Tourette’s syndrome and other neurological disorders are stigmatized, and therefore, seldom addressed in the media. Writer and director Dale Peterson brought this disorder into the spotlight with his new feature film “Hello, My Name is Frank”, which premiered on April 27 at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
The film follows Frank (Garrett M. Brown), a lonely, misunderstood man with severe Tourette’s syndrome, on a journey of self discovery. After the death of his caretaker, Frank is left in a fragile state, with only the caretaker’s teenage daughter Laura (Rachel DiPillo) to look after him.
With the burden of her sick mother and Frank on her shoulders, Laura spends her entire childhood caring for everyone but herself. Laura and her friends Kim (Mary Kate Wiles) and Alisa (Hayley Kiyoko) plan to take a road trip after graduating high school, but without a caretaker for Frank, Laura reluctantly drags him along for what turns out to be the ride of his life.
Frank suffers from coprolalia (involuntary swearing), a rare symptom of Tourette’s syndrome. As a result of his lack of vocal restraint, Frank finds himself in the midst of several dangerous situations. He is victimized by those who do not understand his condition.
“The film actually wasn’t originally about a man with Tourette’s. My first script was about a despondent man who goes on a road trip with three teenage girls, but then, I happened to see a documentary about a boy named John Davidson who had Tourette’s syndrome. After seeing this documentary, I changed the main character to having Tourette’s, and it worked really well,” said writer and director Dale Peterson.
With his new script, Peterson hired a talented cast of actors to bring his story to life. Garrett M. Brown was hand-picked from a large pool of actors to play the difficult role of Frank. This was no easy character to play, but Brown’s dedication and skill made him the perfect man for the job. He perfectly mimicked the tics of someone with Tourette’s syndrome, and delivered an impressive performance that added a whole new level of professionalism to the film.
“The challenge of playing a character with a disability was intriguing right out of the gate,” shared Brown, “I worked for a year and a half with my acting coach, Larry Moss, to develop a full repertoire of physical and vocal tics. It was nice to finally have a script with so much heart in it, so I got really passionate about my role.”
Brown spent so much time developing his character that the tics came naturally on camera. “Preparing for the role included a daily regimen of physical work, watching videos, and going through the script. I had this notion of gathering Frank’s whole story inside of me so I could just live in front of the camera,” he said.
Brown capitalized on every possible opportunity to test out the tics he had learned. “At one of our lunch meetings, Garrett caught me by surprise by yelling out Frank’s classic tic for the whole restaurant to hear,” laughed Peterson. Frank’s random, profane outbursts provided comedic relief throughout this emotional film.
The other actors conducted extensive research for their roles as well. DiPillo prepared for the role of Laura by educating herself about Tourette’s syndrome caretakers. “I read a lot about how to take care of someone with Tourette’s because it was my character’s role to take care of Frank. I also had to get back into the mindset of a new high school graduate, so I thought a lot about my high school experiences,” shared DiPillo.
In the film, Laura takes a road trip with her friends Alisa and Kim. “I loosely based the girls on friends of my daughter. They are very much different people and have different personalities, but come together to have a beautiful friendship, despite their differences,” Peterson said.
Alisa (Hayley Kiyoko) is a carefree, rebellious teenager who finds it difficult to commit to relationships. She lives a fast-moving life, but always makes time to spend with her friends.
Kim (Mary Kate Wiles) is a religious conservative who struggles to find her own voice. “I learned that my character and I are very similar people. We’re both Southern Christians, and we’ve both been through times where we’ve questioned our faith, so I can really relate to her in that sense,” said Wiles.
Wiles prepared for her role by reading the script every day and carrying around her bible. “Reading the bible allowed me to connect more with my character,” she said.
While on the road, the characters settle their differences and realize how lucky they are to have each other in their lives. “Our characters were forced to learn about each other and themselves, and as a cast, we had to do that in real life too. We filmed in Tri-Cities, Washington, away from all our friends and family in LA. All we had was each other, so these people became like my second family,” commented Wiles.
“My favorite thing about filming was just hanging out and getting to know all of my amazing co-stars. While we were filming in Washington, we would live together at family friends’ houses. We spent so much time together that we felt like a family, and I think that’s a big reason why this movie came together so well,” said DiPillo.
Peterson also developed a solid relationship with his cast and crew, which made the filming process more enjoyable for everyone.
“Dale is such a great guy, and I’m so happy that I got the chance to work with him. I would love to be a part of any one of his future projects,” said actor Travis Caldwell.
“I’ve worked with great people, like Woody Allen and Steven Soderbergh, and Dale is right up there with the best of them. I just feel so lucky,” Brown said.
The chemistry of the cast and crew translated over to the interactions between their characters. Love and acceptance were important themes in this film, and it was evident that there was a lot of love in this cast.
The film serves as a reminder to its viewers that self acceptance is crucial to one’s happiness. “It shows that no one’s perfect. We all have problems in life, and it’s how you deal with those problems that’s important,” said Peterson.
This heartwarming film allows the audience to share the ride and journey, filled with love, compassion, and even some laughs along the way. If “Hello, My Name is Frank” teaches its viewers one lesson, it is that no one knows where the road will take them, so they must learn to sit back, and enjoy the ride.
The official movie trailer for “Hello, My Name is Frank” can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vz5ND3bpK0.