Alexander Haney is one of those special individuals you look at and just draw inspiration from. At a young age (even though he just graduated high school), Alexander was bullied to the point of almost no return. Instead of letting the bullying defeat him, which it almost did, Alexander – who first entered into the entrainment industry doing voice-overs for films such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Daddy Day Care, Santa Clause 3 and Malcolm in the Middle – began writing his own film called Charity that was about his bullying experiences.
Transferring his hurt/pain and emotions into a movie, Alexander followed his real passion of filmmaking and with the generous help of the Stop Bullying Foundation and However Productions, created a masterpiece that is already being talked about globally and stars Emmy Award-winner Marabina Jaimes.
The Levity Ball sat down exclusively with Alexander, who we must say is wise beyond his years, to discuss his unimaginable experiences and how his pain helped guide him into one of Hollywood’s top rising young filmmakers…
When did you first know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I started out acting, performing in plays and musicals at my school and doing voice acting for Screen Actors Guild films and television projects. I also did a lot of visual art including character design and painting early on, and loved writing short stories and creating characters in writing classes. However, I never felt like each of the art forms I experimented with fit me completely. I had taken video classes and had been making short film projects with my friends in elementary and middle school, but it wasn’t until early high school that it clicked with me that filmmaking was the perfect combination of everything I loved. I dove right into it and wrote and directed the first film I can fully call my own, “Bookstore,” (a mockumentary comedy) which has been accepted to 36 film festivals and won 16 awards.
How tough and/or therapeutic has it been sharing your story of being bullied with the world?
One of the main reasons I made “Charity” was because I believe it’s important to communicate the experience of being bullied, both to spread awareness and to take a step forward to stopping it in schools across the country. Being able to turn what happened to me into something positive is so rewarding. Though what I went through was very tough, making “Charity” has been an amazingly uplifting journey. I remember the brief second before I said ‘action’ for the first time; the actors and crew were set up and ready to go, and I thought to myself, “My voice is being heard.” Nurturing this project along production has also been therapeutic because as an artist, film is my voice, and “Charity” represents my being able to truly speak for the first time.
When did you decide that you wanted to put your experience with bullying into a film format?
After talking about my experience with a friend, the entire plot came to me like a lightning bolt. Images flashed before my eyes and I knew I had to make it. When I got home, I whipped out my laptop and couldn’t write it fast enough. In a way, I feel like creating a film was the only way to express my experience. What I went through was very complex and involved some emotional elements that can only be expressed through film. Film is able to combine elements from other mediums that allow me to convey an experience in the most visceral way possible. Also, as a filmmaker, the format of film, as opposed to any other medium, was the one I turned to when I felt the need to express myself. Film is my voice, and I believe it allows artists to communicate emotions and experiences in a very personal and comprehensive way.
The movie Charity will be your fifth short film… How has this film’s overall process been different than your other projects from a filmmakers’ perspective rather than subject matter?
The biggest difference between “Charity” and my other films was definitely the scale of the production. There were more than 20 professionals on set, and though I had directed many times before, it was my first time working with this many people. I was so lucky to work with such incredible talent both in front of and behind the camera; every piece of the production came together beautifully as we approached the first day of filming. In addition, the experience of working with Lauren Fash and Susan Graham, the producers, and Stephen Paar, the cinematographer, taught me so much about how to put a film together. I met with Stephen as often as I could before filming to create a shot list with him; in that time, I gained invaluable skills about communicating visually and collaborating with other artists. Compared to many of my previous films for which I often filled every production role, I got to watch all of the gears spinning as “Charity” came to life from my script.
Your real-life sister Angela Haney plays the lead role in Charity… Why did you decide to have a female lead instead of a male such as yourself, since the original true-life experience was yours, a males?
There are many reasons I decided to go with a female lead for “Charity.” First of all, I consider “Charity” to be an expression of my emotional experience rather than a recreation of what happened to me, and therefore wanted to find a way to tell my emotional journey in a way that was removed from the actual story. By doing this, I got to fully focus on my craft instead of becoming stuck in the past. I al so have always adored Angie’s incredible acting talent, and knew that she is one of those rare actresses who can bring the emotional complexity needed to such a serious role. Lastly, I am an advocate for women’s roles in film and television, and saw this film as a way to feature a female lead in such a complex film.
If you could speak directly to the people who bullied you, what would you say to them now? Have any apologized to you since?
It’s honestly so hard to imagine speaking to the people who bullied me; even being in the same room as them would be tough. If I was given the chance, I would probably just walk away. At this point, they would have to look back on their own actions to grow or learn any lessons. Looking back, I know I would never choose to experience what I went through, but I know that it has given me wisdom and life skills that would usually have taken decades. I understand values such as friendship and kindness in new ways, and now know what it really means to respect yourself. I unfortunately haven’t received an honest apology from anyone involved, but I would welcome an apology if any of them becomes brave enough to admit what they have done.
What is your advice to other young kids who are being bullied on a daily basis around the world?
The biggest advice I can give is to get help. When I was being bullied, I took way too long to approach an adult or even a friend for support and advice. Once you know someone else is there to support you, it becomes so much easier to handle. In addition, asking an authority figure to intervene is much better than letting the bullying continue. What changed me the most was my realization that each person is much more powerful than he or she thinks. What really got me out of the rut I was in was when I stopped focusing on the negatives and started doing what I love: filmmaking. The way I stood up for myself was by creating “Charity.” Peacefully standing up for yourself, in whatever form that may be, can go a long way. Sometimes all it takes is to look the bully in the eye and tell him or her that what they’re doing is not okay. If you believe that you can overcome the bullying, you can.
What do you think, during the entire bullying experience you went through, was the hardest thing to overcome?
The hardest thing to overcome in my experience was the state of denial that I had been in that allowed the bullying to continue for so long. Much like the main character of “Charity,” I kept telling myself that my bullies were joking and that they were really my friends instead of facing the fact that I had become a victim. I even thought that I was the one to blame for the way I was treated. Once I understood that they w ere never truly my friends, I was able to take a step toward overcoming the bullying.
What do you hope people will take away from their viewing experience of Charity?
I hope that through connecting with Katherine’s journey, my audiences will feel emotionally connected to the millions of teens and children in the world being bullied today, and take a real step toward stopping it in any way they can. There are many organizations such as the Stop Bullying Foundation and the Pacer Foundation that are doing incredible work to end bullying. You can support the Stop Bullying Foundation, the foundation producing “Charity,” here: http://stopbullyingfoundation.org/donate/
Why the name, Charity?
This film is titled “Charity” for two reasons. First, the plot of the film revolves around Katherine (the main character) and the bully character each starting different charities. However, there is a deeper meaning to the title that comes across in the film; by the end, Katherine understands that before she can help others, she has to be able to stand up for herself. She learns that “charity begins at home.”
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Filmmaking is my passion, and I can’t see myself doing anything else in life. Starting this fall, I will be going to the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where I look forward to learning more about filmmaking and meeting fellow artists with whom I hope to collaborate in the future. I hope to make many more short films at USC and move on to feature films in the years to come. In five years, I see myself making compelling films of all genres from blockbusters to indie flicks that both captivate audiences and connect wit h them in meaningful ways. I don’t just want to create entertainment; I want to use film to generate social change beautifully through art.