Nadine Crocker made her film Continue in the hopes that people considering suicide will instead live long enough to overcome their pain. She knows that day will come, because she’s lived to see it herself.
Today she’s the writer, director, producer and star of a feature film that’s earning love on the festival circuit, building a passionate following and encouraging people to talk openly about the most difficult subjects. But a few years ago, at 23, she attempted suicide herself.
“I battled depression most of my life. I also have suicide in my family. So it’s kind of been something that’s been there since birth,” she says. “I’ll always have those battles. But getting out of those years and wanting to work through it, I kind of had the courage to start writing some scenes, and feeling like, ‘I want to look at that. I want to look at those feelings, I want to kind of try and process some of that.’ And through doing that, and exposing myself and exposing my story, a lot of people were coming to me and telling me they had similar stories, or similar feelings.”
The film is about a young woman named Dean who attempts suicide, just as her father did years before. Unlike him, she survives, and finds herself involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
She finds surprising friends, including a patient played by Lio Tipton and a doctor with a dark history played by Emily Deschanel, and eventually meets a great guy played by Shiloh Fernandez. But she also learns that some decisions can’t be undone.
In making the film — and now screening it — she’s made other people feel comfortable enough to talk about their own struggles.
“I want to show them, you know, this beautiful journey, and that your life can completely change after that night, and you have no idea what’s around the corner. We’ve seen it, where it feels like everything’s stacking against you, and then all of a sudden, the day comes and it breaks. And you feel that relief and that breath. That’s really where the film came from, and that idea and hope that I could get people to live one more day. And to put one foot in front of the other and to realize that everything could change tomorrow. You just have to keep going.”
Crocker dropped out of school at 16 and moved from Fresno to Los Angeles, supporting herself from the start while trying to break into Hollywood: “I’ve basically been a waitress at every restaurant,” she laughs.
She went to several auditions a day, but when she had a child, her reps dropped her.
“I think they didn’t really know what they were going to do with me anymore,” she says. “I was like the hot young chick who was now a mom and was having to take time off.
“And it was the best thing that ever happened, truthfully, because it made me realize, like, these were all reps who weren’t ever taking my word seriously, would never would read my writing. … They probably weren’t ever going to see me in this other light. So by them leaving me behind, I was able to become what I wanted to be.”
Married with a small child, she kept waiting tables as she got the money together to make Continue.
It was worth it: Continue has led to two other big jobs, as she discusses on the podcast. And it has led to important conversations with people she never realized were struggling.
Crocker’s turnaround included getting sober six years ago. The film shows how alcohol and drugs contribute to Dean’s problems, without being heavy-handed. It wasn’t easy to share her struggles so openly. But she said she realized that if she wanted other people to avoid the pain she struggled through, and avoid the same mistakes, she needed to be honest about them.
“When I was first starting, for sure, it was scary. I’d say more than anything that people might see it and be like, ‘Oh, that girl’s crazy.’ Or, ‘You know, I can’t identify with that.’ So there was that fear at first. But every time I talk about this movie, every time I post about it, every time, the amount of support and love and people saying ‘Hey, me too, I feel this too,’ is constantly flowing in. So I think that really made it easy to get past that fear.”
Many people closed doors in her face as she tried to get the film made, because no one wanted to address mental illness or suicide, she said. The film still needs a distributor. Crocker is determined to get the film seen by as many people as possible.
“I’m not going to stop until I open this conversation up,” she says.
What she most wants people to know is that no matter how hopeless things feel, they can turn around. They do turn around.
“My closest friends and family … I think if you would ask them, you know, 10 years ago, five years ago, you know, a few years ago, if they thought that I’d be where I am today, who I am today, you know, with his stronger head on my shoulders, I feel like they probably wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” she says. “But I’m living proof: You can change everything, if you choose to. It all starts with choice, which is why I really wanted to highlight choice in this movie. It’s up to you to make these choices. And you can do it. I have chills as I say it now, but I believe it in my bones.
“I’ve seen those transformations,” she says. “I am that transformation.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.