Series creator Allen Sowelle asked Writer/Director Alison Pezanoski-Browne some questions about Do You Remember.
After watching this episode several times I’m struck by the subtext. How did settle on the topic, and was the subtext intentional or was it something that came out naturally with the performances?
Yes, the subtext was intentional, but it was definitely made richer by the performances of my actors, especially what Edward and Lisamarie were able to convey with their facial expressions alone!
What initially drew me to the topic of Dementia and Alzheimer’s was how they affect memory and connection to the past. Having the person with Dementia remember an event with more accuracy than the person without it was an interesting concept to play with.
I also wanted to explore the subtext inherent in two people with a lot of heavy history between them struggling to communicate with each other when they don’t see or remember things in the same way. Despite what “Jamie” says, I always pictured that “Ted” was in the early stages of Dementia rather than full-blown Alzheimer’s, meaning he slips in and out of lucidity. I wanted the viewer to question when he was there with Jamie and when he wasn’t. This uncertainty, as well as Jamie’s misinformation about her father’s disease, are meant to convey how confusing it must be for both of them to fully understand what the other is going through.
I’ve often heard Alzheimer’s described as a disease that can emotionally disappear people, what were the challenges you had in writing the script?
Attempting to show that disappearing was difficult, because I felt like it had to come through the performance rather than the words. I relied a lot on Edward’s ability to convey emotional shifts without saying anything. And while I wanted it to be confusing to the viewer, my actors and I had to be clear on which Ted we were dealing with at any given moment – young Ted, remembering Ted, or nearly disappeared Ted.
For Jamie I wanted it to be a heightened emotional place – it’s kind of her in her worst moment where she says all of the self-centered things some caregivers probably think but wouldn’t ever say. But being a caregiver must be so difficult. You’re dealing with a whole host of emotions, and I wanted to show that and give importance to it - though it’s never okay to yell at someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s.
It was difficult to explore this without making either of them seem like a villain. I wanted them to be flawed not villainous, which is a hard line to walk. I hope I pulled it off.
In doing your research for the discussion guide was there anything new that you discover about Alzheimer’s, new treatments, diagnosis, and/or how individuals cope with it?
I was shocked and saddened to learn that 70% of caregivers suffer with symptoms of depression. Luckily there seem to be a lot of resources out there to help [LINKTO: Discussion Guide]
I always thought that whether you get Alzheimer’s and dementia was out of your control. There are some factors, like genes, that we can’t change. But there are easy actions you can take towards brain health, like:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Mental stimulation
- Quality sleep
- Stress management
- An active social life
It made me realize that I need to take more naps and do more crossword puzzles!
I learned that older adults with strong muscles are at lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Also, there was a pilot clinical trial that showed the nicotine patch might improve cognition in older adults with memory loss.
Was there something in particular about a father-daughter relationships as opposed to a mother-son or mother-daughter that influenced the story?
There wasn’t an intentional reason to make it about a father and a daughter, except that a woman I met years ago came to mind when I was writing the script. I remember her telling me that she, her mother, and her brother hated her father so much that all three of them changed their last name so they’d have no connection to him. I’m lucky to have a great relationship with my family, and my father in particular, so this extreme action struck me. I had that woman in mind when I was writing. What if one day she was forced to determine her father’s care? I wanted to write a script about imperfect people with an imperfect relationship who are forced to be in each other’s lives because of illness.
In retrospect, there is something to the fact that traditionally dads are supposed to be our ultimate protectors. What is it like when the tables are turned?
For you, what’s the most important aspect of this episode? The most important theme or even beat?
Take care of yourself, or you won’t be able to take care of anyone else! Jamie isn’t able to take care of her father because she hasn’t taken care of herself or dealt with her baggage. I see this as the turning point for her where she realizes that blaming her dad and her past aren’t doing her any good. Lisamarie got this immediately, and I think she did an amazing job of showing Jamie’s change. The ultimate point is that self-care as opposed to self-centeredness can actually make you more present for other people.
Are there more FSC episodes to come from you?
I hope so! I’ve written a script that takes on a less intense issue and deals with it in a more humorous way. I’m looking forward to that.