An interview with actor, producer, and model Ronnie Kroell on his latest project, the FRIEND film, which tackles the issue of bullying among youth.
Why this project? What inspired you to take on this topic of bullying through this medium?
Friend is more than a film - it is a social movement, and a global one at that. 1 in 4 kids are being bullied in the United States alone, while 160,000 kids are staying home from school every day from fear of being bullied. Something must be done!
This is why Elliot London and myself, as film-makers, have decided to embark upon this important journey to produce - Friend. Social movements cannot happen simply from passing legislation, it must happen organically via sharing stories and educating our communities. In my opinion, there is no better way to inspire action, educate, and change hearts/minds than through the Arts.
How has it been working with Ali, Joseph, and Elliot?
It has been a real treat! Ali and Joseph have been so brave in sharing their stories of being bullied and thoughts of taking their own lives. It takes great courage to not give-up in the face of such great adversity and depression. They inspire both Elliot and myself as we continue to raise the funds that we need to produce Friend.
Elliot is an incredible film-maker with a huge heart. I'm so thankful to have met him and respect his passion for making a difference, not just in the LGBT community, but the GLOBAL COMMUNITY. Bullying is a global issue and affects all of us at some point in our lives for various reasons. If we break the silence together by each doing our part, I know that we can save lives.
How much of Ali and Joseph's actual story translate to the film's characters, Brad and Alejandro, and how much is fictionalized?
Ali and Joseph are two of many teens that we have interviewed to find inspiration for Friend. We are currently working on expanding our script to be more inclusive and to highlight bullying of various forms, not just in the LGBT community.
We purposefully decided to interview youth living in 2012 that were being bullied because we needed to show that the problem of bullying, specifically in our schools, was not getting better. As a society it is important that we do not become complacent on this issue and that we work together to find ways to resolve the issue.
Friend is a narrative based on real life stories, but with fictional characters and some creative liberties taken to ensure that the film is salient as well as entertaining.
You're acting in the film as well, correct? What is your role?
Yes, I'm excited to be playing the role of a school counselor.
Have any of the other characters been cast that you can share with us?
We have a few people in mind and will engage a casting director soon, but at this point it is too early to make that announcement. I CAN tell you that we have an ALL-STAR PRODUCTION TEAM.
Joining me in these efforts are Ugly Betty's - Alec Mapa, Tony Award winning Broadway Producer - Carl Moellenberg, Top Hollywood Talent Manager - Jerry Silverhardt, Mother and Anti-Bullying Advocate - Ane Shields, Our Social Media Moderator from across the pond in the UK - Hilde Orens, and many other fantastic associate producers.
We are proud to have assembled quite the accomplished and dedicated group of friends to make it happen for FRIEND. It is true what they say, it takes a village!
What do you hope to achieve with this film?
Our main goal with this film is to inspire our communities to action; to rise above the fear and to break the silence. We do not want this to be another film that makes people cry and then go home to be depressed about what they saw for a moment and then forget about it. We want them to leave the theaters feeling empowered, inspired, and in some respects - outraged that bullying is still happening at such high levels.
We must get angry, but then find positive ways through which to channel that anger to make a difference. Change begins with us and the cool thing is, we can decide at any moment in our lives to be part of that change. While our film is a narrative based on true stories, we do intend to take the youth that we have interviewed on the road with us to attend screenings of films.
We hope to tour schools across the country and the world doing talk-backs with Ali and Joseph, so that the youth can have role models that have recently been in very similar situations, but chose to keep fighting and to never give up.
In addition to producing the film, we are building community partnerships and turning to educators/counselors to create anti-BULLYING AND pro-FRIEND workshop curriculum. Once developed, these programs will be easily implemented and molded to meet the specific needs of various school-systems (around the world), their faculty, parents, and students.
Our website, that is currently being developed, will be home to not only info about the film, but to community resources and partner organizations - all organized by specific region.
What advice would you give to your younger self if you had the chance?
The advice I would give to my younger self is, "Do not try and please everyone, it's exhausting work and not to mention - impossible. The most important thing is to love yourself and to spend your time and energy with those that love you, for you."
How can people help make Friend a reality?
While we are thrilled and so thankful to the world community (with pledges of support from South Africa, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, London, and more) for helping us to surpass our goal on indiegogo to raise $45,000, we realize that there is still a lot of work to do!
The current budget to produce Friend is set at $250,000, but to move out of pre-production and begin production we must raise $150,000 of that budget. The two main ways people can help is by donating to, and dedicating themselves to the cause.
It is imperative that we keep the conversation about Friend alive. We are always happy to discuss the project with our friends in the community, in the media, and those that may be able to help us secure the additional funding we need to make this dream a reality.
What accomplishment in your career to date are you most proud of?
I was a participant and director of an important teen retreat program when I attended Niles North High School called "Snowball" via the JCC in Skokie, Illinois. I'm so thankful to the support we had from the community to learn about life, be ourselves, and follow our dreams.
Who has made the biggest impact on you in life so far, and why?
My Mom, Charlene. She is not only my Mom, but she has become one of my best friends. This is a Mom that can look at your PLAYGIRL Magazine spread and jokingly say, "These are beautiful - the only thing different is that it's bigger than I remember".
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Tenacious. Sincere. Curious.
What is something that not a lot of people know about you, but you wish more people could know?
Just because I'm a model, it doesn't mean that I don't have a few brain cells to rub together - I was actually a political science major.
If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be?
Puss in Boots, he is a legend!
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?
I have no idea to be honest, but I'd rather Hollywood just cast me in some upcoming feature films until they make that decision!
Where would you go if you had a time machine?
I would want to visit the 1920's jazz era - cocktails, dancing, debonaire gents, and the best part - flappers!
What is your motto?
Wherever you go, go with your whole HEART. - Confucius
Anything else you would you like to tell our readers?
I would like to thank your readers for their support of our work with FRIEND and invite them to get to know more about me via an interview with Robert Hammond of "Stage Notes" on NPR. Just follow this link.
To see an example of Elliot's work, check out the New York Times acclaimed short, "Wedding Dance": http://youtu.be/vp6oUb0_DlY
Since we are fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, all donations that are given in the United States, are tax-deductible! While our indiegogo campaign has expired, we are accepting donations directly via Fractured Atlas. To make a credit or debit card donation today, please follow this link: https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/contribute/donate/7059
Those interested in writing a tax deductible personal or business check can remit payment to "Fractured Atlas" with "Friend" in the note section and kindly send to:
C/O Elliot London
149 Luna Drive
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
Please stay tuned for the launching of our "mobile text donation and photo campaign", similar to the ones utilized by The American Red Cross and The American Cancer Society.
Thank you for your support - we cannot do it without you!
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