With suicide rates climbing by four percent from 2020 to 2021 compared to decreases in the years before, depression and its effects touch the lives of a lot of people. Taylor Seupel, a young filmmaker from the Hudson Valley, is offering his perspective on suicide and mental-health issues. Produced with local actors, sites, and help from SUNY New Paltz’s digital media department, Seupel’s Suicide Eyes will be premiering at Art Society of Kingston this Friday, Feb. 17 from 7 to 8pm, followed by a Q&A as well as refreshments.
How did you get involved with filmmaking?
When I was a sophomore in high school I was in a play, Rebel Without a Cause. It was the first acting thing I ever did, and after that I fell in love with it. I’ve been pursuing acting ever since. I was going to go to school to become a doctor at Marist but was involved with theater. I left school for a time and realized that acting was what I wanted to pursue in life. But then I realized you can’t make too much money in the theater, and so film was a way I could pursue a career that would have more potential for moneymaking while allowing me to be creative in a similar way.
After deciding to pursue film, I needed a reel. I started working on different films with student and professional filmmakers to get myself out there, and through that I learned what it took to actually make a film. I took an unpaid gig as a production assistant around 2016 and went behind the scenes.
I learned as much as I possibly could, talked to every department. Because it was unpaid, I was able to take that liberty to meet different production departments and really explore the filmmaking process. I became a self-teaching autodidact in the sense that I would go onto YouTube and do deep research on cameras and editing.
How did you create Suicide Eyes?
Basically one night I was feeling down, and I decided that I needed to do something creative as an outlet for my emotional energy. I decided to start writing a script and about 45 minutes later I had ten or eleven pages of a short film. I just had this moment. And so I took a look at the script the next day and I thought it was pretty good and well, maybe I should make this. And that became Suicide Eyes.
What was the inspiration behind Suicide Eyes?
In 2012, I went to Marist College. I was 19 at the time, and during my second semester at school my brother took his life. It was actually on February 17th that that happened. My brother had been a very strong influence on me, and his death had a massive impact on me. I loved him very much.
Just a few months later, I also lost my father to suicide. That sort of turned my world upside down. I had to reevaluate everything in my life. I was going to school for something that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to pursue, and I decided to take a leave of absence. I went into my father’s trade of carpentry and did that for a time.
In November of that year, my friend also took her life. The whole thing really impacted me very deeply. My life was kind of spun around. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I wanted to pursue acting. but I don’t think I was ready at that time in a lot of ways. So fast forward to 2018, I wrote this film.
What do you hope people come away from Suicide Eyes with?
The reason I made this film was partially because I learned that people deal with their emotions very differently. In loss and recovery, you sort of need to understand that you don’t necessarily always feel the way you think you should feel. People feel different ways at different times. Some people don’t think they feel sad enough.
This movie is sort of a way for me to have a conversation about this really taboo subject without being a complete downer about it. I think a lot of times when you see commercials, like helplines, for people who are feeling suicidal or struggling with addiction, they’re always so grim and dark that I feel like the audience just tunes out completely.
This film is a way to have a conversation with the audience in an engaging way. It’s still a hard subject, but it’s done in a way that has a little bit of a spin on it that will keep the audience listening and might even make them laugh.
What has been the most rewarding part of the process?
That is a really tough question. There have been so many truly rewarding experiences in creating this film. It was very stressful to do because I wrote it, produced it , directed it, acted in it. I can’t tell you how hard it is to tell the camera guy what to do while you’re in front of the camera. I wore so, so many hats, which is pretty standard for low budget passion projects. But, getting to act in it was incredible.
Getting to see the final results and showing it privately to a couple of people has been rewarding. I’m very nervous about showing it at my first public screening, but I’m glad I’m doing it. Just being able to connect with other artists, actors, and producers and working together with those people towards a vision I saw in my head has been amazing.