Staying Clean: Starting the Conversation with GRACE, the movie

GRACE: elegance; kindness; blessing; adorn; dignify.
Women in the Arts & Entertainment GEM Magazine 2013 Fall Issue.

Marisa Vitali and Chris Odal on set

Marisa Vitali and Chris Odal

Alysia Reiner on set at Tim's Shipwreck Diner

Alysia Reiner on set at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner

Photographs by Scott Kowalchyk.

After celebrating ten years of being clean from heroin addiction, Marisa Vitali, actor/screenwriter/producer created GRACE, a movie that centers on one woman’s first year of recovery, Janice, who finds herself back at home, poor, waitressing at the local diner and in a custody battle for her daughter. Faced with the truth of the wreckage of her past, she must cope with a series of events that transpire without going back to using drugs.

Drug use and addiction continue to plague our civilization, particularly the lives of our youth. The scope of Marisa’s vision is to use the film as a teaching tool to inspire hope because “art is healing and what’s the best conversation starter other than an amazing piece of art or whatever forms that may be to get people to feel comfortable; to start talking.” With its emphasis on recovery, GRACE “starts the conversation between addicts and addicts; non-addicts and non-addicts.”

The evolution of the making of the movie GRACE began with a talented team: Chris Ordal, an award-winning director and screenwriter who crafted the screenplay into a visual form to translate it seamlessly to screen; cinematographer Lyn Moncrief brought visual cues to get inside Janice’s head; producer Claudine Marotte who brought it all together with a crew, actress Alysia Reiner who assisted in introducing Grace to the world, creative consultant Karen Giordano and a cast of actors who brought their ideas and open hearts to the work including Zach Grenier, an award-winning actor who plays attorney David Lee in the television series The Good Wife, and Alysia Reiner, award-winning stage, screen and television actress currently shooting the role of Fig on Orange is the New Black. The initial workshops of the script took place at the Indies Lab in NYC founded by actor George Katt.

To get an inside peek at that collaborative process Marisa and Alysia sat down with me to share some of their behind-the-scenes stories:

How did your paths cross and why did each of you commit to working with each other?

M: So grateful to have been introduced to Alysia, who has been in my life the past few years…She is a woman of talent, strength, inspiration and fabulousness! I spent about a year honing my script and workshopping it here in NYC at The Indies Lab. I felt I was at a place where I had done all the rewrites I could possibly do. I asked Alysia if she would have a read and let me know any thoughts or additional notes she might have. I have always valued Alysia’s professional opinion and her shared experience immensely. Her generosity of spirit responded with an emphatic, “YES!” and off my script went to Alysia’s inbox, while I patiently waited for her response. If I’m not mistaken her response, was something to the extent of: “Luv it! Count me in! When are we shooting it?” At that moment, my heart skipped a beat. OMG! WOW! I guess I’m making a movie and Alysia Reiner has just been cast. I was TRULY beside myself that she believed in the heart of this story and that she wanted to be a part of this journey with me. So GRATEFUL! She instilled the courage in me to move forward and make this film. Thank You Alysia! And then the meetings began…

A: I was so happy to collaborate with Marisa on this project because my film SPEED GRIEVING was made for similar reasons – to help people heal and not feel so alone. It is now used as a grief counseling tool at hospices, hospitals and all the clubhouses world wide.

Why here? Why now?

M: The film was shot at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport, Long Island where I worked my first year clean. At the time having just celebrated 10 years clean, Alysia gave me that little nudge to jump off the cliff. Ten years was symbolic for me… I felt that it was a coming of full circle to do it at that time.

A: I am so fricking proud of Marisa, her recovery and courage and so thrilled to have helped this dream come true! I know, it, in turn will help so many others.

What were some of the obstacles you had to face during the course of this project?

