People often create their identities, views of the world, relationships and overall lives based on how they capture and recover memories, and subsequently craft those recollections into stories to justify how they feel. The process of editing even the most fragile memories, in order to support the tales people have written for themselves, showcases how much they have staked their emotional well-being on their ideals of what has actually happened to them. The message of understanding essential information about yourself, including your character and your vision of your future, based on the things that have previously happened to you, is powerfully showcased in first-time feature film writer and director Pamela Romanowsky’s new thriller, ‘The Adderall Diaries.’ The drama, which is based on Stephen Elliott’s 2009 memoir of the same name, powerfully emphasizes how the memories people feel they remember the most vividly are the ones they actually recall the least accurately, and how that influences who they become.

‘The Adderall Diaries’ follows Stephen Elliott (James Franco), a once-successful novelist who’s now paralyzed by writer’s block and is in the thrall of an Adderall addiction. As he attempts to find an idea for his next story and escape his personal struggles, he becomes fascinated by a high-profile murder case. While delving deeper into the twisted case and it’s unique suspects, Stephen’s haunted by the memories of his own tortured childhood and his cruel, estranged father, Neil (Ed Harris). When his father mysteriously resurfaces and claims that his son’s nightmarish memories were fabricated, Stephen’s past is further examined under the microscope. He embarks on a journey to separate fact from fiction, amidst a backdrop of self-medication and false confessions.

Romanowsky generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview to talk about penning and helming ‘The Adderall Diaries’ at New York City’s Smyth Hotel, on the afternoon after the drama had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how she was drawn to make her feature film writing and directorial debuts on the thriller, as she not only admires Elliott’s memoir and is interested in exploring how memories influence people’s lives, but how Franco, who she is friends with, optioned the book rights and approached her to adapt it into the movie; how she cast Franco and the supporting actors after she found performers who connected with the emotional core of the characters, and how she gave them the creative freedom to portray their characters the way they felt most comfortable; and how as an up-and-coming New York filmmaker, she appreciates that the Tribeca Film Festival chose to world premiere her first feature film.

ShockYa (SY): You adapted the screenplay for the new action drama, ‘The Adderall Diaries,’ from Stephen Elliott’s true crime memoir of the same name. What was it about Stephen’s book and story that convinced you to write the film adaptation?

Pamela Romanowsky (PR): Well, I first read the book as a casual reader. I live next door to a really cool book store in Brooklyn. I often see things in the window there, so I always go in to get a new book. I’ve seen a bunch of people reading ‘The Adderall Diaries’ on the subway before I saw the book in the store window. So I picked it up and read it as a casual reader, and loved it. It stayed with me for a really long time.

James Franco and I are good friends from grad school-we both attended the NYU MFA program. We had gotten to work together on a short film that I made for his omnibus feature, ‘The Color of Time,’ which features 10 directors. We all made shorts, and wove them together into the feature.

Through the process of doing that, James and I discovered that we really love working together. So he offered me the opportunity to direct ‘The Adderall Diaries,’ as he had optioned the book’s rights. It was the first book he optioned, so it was a great moment of creative synchronicity-it was a thrill to work with him again, and it’s a book I really admire.

The book is about a lot of things, so I think anyone approaching an adaptation would connect to different parts of it. For me, it was the idea of memory, and how we use what’s happened to us to tell us who we are. I’m really fascinated by memories, and I was a psych major in college-I was pre-med and studied behavioral psychology. So memory is something that has interested me for a long time in a more academic way. The film offered me a chance to explore this concept of memories in a way that was more character-based, and it feels very human and emotional.

SY: Speaking of the fact that you have been friends with James since you attended grad school together, and he owned the option for the book, and offered you the chance to adapt the novel for the screen, what was your overall collaboration with James like on the drama?

PR: James is a really important collaborator, and is one of my favorite people to work with on projects. He was really with me every step of the way on the film-I showed him drafts of the script when I needed feedback, and we would kick around ideas. When we were on set together, he was incredibly supportive and worked very hard. He has great instincts, and would bring surprises to the table. He’s also a great improviser, so I had a really great working relationship with him. I had a great collaborator in him when we were creating these scenes.

The same is true for the other people in my cast. I had the good fortune of working with a lot of great and incredible actors who are so talented, generous and supportive. So each of them brought something very special and unique to their characters and the set. It’s really fascinating as a director to watch how many creative processes happen with all the actors. They all have different processes, and brought really unique things to the film.

SY: Since you both wrote and directed the drama, did working on the script influence the way you approached helming the movie?

PR: Yes, I’m sure writing the script largely influenced the way I directed the film. It’s my first feature, and since I wrote and directed it, it’s hard for me to separate those two jobs. One thing that’s nice about doing both jobs is that as a director, if something, like a bit of dialogue or an emotional beat, in a scene isn’t working, it’s really easy to change the script. I’m not going to offend or disrespect anyone, as it’s my writing. So I can throw it away if it’s not working, and write something else on the spot. So doing both jobs allows for a lot of freedom.

