STATUS: In distribution. Covid Release is available on the Roku TV channel, All Hawaii TV, on YBS’ own online movie platform, Serenergy, and has been uploaded to the online movie distribution company, Filmhub, where it has been picked up by the online movie platforms, TCL, Tubi, Box Brazil Group, Exposure+ TV, Popsy on Plex, Stash TV on YouTube, Cineverse, and Xumo.
Covid Release was also accepted to and screened in the 2022 London Lift-Off Global Network’s Online Film Festival, as well as the 2023 Berlin Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Manchester Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Austin Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, the 2023 Tokyo Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival, and the 2023 Toronto Lift-Off Global Network Online Film Festival.
LOGLINE: Five men completing prison terms for assault, rape, solicitation, and kidnapping, must receive a positive recommendation from a woman psychologist if they are to be paroled, and so they endure a brutal counseling session which forces them to confront their abusive ways.
IMDb: Covid Release
COMPANY NOTES: This production was first produced as an online dark night play for the Hawaii community theater, TAG – The Actors’ Group, in the spring of 2021, and began its distribution on various online movie platforms beginning in the summer of 2021.
The Trailer For Covid Release As Edited By Mark J. Bush
“Covid Release” is a revised version of another screenplay, “Revealing The Rapist,” both written by Eric Nemoto. The roots of “Revealing” date back to the beginnings of TAG – The Actors’ Group, the Honolulu community theatre founded by Eric. In one of the theatre’s groundbreaking initial plays, what started as this script eventually morphed into the screenplay, and subsequent play, “The Committee Responsible For Exposing The Reverend Terry Jamestown.” This story dealt with a psychologist getting ready to counsel a famous televangelist, who is then visited by thugs who wait out the reverend’s arrival, set on extorting him by forcing him to take dirty pictures with a prostitute. The play eventually became a hit, and still holds the one day highest attendance total for the theatre (portions of the promo poster, a cast photo and a review appear below). Still, in spite of its success, the “original” storyline, would then remain in Eric’s screenwriting “to do” list for years, until in early 2019, he made the commitment to write it by year’s end. In fact, “Revealing” was finished on June 11th, 2019.
Upon the completion of “Revealing” it was decided to stage it as a TAG dark night in April of 2020. After producing it as a play, the premise was then to film the movie version of the play at a location where four cameras could be positioned in various angles to capture the actors as they ran two full performances of the play in two days. However, the onslaught of the great pandemic in the spring of 2020 changed those plans. The play dates were subsequently pushed back to June, then August, and then inevitably to December. While the intention was still to do the play on the TAG stage, the lingering pandemic and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, coupled with on and off again state lock downs, forced the production to decide that it will transition to performing the production as a Zoom play. In doing so, the script had to be revised so as to change the premise of the release of the prisoners to one where an increase in COVID cases has caused the state to reduce the prison population. And that given this, a further review could then relegate the men to being fully paroled. This script was subsequently retitled “Covid Release” and plans were made to rehearse the production as if it were to be an actual stage play, but then record it entirely as a Zoom production ready for streaming online by TAG, which would then also serve as the foundation for a feature length movie, that could be accented by other scenes recorded during rehearsals.
We open our story with the face of Carolyn Rian staring into the camera. Carolyn is an administrative assistant who is tasked with assuring that five men properly log into a Zoom meeting that she has scheduled. These men are convicted felons who are residents of a halfway house where they were recently transferred from a state penitentiary because the prison population has seen a large increase in COVID-19 cases. Of course, the men are not too familiar with the process, having been locked away for some time, so getting all of them to appear is like herding cats. Through some effort while maintaining her sanity, all five manage to finally appear in the Zoom meeting and we are introduced to them.
