BWW Interview: Writer/Director Michael Leoni on Creating His New Film WHEN TODAY ENDS


BWW Interview: Writer/Director Michael Leoni on Creating His New Film WHEN TODAY ENDS

Examining the Growing Outbreak of Teen Suicide

WHEN TODAY ENDS, the new film from Award-Winning Writer/Director Michael Leoni (American Street Kid), Executive Produced by Mark A. Burley (Orange Is The New Black, Weeds, Glow) and Academy Award nominated & BAFTA Award winning Howard Barish, is now available worldwide on streaming platforms. The film stars Gavin Leatherwood (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Jacqi Venè. Derick Breezee, Logan Garretson, and Angel Guadalupe, and centers around a current social trend too deadly familiar to be ignored.

"I strongly believe in Michael Leoni's work and WHEN TODAY ENDS is no exception," said Kandoo Films' Howard Barish. "This film is powerful and uniquely done; it speaks to what's happening in our world today and how it impacts our young people." And I totally agree with his belief that Michael Leoni is "definitely the director to keep your eye on."

In his new film, when four teenagers post their personal stories online using the hashtag, #WhenTodayEnds, they have no idea the extent of their impact or how their stories will intersect. With no filter and complete abandon, Jenna, Nick, Megan and James all share their deepest, darkest secrets only to fall eerily down the same path. Collapsing under the pressures of bullying, depression, and self-identity, their lives slowly unravel, revealing the tragic connection that binds them all together.

I have been following talented writer/director Michael Leoni who so brilliantly tells stories about young people struggling to find their place in the world from his World Premiere play FAMOUS at the 11:11 Experience in WeHo (now his next film in post-production), to his first film AMERICAN STREET KID, and now WHEN TODAY ENDS. Here are some thoughts he shared about the creation of his latest film.

(Shari): What led you examine teen suicide in such detail and write this film?

(Michael): How many times do I have to go online and witness the increasing amount of news stories and social media posts about teenagers committing suicide? Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,041 suicide attempts by young people grades 9-12. On top of that, online bullying has become such a vicious, and regular reality that it has created an international epidemic. The number of kids taking their own lives is increasing every day, and what's even more shocking is that they're doing it live, on social media.

What was it that pushed these kids to such an extreme end? What drove them to do it so publicly? It was those questions that hit me to my core. I had no choice but to take action and write. That's how WHEN TODAY ENDS was born, from my driving force in writing and directing, whether in film or theatre, to take on topics that need to be talked about, that need a voice, and this film is one of the stories.

(Shari): I loved your filming technique of ending scenes by having the teens hold their hand over the camera, which then led to the next scene being started in the same manner. Were you really the person always behind the camera or did the teens often film their own actions?

(Michael): I knew this film couldn't be conventional and I wanted it to feel as real as possible. I wanted the audience to question whether these were actually real kids, documenting a day in their lives and posting it to social media. In order to maintain the integrity of that storytelling device, we used different cameras for each storyline, shot them separately, over the course of a year, and the majority of the time, the actors were also the camera operators. My goal was to capture these super intense performances in very long shots with no cuts. I had to keep the audience engaged and invested in the lives of these 4 kids relying purely on the performances.

(Shari): How did you find the perfect actors to play these complicated characters?

(Michael): What drives me as an artist is to capture raw and honest emotion - to make an audience feel something deeply. Part of that craft is picking the right fearless actors who aren't afraid to go to the depths of their soul, and to be completely vulnerable. I rehearsed each actor separately for months, diving into the psyche of these characters, also releasing any blocks that would stop the actors from telling these stories. The actors had to have the characters so ingrained in them so that they would be able to operate the camera without losing focus.

(Shari): How long did it take you and Erica Katzin to so beautifully edit the film?

(Michael): The whole film took two and a half years to make because we shot each storyline separately. The post production process which included editing, color and sound took about a year to complete.

(Shari): The neighborhoods where these teens live seem to be very upscale. How did you find the homes and schools in which to set each story?

(Michael): Not all of the storylines were upscale; the Nicole story was more of a lower-middle class family. My producers busted their asses to secure the locations that would work for the film.

(Shari): And they are to be congratulated for going their job so well! The evocative score behind the scenes was so effective at sharing the angst of teen life. How did you find the musician Jackson Mankowski who performs all the songs?

(Michael): Diana Clark, one of our Co-Producers, found Jackson Mankowski singing in a mall years before the film was made. She had continued to follow him on social media and when we told her we were looking for a musician, she remembered him and reached out.

(Shari): The main narrator seems to be Jenna who spends her time online being happy and perfect in all aspects of her life, and James shares that life is meaningless until you find what you are passionate about. Is the message you hope to share is that viewers start using the hashtag #WhenTodayEnds in a positive way by remembering to say something nice or do something kind for another person every day?

(Michael): It is my hope that when people see WHEN TODAY ENDS they gain a new perspective but more importantly put a face behind the statistics. I believe that social media was created to connect us all, but it has disconnected us, and I hope that this film will bring us back together.

Lastly, thanks to Michael for sharing the Suicide Prevention Hotline number (800) 273-8255, which is available 24 hours a day, so prominently and often in the film. Please write it down and share it with your friends and family members, especially since doing so could actually save someone's life when they feel most alone. After all, life is about more than social media sharing and counting how many views and likes you get. Isn't it?

Watch the WHEN TODAY ENDS trailer: and then order your tickets at to experience the skill and talents of director Michael Leoni in telling a tale that will resonate in your heart and soul.