SY: How did being a first-time filmmaker on ‘The Adderall Diaries,’ like you just mentioned, and working with James and the rest of the cast, prepare you for other upcoming movies you’ll work on?

PR: I learned so much making this film that it’s hard to separate it into different lessons. But the biggest impression that I’m left with is that when you find collaborators who you really trust, that leaves a lot of room for flexibility and adaptation, and embracing things that are different from what you expected. So when I was working with my crew and cast, I saw that they’re all smart, capable and dedicated collaborators. So it was great to embrace the little surprises and changes we found as we were filming.

SY: What kind of research did you do before you began writing and directing the film? How did the fact that the film’s based on Stephen’s true crime memoir influence your research, as well as your overall approach to making the film?

PR: I did do additional research as I was making the film, but Stephen’s a pretty prolific writer. The murder trial he wrote about was based on a real trial, so there a lot of research to do there. The book did influence the script a lot, since it is an adaptation.

It’s a strange and interesting thing to write about real people on top of that. So there’s the challenge of doing right by the book that you love, and doing what you have to do to make it into cinema, while also retaining the heart of the story. There’s also a sense of duty to the real people you’re portraying.

SY: Speaking of the fact that the characters are based on real people, James plays Stephen in the movie. What was the process of also finding the actors for the supporting roles in the drama, including Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Christian Slater, Cynthia Nixon, Wilmer Valderrama and Jim Parrack?

PR: As James has spoken about, as an actor, if you’re playing someone who’s very recognizable, like he played James Dean early in his career, there’s more of a physical responsibility that you have to fulfill. But for the characters I was writing about for this movie, there aren’t many people who know what they look like, or how they look and behave. So for me, it was about finding the right actor for the emotional core of the characters, and the process wasn’t as based on what the actual people look like.

SY: How beneficial did you find the process of allowing the actors to improvise while you were filming, like you mentioned earlier? Were you also able to have rehearsal time with the cast, and allow them to offer suggestions on their characters’ backstories and arcs?

PR: Well, we didn’t have a rehearsal period, which is I think is often the case in indie filmmaking. You don’t have the resources or the time to have that rehearsal time. So we would rehearse the scene we were shooting that day until it felt right.

As far as the improvising, in the film there’s a lot that was in the script, and there were also things that were added on the set. Every actor is very different in what they want to do. Some like to improvise, and others aren’t as comfortable doing it. So I’m open to working in whatever way’s most supportive to each actor.

SY: Speaking of filming ‘The Adderall Diaries’ independently, how did that process not only influence the way you worked with the actors, but your overall approach of directing? Do you think it helped in the film’s creative process?

PR: Yes, I think this is a story that had to be told in an indie film. It’s not really studio fare, as it’s kind of a strange and edgy story. One of the filmmakers I admire most is Steven Soderbergh, because he has the ability to make different kinds of movies, and can set the structure and budget around each one’s story and appropriate audience. So he made really big and small movies, and the way he made each one really depended on their content.

SY: While being a part of the Sundance Institute, where you were invited to be a fellow at Sundance’s Screenwriting and Directing Labs in 2013, you met Robert Redford, who became an Executive Producer on ‘The Adderall Diaries.’ What was the process of working with Robert on the film like overall?

PR: I admire him so much, and his film ‘Ordinary People’ was one of my references for this movie. I met him at the Sundance Directors Lab, where I was a fellow. It meant a lot to me that he was invested in me and this story. He gave me really great support, including general directing advice and notes on the script. He also watched a couple cuts of the film, and was a great creative adviser.

SY: Speaking of being a fellow at the Sundance Screenwriting and Directors Labs, how did those experiences influence the way you approached making ‘The Adderall Diaries’ overall?

PR: I spent a lot of time developing the film with the Sundance Labs. Besides the Screenwriting and Directors Labs, I also attended the Sound Designing Composing Lab and the Producing Lab. It’s a really incredible program to work on your story.

It’s also where I met Ed Harris, as he was one of my advisers. It had always been my dream to cast him in the role of Neil, so it was great to get to meet him there. So it was an incredible experience to get to be a part of the Sundance Labs.

SY: Having attended graduate school at NYU, and now living in Brooklyn, what does it mean to you that the thriller is having its World Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which really celebrates indie filmmaking?

PR: It’s been great, and I’m happy we premiered the film here. It means a lot to me as a New York filmmaker. Tribeca really makes an effort to support young, female and New York filmmakers. Since I’m all of those things, I’ve received a really warm welcome.

Tribeca 2015 Interview Pamela Romanowsky Talks The Adderall Diaries (Exclusive)

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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