,” he said.
Simon wanted to highlight that process of deterioration on a Marine who thinks of himself as invincible. The main character in “Drink,” named Will, comes back from a tour in Iraq blaming himself for the death of Jason, his childhood friend.
“The movie kind of takes a turn into a spiritual journey of how Will uncovers what Jason was trying to tell him,” Simon said. “Will becomes a new man and redeems himself.”
He wanted to make a film that people with a variety of struggles could identify with.
Tampa actor Aaron “Quick” Nelson said starring in the film with Leros was a really good experience and hit a personal chord. Nelson was a combat engineer with the Army Reserves and watched several military friends who were psychologically damaged “trying to get their life back together.”
“People don’t want to pay attention to that. This film focuses a lot on that and what they go through,” he said.
He too has had the experience of watching relatives struggle with alcoholism.
“Having a film based on that is very inspiring,” he said.
Nelson, who recently began pursuing his acting career full-time, auditioned for the project after being told about Simon’s call for actors on Facebook.
“I read a synopsis of the project, and it really intrigued me,” he said.
Simon said the project, financed through the crowd-funding site indiegogo.com, has been a major learning experience for him. It was difficult to lead the six actors and a film crew of seven, especially when disagreements broke out.
“Drink” was filmed in seven days, though post-production took another eight months.
Making the film as authentic to the military experience as possible was important to Simon. To that end, the cast and crew worked with a Special Forces veteran who is now a mixed martial arts trainer to make the fight scenes as realistic.
Simon’s biggest compliment was a standing ovation after showing the trailer to a student veteran group at St. Petersburg College.
“It meant a lot to me that veterans themselves were interested in the film,” he said.
After the premiere, Simon is submitting “Drink” to as many film festivals as possible. He hopes to bring the actors the attention they deserve, he said. His goal is to “work his way up with every film,” bringing himself closer to winning a major film festival.
“I’d like to see myself directing as a living,” he said, adding that he understood the challenge. “Making it in film is one of the toughest things ever.”
Simon, Nelson and other members of the film’s cast and crew, Armer and members of the nonprofit and representatives from Silver Star Families of America will be at the premiere to meet with attendees.