Turning A Sudden Mental Disorder Into A Film

I was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, a place where you were either chronically cold, chronically depressed or chronically funny. I was blessed with all three. I started doing stand-up at age fourteen, lied and said I was sixteen, years later hosting "The Montreal Comedy Festival" and appearing on Conan O'Brien as one half of the infamous "Blue Man Ass Group" with Rob Schneider which can still be seen on www.harrisgoldberg.com.

Looking up to my older brother, Daniel, who wrote and produced such hit films as Stripes, Meatballs, Junior, Private Parts, Road Trip and Old School, I gave up his dream of being a professional tennis player, mainly because I wasn't good enough, and followed in his footsteps to Los Angeles where I sold his first screenplay within a week, signed as a client with William Morris the week after and thought, "Hey how hard can this be?"

Well, twenty-five studio screenplays later I scored a couple of modest hits writing and co-producing Deuce Bigalow; Male Gigolo The Master Of Disguise, and Without A Paddle. (All films I never paid to see myself).

After something akin to a nervous breakdown, I took a major right turn in 2006 writing the very personal and autobiographical Numb which, to my surprise, was quickly financed for me to direct as my first feature film.

The project quickly attracted a terrific cast including: Matthew Perry, Mary Steenbergen, Kevin Pollak and Lynn Collins. Through the cathartic and intense process I will tell you my two most proud moments of the entire thing was when I garnered the trust of Matthew to do the amazing job he did and who I've come to love and... was asked to take a walk with Academy Award winning actress, Mary Steenbergen, where I was sure she was going to say I sucked as a director and instead heard the heavenly words: "You are an actor's director."

At first I was apprehensive even writing the film due to the autobiographical nature of the story, fearful it may be seen as self indulgent or worse, too revealing.

After our first test screening I found myself in an elevator going down to the parking garage with audience members who had no idea I had anything to do with the thing. I was amazed as they began quoting lines, how the ailment afflicting Hudson, the main character, tapped into their own feelings, fears, anxieties about what was happening to them on some level. I couldn't believe it. I had written and directed something personal that had somehow, someway resonated with the general public. At least on that night. I felt like a hundred dollars.

Before Numb I was considered a high concept, studio comedy writer. Little did I know during those years of delivering broad films with big set pieces to score that high, double digit opening weekend, my mind was getting ready for something I never could have predicted.

The prediction came true on the night of February 14, 1991 where I hit a wall so bizarre, so strange, so painful that I'd wonder if I'd ever make it out alive. It took years of silent suffering before I had the wherewithal to write what was happening to me. I called it Numb because that's exactly how I felt. Numb to everything around me. Including myself. No one ever knew. No one could ever tell. I bravely hide this mysterious malady through sheer will power as my world closed in on me.

As Hudson describes in the film, the psychological definition of this condition was called "Depersonalization:" The feeling that everything around me appeared unreal, as if living in some kind of hellish dreamlike state.

I was convinced these symptoms were triggered by smoking a single joint on that fateful February evening. That the massive intake of THC had somehow altered my brain to a place it could never recover. If this were the case I would forever blame myself for permanently shifting my life through one act of stupidity. If it wasn't, then I hoped maybe there could be some way back to normal.

It was also at this time that I met a girl. A great girl. I'm talking soul mate material. I hid my condition from her too. I knew, if I really wanted this to work, I would have to heal thyself and heal it fast. This took me on journey into the mental health profession to the tune of $150,000. I saw every psychiatrist, psychologist, cognitive behaviorist and researcher, leaving no stone unturned as doctor after doctor tried to explain my chronic, unending spacey nightmare on extreme anxiety, depression, genetics or a combination of all three.

It was through these travels, and the writing of the screenplay, that I finally came to understand myself on a level I never would have reached before the event. As the script circulated around town, instead of people saying, "Hey cool story," they would pull me aside, call me at night, send worried e-mails of their own secret experiences with detachment, anxiety and panic. What I thought was something that could only happen to me soon became a subject I realized was happening to more people than I could have imagined; people overwhelmed by the times we were living, fueled by their lack of security, fear of their future, feelings of being... Numb.

This is that movie.

NumbStill.jpg