Last May, third-year College student Alex Rafala started writing a screenplay about suicide. Just a month later, the topic became all too real: one of his co-workers took his own life.
Why did he do it? What was he thinking? What was he feeling?
Though Rafala could not answer these questions himself, the intrusion into his own life of the topic that had until then stayed firmly in the land of fiction became one of the motivating forces behind “Farewell Old Stringy,” an independent short film in pre-production that Rafala is slated to direct.
“There was a juvenile quality to the early writing, and then I suddenly had a reason to be writing it,“ Rafala said. “That’s when the real motivation kicked in.”
He began writing down bits of dialogue inspired by the thoughts and questions his friend’s suicide raised. A few weeks later, the screenplay draft of “Farewell Old Stringy” was complete.
The story centers around two childhood friends, whose friendship is undergoing increasing pressure, and an old homeless man, whose imaginary friend, Stringy, has decided to commit suicide. The film follows the three men as they throw a goodbye party for Stringy and try to make sense of both the strange situation and their relationships with each other. The film isn’t just about suicide; it’s about life, loneliness, mental health and, most of all, connections.
Soon after completing the screenplay, Rafala began to seek out a production staff. Fourth-year College student Lauren Lukow would become the film’s producer.
“I read it, and I’m not going to lie, at first I found it unsettling, but the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that it was necessary,” Lukow said.
As producer, Lukow will guide the film’s creation from start to finish. She worked with Rafala during development, helping to hire qualified individuals to produce the film and actors to bring the screenplay to life.
Other contributors include Alex Jones, a second year College student and assistant producer, actors Ian Lindsay and Chris Bauer, third- and fourth-year College students, respectively, actor Daniel Prillaman, a University alumnus, and University Drama Prof. Richard Warner, who will play Davey, the homeless man.
“The role of Davey is a beauty of a challenge for me — complex, intense with some interesting emotional and physical demands,” Warner said.
But before production can even start, a lot needs to happen on one crucial front: funding.
“Films can sometimes sit in the development phase for years, waiting for the right talent and funding to kick it off the ground,” Lukow said.
She has recently been working with the production crew to obtain adequate funding for the production. Rafala was awarded a U.Va. Art Scholar grant amounting to about one-third of the film’s budget. Producers have been working on applications for additional grants, as well as sponsoring a campaign on Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform.
The campaign has collected nearly $1,500 from individual donors — though if they fail to reach their $3,750 goal by April 2, as per the site’s regulations, they will not receive any of the funds.
With this deadline approaching, the filmmakers are certainly nervous — having already invested large amounts of time into the project, with already-made plans to submit their work to numerous film-festivals.
But for Rafala, the project still stems from a need for closure and a desire to make something of his confusing personal experience.
“Writing this script was an attempt to find the answers to those questions that buzzed around in my head,” Rafala said. “I believe enlightenment is inevitable when a group of dedicated artists work together. … Through collaboration and interpretation, we are sure to make discoveries about life and death, grow as human beings, and in turn, make a beautiful piece of art.”