Donald Curry, is a sweet talking, salesman-like man whose voice delivery is often big and accompanied by a smile. He has spent seven years in prison for two counts of statutory rape, a charge that he plead no contest to on his lawyer’s advice. Reginald Sylenski, is a man who has spent 10 years in prison for assault of a man and raping his ex-wife; a charge he vehemently contends there were extenuating circumstances that prompted his behavior. Reginald is an imposing figure, standing 6’4” and weighing in at a solid 250 pounds. Riley Tannenbaum, is a mustached man whose calm, matter-of-fact demeanor runs contrary to a deeper, darker side of his past. He once kidnapped a woman and kept her with him against her will on a road trip of terror, a crime for which he has spent 16 years in prison. Connor Stamp, is a slender keg of dynamite. Prone to vicious moments of violence in his past, his lack of anger management skills resulted in the vicious beating of his girlfriend to her near death. He is finishing up 12 years in prison. Bertram “Bert” Kirimitsu, is a retiree who is finishing up six months in prison for soliciting a prostitute, who unfortunately, for him, turned out to be a female undercover police officer.
Into the meeting arrives Dr. Joan Briggs, a psychologist whose private practice includes providing contract work for the state’s department of corrections. She thanks Carolyn for her patience and excuses her until later when she’ll need her to shut down the meeting when they’re one. Through Joan’s dialogue we come to learn that beyond having been released to the halfway house, the men will be considered for parole given that all of them are approaching the end of their sentences and have been on relatively good behavior. Of course they will have to be evaluated by Joan, who will be the authority to certify whether any of the men are ready to resume their place in society. We will come to realize that Joan is a no nonsense, no excuse, professional who makes Nurse Ratched (”One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) seem like a Girl Scout.
Joan begins the session by advising all that she will be responsible for forwarding a recommendation to the parole board as to each man’s eligibility for parole. Although she stresses that her report will be just a recommendation, it’s readily clear to all what is the situation. Joan holds the fate of the men in her hands. She proceeds to conduct the session in the most unorthodox of ways. She bullies the men, belittling each of them as she hints at what their crimes were. This perplexes the men and at time brings matters to the boiling point. She proceeds to grill each of the men as to exactly what they did to land them in prison. After that she drills deeper with each until she discovers why the men did what they did.
She starts with Reginald. Through their conversation, we learn that Reginald had been separated from his wife and that she had filed a TRO against him. But when she asked that he drop off her dog, in spite of just dropping the dog, he attempted to see her, a move that was thwarted by his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. When the boyfriend attempted to scare him off, he quickly disarmed him and proceeded to beat him to a pulp. In a rage, he then went into the house and raped and beat his ex-wife. Joan concludes that what was the reason for Reginald’s behavior was a lack of control. In effect, as imposing as he was physically, he was weak mentally.
Next, she probes into Riley’s past. We come to find out that Riley kidnapped a co-worker and took her on a cross country ride during which he terrorized and sexually abused her. But this heinous act was spurred on by panic. For through their conversations it is revealed that Riley was pretty much a cloistered mama’s boy and when he and the woman were about to sleep together it became apparent that this would be Riley’s first time. And when an inadvertent chuckle was uttered by the woman it caused Riley to beat her into silence and to take her on that trip for he could not let her go and tell the world that he had been a man in his thirties who was also a virgin. Thus, the basic reason for his actions, was that he had been terrified.
She then turns to Donald, who she has constantly trading pointed barbs with from the start, and because he has seen how she has caused both Reginald and Riley to lose total control and often break down, he vows that she won’t do the same to him. He is wrong. Joan forces Donald to admit that he had been a pedophile. A former truck driver, he would consistently park his rig in the parking lot of rest stop notorious for prostitute pick ups. In his case, there were two minor girls who would consistently service him in his cab. In defending himself he would say that these girls were actually “pro’s.” But his explanations mask what is at the heart of his story. Joan gets him to confess that as a boy, he had been raped numerous times, and so his alliances with the girls was in a macabre way a kind of therapy for him, where he was now the abuser after all those years when he was the victim.
