You learn so much about yourself when you help others. I would let people know that the more you help others, the more you learn about yourself! The advice I give to anyone who wants to make the world a better place to have just one tiny, attainable goal: to just change ONE person’s life. Otherwise, intimidation sets in and paralysis of perfection takes over. Feelings of inadequacy for not doing enough will overrun your mind.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Scilla Andreen. Scilla Andreen is an award-winning Producer, Director, Emmy nominated Costume Designer, Author, CEO & Co-Founder of IndieFlix Group Inc., a global, streaming and community screening distribution service that focuses on content for a purpose. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Good Morning America, Today and South China Morning Post. She’s produced and/or distributed social impact films, Nevertheless, Screenagers, Angst, Empowerment Project and Finding Kind. Scilla directed and distributed two feature documentaries; LIKE (2019) a documentary about the impact of social media on our lives and The Upstanders (2020), an in-depth look at resilience, attention and the power of connection to end bullying. Scilla is Included in Screen International’s Women to Watch, Variety’s Women’s Impact Report and PSBJ Woman of Influence. She is a popular speaker at Sundance, Cannes, CES, SXSW, BeBold and Women in Film. Scilla is also the Founder of IndieFlix Foundation. Scilla is on a mission to change the world with film. IndieFlix.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Iam Chinese, Swedish, and French. I have a funny spelling of my first name; it’s spelled Scilla, but pronounced Sheila. Certainly not a fun name to have when you’re young, but I learned to accept it. I grew up in Breckenridge, Colorado a single child until my sister was born 10 years later and then we moved to Denver, and eventually to Seattle, where I spent my formative years. Then I worked two jobs while studying political science at NYU because I wanted to be a litigator; I love the law. My sophomore year I met a director, fell in love, and quit school to work on TV commercials as a stylist where I made a lot of money and got my first taste of the film industry. I landed my first TV gig as a hanger sorter on The Wonder Years. By episode six, I was the costume designer and shortly after I was nominated for an Emmy. I didn’t even know what an Emmy was! I also didn’t know how to sew or sketch.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
We believe film is one of the most powerful mediums on the planet. You can reach masses, but the power is not in the watching — the power is in the post-screening conversation and the materials that keep the conversation going. Our film programs are intentional and we use them to build community, foster conversations, and create actionable, sustainable, scalable change. When a community witnesses each other watching a movie and has a conversation; there is a measurable impact. While we have been making social impact films for over a decade, our recent IndieFlix Mental Health Trilogy of original documentaries has been our most effective tool to open up the conversation about mental health. Our films and companion materials were designed to be screened in environments that foster a therapeutic connection and to keep the conversation going long after the movie ends. Prior to the pandemic, we booked over 10,000 screenings in school auditoriums, corporate screening rooms, community centers, and private theatres spanning 90 countries — hosted by a moderated panel of experts, students, parents, and educators. We talked about mental health from all angles. The conversation flowed! It was community therapy. Fortunately, we have been perfecting our live webinar screening events since the quarantine, and have found that people are adapting to this new normal. We are now able to share information almost as well through online community events as we did in person.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
A friend of mine suggested I make a movie about mental health and I said, no; I felt it should be made by a licensed professional. I knew nothing about mental health. I also thought it was depressing and no school or corporation would want to watch it. She kept asking me, and each time I turned her down. One morning I got a call and learned that she had died by suicide. I couldn’t breathe. I immediately channeled my grief into making a movie about mental health. It was really hard to raise the money and I didn’t think anyone would want to see it, but now almost three years later, that film, Angst has booked 8000 screenings in 90 countries. It has been subtitled into eleven languages, dubbed into Spanish, and is part of an ongoing education program. After making Angst I was inspired to produce and direct LIKE, a documentary about the impact of social media on our lives and technology on the brain. I was then led to explore cyber bullying — that film is called The Upstanders, and it’s just now in the final stages of post production. These films have changed my life and saved me. They have also inspired me to write a book called The Creative Coping Toolkit, which has ten activities that gamify talking about our feelings. It’s great for families and teams at work. We are creating programs for verticals I never dreamed we would serve. I live my life connecting deeply with people. It’s amazing! Having dove into the deep end of mental health I have learned that we have what it takes to be there for each other; we just need to tap into that and learn how. It can be scary, but together we can do it. I thank my friend for this gift she has given me. I miss her too.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
About ten years ago, I was sent a little film called Finding Kind. The filmmakers Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson were seeking finishing funds and distribution. I watched the rough cut alone in my living room and when it ended all wanted to do was talk to someone. That film touched my heart so deeply. It brought up many locked away feelings from when I had been bullied as a kid. Having grown up Chinese in the all-white community of Breckenridge, Colorado, it actually made sense to me. I looked different than everyone else, and no one ever took the time to get to know me. I was spit on and kicked; other kids smashed my lunch everyday and locked me in the classroom closet — sometimes leaving me there for hours. I swore I would never want anyone to feel the way I did. I took on Finding Kind, and we all agreed it needed to be screened in schools so kids could talk to each other after. The first screening at my daughter’s school lit a fire of awareness to stop bullying that has burned bright in over 50 countries, and still tours and screens in communities.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