M: As my friend and mentor, actress Karen Giordano always says: “There’s no such thing as an obstacle, only potential inspiration.” Filmmaking is a process and a journey. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen, which is not necessarily the way you had expected it to. I had a director for the film, a female, come on board who I was super excited to work with and then due to personal conflicts she was unable to move forward with the film. Who was I going to hire now to direct my film? That was a decision I had to sit with…at the time I was set on a female director. My ultimate decision shifted and came down to: Who is the PERSON to tell this story? That’s when Alysia introduced me to Director Chris Ordal, who then came on board to direct GRACE. The rest is history…

A: I will say as an actress I had a blast. Brigitte is a classic foil; [she’s] such a fun, fun character to play – the classic narcissistic bitch, but as an actress you always want to make it unique and relatable and human.

Share some moments during the shoot that made the message particularly personal and/or moving for you as an artist?
M: I shared a scene with my father…As Director Chris Ordal prompted him with thoughts and moments about me, his daughter, I was able to see his humanity come through and experience his love, without any attachments or stories…just a pure love…it was a shared moment that is difficult to put into words…but it was shared. To me, that moment was the most moving as an artist, as Marisa Vitali, as a human spirit.

A: I love supporting other women, cheerleading them and their dreams. I feel like I was always looking for a mentor and never really had one until recently and I therefore want to go out of my way to support other women in any way I can.

Any amusing incidents to highlight during the course of this project?

M: We were actually slated to shoot June 2012 and 2 days before shooting I was faced with a decision. Postpone shooting in order to shoot the film I envisioned or go ahead and shoot anyway? Despite the decision being an emotional one, I knew it was the right decision and that production would happen when it was meant to happen as opposed to when “I” wanted it to. It’s AMAZING what can transpire when your ego is taken out of the equation. Alysia introduced me to Producer Claudine Marotte, who then came on board and everything fell right into place.

Who is the audience you are targeting?

M: People who love movies…I had the opportunity to work with so many talented professionals on this film that there’s really something for everyone. And what better way to conclude the film but with a conversation about recovery?

How does the film meet that goal without becoming didactic or a documentary?

M: It’s a movie, it’s entertaining with an AMAZINGLY TALENTED cast …the audience is able to feel and experience what the main character Janice is thinking and feeling. In this way, when she’s faced with her decision of what to do, so is the audience. They are posed with the question of what would they do…and so the conversation begins.

What are some of the outcomes and goals of this movie?

M: The short film GRACE, of course, will do the festival circuit. And then, I want to pair the film GRACE with a recovery organization to raise awareness and start the conversation of recovery, between addicts and non-addicts. I want to be able to bridge this conversation gap. Similar to what Alysia did with her film SPEED GRIEVING.

A: I am so thrilled I was able to help in any way to make it happen, show her the way, the steps to production – having done it with SPEED GRIEVING – and introduce Marisa to Chris and Claudine and I’m so excited to cheer her at the premiere!!!

Once the film is “in the can” what happens next?

M: Director Chris Ordal will be heading up the postproduction, editing, color correction and sound out in LA. GRACE will be ready for our FIRST festival submission: Sundance.

Robert J. Lindsey, President/CEO National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) will be utilizing the movie GRACE as a resource to “start the conversation” and raise awareness about recovery programs.
> NCADD’s Hope, Help and Healing: Personal Stories of Recovery is a public education campaign designed to increase public understanding and support for recovery from alcoholism and drug dependence, for the individual and for the family.
Long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction is a reality for millions of individuals and family members. In fact, NCADD estimates that almost 20 million individuals and family members are living life in long-term recovery!
But you don’t just check into rehab and get better by the time your stay is over. You don’t just go to a few twelve-step meetings and get sober. Recovery is about learning to live your life in a new way, without alcohol or drugs. It’s about developing a network of sober friends and families, people who you can talk with and relate to. It’s about creating a new life. Most important, recovery is a remarkable gift.

Alysia Reiner is an award-winning stage, screen & television actress. She is currently shooting the role of FIG on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, the new series by Jenji Kohan who created WEEDS, and this month shooting the film REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONand GIRL IN THE BOOK, as well as having recently wrapped ARE WE OFFICIALLY DATING with Zac Effron. Go to, follow her @alysiareiner
Marisa Vitali is an actress/audio book narrator/producer. She is currently in post-production for her film GRACE. Recently wrapped NOVEMBER LIES and her most recent narration THE RISE AND FALL OF ROCKY LOVE can be heard on Go to,, and follow her @marisavofficial

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