Bert, the person Joan admits she can’t figure out, is next. We discover that Bert, a simple retiree who led a simple life, suddenly in the middle of one night, opts to take the cash he had for an upcoming Las Vegas trip, to go out and attempt to pick up a prostitute, which is something he had never done before. The only trouble is, as hard luck would have it, the woman that he lets into his car is an undercover police officer, which lands him in prison. But in Bert, Joan finds a man who has truly learned his lesson. After spending time in prison, Bert realizes the excitement he thought he needed was actually a mistake and that his supposed desultory life really was not so bad after all.
Lastly, Joan gets to Connor. He recalls the 10 seconds of his life that he wishes he could take back every waking moment of his life. It is the time when he and his girlfriend got into a heated argument and she struck him, an action that triggered an automatic violent response. His retaliatory rage then resulted in a series of punches to her head that would lead to his assault and battery charge, but worse, lead to his girlfriend’s permanent brain damage and partial disfigurement. In seeking the “why,” Joan gets Connor to recall the abuse that his father would put upon him daily. His relief coming only when his father dies in an automobile accident. So instinctively familiar with being beaten, and with a hatred of his father that had never been quelled, Connor admits that when he was hitting his girlfriend, he was hitting his father.
Finally showing a humane side, Joan consoles a depressed Connor by advising that he could do the next thing if his girlfriend never forgives him, and that is to forgive himself. She then tells the same to the rest of the men. They react with looks of confusion and curiosity. Joan advises them that she will file a report with the parole board that she sees no reason why any of them should not be paroled. The men are entirely perplexed. For throughout their entire time together where Joan had treated them like new recruits in a marine boot camp, she has suddenly told them that she understands them. As she gets up to leave, the men ask her what is her “why?” She tells the men that when she first started she was entirely empathetic and had recommended that a young teenager serving time for assault and battery be released from prison. A few months later he took an automatic rifle and proceeded to massacre a preschool, killing children and staff. The men realize that her harsh ways were for a reason and were for their benefit.
Joan calls Carolyn back into the meeting. She wishes the men well and as she disappears from the screen, everyone takes a beat to internalize the experience. Just as the men start to wonder what they are to do next, Carolyn shuts the meeting down.
Cast & Crew
Cast in the principal roles of this compelling drama are some of Hawaii’s finest actors. Appearing from left to right in the photo montage above are: Rebecca Lea McCarthy as Dr. Joan Briggs; Thomas Smith as Connor Stamp; James Roberts as Donald Curry; Michael Carter as Reginald Sylenski; Mark Bush as Riley Tannenbaum; Dann Seki as Bert Kirimitsu; and Cathy Roberts as Carolyn Rian. Mark Bush will do double duty by coordinating the production sound. Eric Nemoto served as the producer and director, and recorded the scenes via Zoom. Music was provided by T.C. Smith (aka Thomas Smith), a sampling of which appears in the following video.
The production’s intent was to record the story as an online play to be first produced by the Hawaii community theater, TAG – The Actors’ Group. Accordingly, rehearsals began in late October, 2020, via Zoom meetings and extended into mid December, 2020, when shots for individual characters (see Rebecca McCarthy as Dr. Joan Briggs at left, during one of her recording days) as well as two full complete runs of the entire story from start to finish in the Zoom gallery view (see above for the rest of the characters after Joan has left the meeting) were recorded. Two live online preview performances were also provided to invited guests. As 2020 closed, the project moved into post-production with the goal of premiering it as an online play for TAG, and then subsequently distributing it as a feature length movie. The final play/movie will be comprised of approximately 40% shots of the entire cast in the Zoom gallery view, with cuts to individual character shots for the remaining 60%. A midway montage is expected to divide the story between the “What” and the “Why” (see treatment above) with occasional mood music. What follows is a rough cut of the opening scene.
