After spending the majority of his life addicted to various drugs and substances, Bryan Fitzgerald understands the struggles of addiction better than anyone. “Xanax, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, anything that would get me high,” he recalled. Fitzgerald began writing a script for a 10 minute short film titled “Under Water” in 2012 about a young man who struggles to overcome substance abuse, drawing from his own experiences. The 23-year-old filmmaker recently launched the Kickstarter project to help fund the production costs and successfully raised $8,500 of his $7,500 goal.
Born and raised in Long Island, Fitzgerald described his childhood as chaotic and unstable. “My parents were constantly fighting until they divorced when I was five. They both remarried four or five times. There was a lot of chaos then, a lot of different stepmoms and stepdads trying to teach me how to live,” he said. He began drinking and smoking marijuana when he was 12 at one of his older stepbrother’s encouragement. Fitzgerald’s drug habits crescendoed in high school after he fell in with the wrong crowd. “They were the ones I thought were cool, and so I wanted to see myself that way. I wanted that sense of ‘I don’t care, I’m reckless, I’m invincible,” he said.
Fitzgerald was hospitalized in 2008 after a group of men assaulted him in an alley while he was passed out from drinking. Not wanting to admit that he had a drug problem at the time, Fitzgerald lied and told the doctors he got injured playing hide-and-seek. “The truth only came out when I came off the anesthesia from surgery. They obviously ran my blood, I had cocaine and all sorts of pills in my blood, and I kept lying to the point where I believed myself,” he said.
Fitzgerald finally realized he had a drug problem in 2009 after spending a year in rehab at the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling Correction Center. His inspiration for the film began after he had the chance to see first-hand how destructive drug addiction can be. “It was an eye-opening experience. I saw people my age who I thought were so much worse off,” Fitzgerald said. “When I realized for the first time that I was the same as them, it was almost like staring at a reflection of what I could become.”
Valery Lessard, producer of “Under Water” responsible for editing Fitzgerald’s script, explains the meaning behind the title. “There are many levels to the idea of water. When you’re underwater your perception is blurred and you can’t see or hear very well. If you stay in the water you risk drowning in addiction. If you come out, everything is finally crisp and clear,” she said. “Bryan also believed in Christianity as a tool in battling addiction. His original script focused on being born again, a new baptism, starting over. The script was too focused on the Christian faith..”
Fitzgerald’s final script of “Under Water” deals with faith in all forms. “I researched various religions and there are a lot of religious motifs in the film. There’s water for Islamic cleanse, shaving of the head which is Buddhist, Christian baptism coming out of the water,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s important for any faith, not one or another, but just having any faith in your heart and being connected to that. It’s in every rehab, AA, NA, any of these things are going to say you need to connect to faith.”
Because “Under Water” is such a short film, Lessard faces the task of finding the right venue for it. She believes that the next step for the “Under Water” is to take the film to show at schools since teenagers make up the largest group of drug users in the country, according to the Coalition against Drug Abuse. “We could show the film and share our stories and hopefully help a kid who’s struggling with peer pressure or addiction,” Lessard said.
Fitzgerald describes the filmmaking process of “Under Water” as a creative outlet to help him forgive himself as well as rebuild the relationships he ruined with his drug addiction. He admits to occasionally using cocaine to get him through a bad day, and makes no pretense that he is completely cured of addiction. “Every day is still a struggle,” Fitzgerald said. “No one can ever fully conquer addiction. I hope that through this film I can share my story and help others avoid the pitfalls I nearly drowned in.”