So many to tell … there’s the chance meeting of the founder of Skyy Vodka at the Cannes film festival. I had just appeared on a panel before 800 people that day talking about distribution and at night during happy hour I would hand out swag. I had made IndieFlix matches that said, “Strike a Revolution” that showed a female filmmaker in a crosswalk. I threw a few down on the table and an older gentleman asked me if I had a smoke? I didn’t, but we got to talking. He ended up investing in IndieFlix a few months later. Years later, I screened Angst for the first time as a rough cut in Shenzhen, China. It was incredible to be embraced by another country when we hadn’t even finished the film let alone screened it in America. It’s really impossible to pin down the most interesting story. The last 15 years have been a series of highs and lows — and the stories are all good. Some of them I barely survived, and many don’t even feel real, but all of them have shaped who I am today. And yes, I am grateful for those events and times in my life.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Oh my gosh, yes. I surrounded myself with people who were tough on me. I wanted to learn because I had a lot to learn. I started IndieFlix with my producing partner, but after six months he had family obligations that prevented him from continuing. He handed me the keys along with six weeks of funding, and wished me the best. From that moment forward I lived in a state of flight or fight. I was vulnerable and sometimes scared. People started showing up in my life. They believed in me and supported my mission. First names only since there are many: Eric, Paul, Jolene, Aurelie, Cora, Jerry, Lisa, Joe & Karen, Bill & Elizabeth, Lauren, Caron, Andrea, Tina, Liberty, Ann, Karin — my friends and my family. We can only make it if we let people into our lives. We must put aside our shame, our ego, and our pride. We need people — even just one person — who can stand by us through the tough stuff and rejoice in the wins. There is also one person from my past whose words still guide my actions and my heart. Pat Sheldon became my “other mother” when I was 15. She was my boyfriend’s mom, and we remained close long after Mark and I broke up. She taught me about meditation, mindfulness, and energy. She modeled how to be there for someone without judgement. She taught me about self-love. I learned to harness those tools by knowing Pat.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I think about this a lot. I believe the biggest reason we struggle to break the stigma is because we need to be taught how to communicate what we are feeling even if it’s dark thoughts — and this needs to start in Pre-K. We all have good and bad feelings and they pass, but if we don’t talk about them they can fester. Talking changes our brain chemistry. It’s a known scientific fact. It’s effective and it’s free, and yet we are afraid we will be judged or scare people or opportunities away. When making Angst I learned I had social anxiety and I was so relieved. I always thought I was broken or just a little bit less than everyone else, and I didn’t dare tell anyone. Now it’s almost a super power. I have learned to manage it with daily practice.
Back in the day, if you “couldn’t see it, it wasn’t real.” An MRI can show a fractured ankle. A blood test shows sugar levels for diabetes. An inflamed gum is the sign of a problematic tooth. But ongoing sadness? Nada. A paralyzing panic in your stomach that disables you from participating in life? Nothing to see here. Previous generations, due to lack of education and awareness, mainly didn’t acknowledge it. Mental health was perceived as a sign of weakness and whining, and could negatively impact your career or place in the community. And those who were dealing with mental issues too large to be ignored, were often sent away, considered dangerous or freaky and were kept secret. The last of that generation is still around. But fortunately, their children and their children’s children are becoming more educated through national campaigns, celebrity spokespersons, and film programs like ours. Together we are modeling how to have the conversation about mental health and it’s starting to work.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
For individuals we need to stop judging. We need to learn how to listen and support without rescuing, but rather empowering. There needs to be coordination and support. Mental health needs to be the foundation from which all things come. Let’s give each other permission to talk about our feelings. We need to create preventative programs to educate parents. We need to train our educators to teach social emotional skills as equally important as math, science, and reading. Without talking about it, there is no way to learn the coping mechanisms or steps to move towards recovery. If an individual is suffering, the best thing you can do is let them know you are there to listen and help them find help. Parents can model their own vulnerabilities to show their kids how to express themselves. Like it or not; we are their role models. As a society, we will continue to break down the barriers as more celebrated leaders become open about their mental struggles. In “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety”, we included Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps’s story because if a recognized bad-ass can suffer, share his story and his recovery, then hopefully the rest of us will feel just a little bit more comfortable. We are all just people finding our way. We need each other. I am impatient, so I can’t imagine the government doing anything fast enough. However, my belief is social and emotional learning should become a MANDATORY component of the public & private school systems — with as much an emphasis as standardized testing. In a perfect world, students’ and families would address this themselves, but parents are overworked and untrained. And our pediatricians only see our children once a year for check-ups (unless they are sick). Signs of mental health problems are very likely to be overlooked or misread. Schools need to not only be the safety-net for our youth, but the educators of how to protect and nurture our most valuable asset: our mind.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Meditation every morning (15 minutes) and sometimes in the afternoon. Game changer!
- Clean out a drawer — quick feeling of satisfaction it’s very effective.
- Cook or bake, and of course eat.
- Go for a walk, do some yoga or a quick dance in the living room for at least one song.
- I listen to or play music. I also read poetry; I can actually feel those things changing my brain.
- Call a friend you trust, who you can just be “you” with.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Some of my go-to organizations that have inspired, validated, and taught me so much are: The Big Quiet, Hidden Water, Tim Ferriss Podcast, The Mighty, Child Mind Institute, Any book written by Joseph Campbell, Eckert Tolle, Kahlil Gibran, Seth Godin, Wayne Dyer, David Lynch “Catching the Big Fish.” Belong by Radha Agrawal, NPR’s How I Built This, and This American Life. I could go on and on.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You learn so much about yourself when you help others. I would let people know that the more you help others, the more you learn about yourself! The advice I give to anyone who wants to make the world a better place to have just one tiny, attainable goal: to just change ONE person’s life. Otherwise, intimidation sets in and paralysis of perfection takes over. Feelings of inadequacy for not doing enough will overrun your mind. The “win” from helping someone releases the brain chemical oxytocin, otherwise known as the “feel good” chemical. That “helper’s high” will fuel you to keep going to build and build. And that one person you help … well, we all know how the butterfly effect works!
I have learned recently from making these films and writing the book that I am here to help others know and feel that they belong. They are enough and they matter. That is my mission.
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