Private Premiere & TAG Release
In fact, Covid Release was completed through the editing of Mark Bush with oversight and review provided by Eric Nemoto. Their work resulted in the project gaining final picture lock to the extent that the team held its own private premiere on January 16th, 2021, though there was still some additional post production needed which was completed later. In addition, as four of the seven actors were members of SAG-AFTRA, Eric needed to work with the union to assure that the production could air with the union’s blessing. This was because as many theaters were now producing online productions during the pandemic lock down, they were now venturing into the world of video recording, an area generally overseen by SAG-AFTRA. The question as to who has overall jurisdiction of online plays also resulted in a temporary agreement by SAG-AFTRA and AEA (Actors Equity Association), for which the production had to make sure it followed. In the end, TAG, being a community theater (and not an equity theater) did not fall under AEA’s jurisdiction, but then, did have to file the play/movie as a New Media Production under SAG-AFTRA. Upon SAG-AFTRA’s eventual approval, the play/movie was finally released as an online production by TAG on March 12th, 2021.
The TAG version (beginning titles and ending credits reflected the theater as being the producing agent) of Covid Release was made available to TAG’s followers, as well as the public in general, via video-on-demand using a link and password to a Vimeo account (which was obtained by emailing TAG’s production manager) where the film was stored. It garnered consistent viewers and received a particularly great review from noted Hawaii theater critic, John Berger, which was posted to his Facebook page on March 27th, 2021:
“COVID” IS STRONG AND TIMELY THEATER AT TAG
The time is the present. Five men are being considered for early release from prison due to concerns about the high risk of COVID spreading among inmate population. A large part of the screening process towards their release is their participation in a six-person “zoom” conference with a psychologist. Her assessments are crucial in deciding their fate.
Welcome to The Actors’ Group view-on-demand production of “Covid Release.” The ensemble cast – directed by the playwright, TAG co-founder Eric Nemoto – gives a Po’okela Award-worthy ensemble performance that makes this raw contemporary drama well worth seeing for adults and mature teens willing to handle the vocabulary and subject matter.
• Riley Tannenbaum (Mark J. Bush) kidnapped a woman and kept her prisoner as he drove cross-country. He says that drugs made him do it. The woman is still traumatized by the experience.
• Reginald Sylenski (Michael E. Carter) violated a TRO to pay a visit on his estranged wife, beat the man she was with unconscious, and then raped her. He says that she had asked him to bring her the family dog, that the guy she was with attacked him with a bat and he had to defend himself, and that the sex afterwards was consensual.
• Connor Stamp (Thomas “T.C.” Smith) beat his girlfriend to the point of unconsciousness, and then raped her, after she told him that their relationship was over. He says that they had consensual sex first, then she told him their relationship was over, and then she slapped him – and he lost control. He is remorseful to the point of periodically breaking down and crying. His ex lost the sight in one eye.
• Donald Curry (James C. Roberts) was arrested for having sex with prostitutes who were under the “age of consent.” He says that they approached him in a truck stop parking lot, he asked them how old they were and they told him they were 18.
• Bert Kirimitsu (Dann Seki) had no criminal record until the night he said the wrong thing to an undercover female police officer who propositioned him when he blundered into a “sting” operation.
• Dr. Joan Briggs (Rebecca Lea McCarthy) is contemptuous and verbally abusive to all of them. In the first half of the session, she forces them to explain why their accounts of what they did are contradicted by police reports and courtroom testimony. From there she demands that they look at why they did what they did – and what previous life experiences had predisposed them to do what they did.
Lesson learned: “Once you know why you’ve done something you can do something about it.”
Nemoto’s direction, and his actors’ performances, almost guarantee the viewer’s emotional investment somewhere in the proceedings. Nemoto’s script is certainly Po’okela Award-worthy as well.
The seventh member of the cast, Cathy Roberts, opens and closes the story in the supporting role of Dr. Briggs’s assistant.
Nemoto has given TAG permission to air “Covid Release” indefinitely – and for free! Watch it.
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