WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pete Shilaimon, the Catholic producer of the upcoming movie “Words on Bathroom Walls,” is always on the lookout for film scripts that have “a little bit of faith.”
“Words on Bathroom Walls” fits that description.
A high school senior, Adam, (Charlie Plummer), recently diagnosed with schizophrenia after being expelled from his public high school, is enrolled at a Catholic high school with dual mandates if he wants to graduate: Get good grades and keep taking his meds.
“That’s where he finds an unlikely ally in Andy Garcia, who plays our Catholic priest,” the avuncular Father Patrick, said Shilaimon in an Aug. 5 phone interview with Catholic News Service from Los Angeles.
The kicker is that Adam is a regular in the priest’s confessional even though he isn’t Catholic.
Shilaimon’s pedigree for faith-infused films is longer than that of many other producers. His resume includes “I Can Only Imagine,” the highest-grossing independent film release of 2018; “The Miracle Season,” about how a high school girls’ volleyball team overcame the death of one its star players; “Forever My Girl,” about a country music star returning to his roots and finding a couple things there he didn’t know existed; and “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” about how a Polish woman’s Catholic faith impelled her to hide Jews in the zoo run by her husband as the Nazis clamped down on Poland.
But they also include “Jackie,” the character study of Jacqueline Kennedy; “Judy,” which won Renee Zellweger a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of singer-actress Judy Garland; and a fistful of flicks aimed at teen audiences. In fact, one of Shilaimon’s production companies is called American High, which focuses entirely on that genre.
He made “Words on Bathroom Walls” because “we wanted to take on a story that deals with a mental illness, a mental disease,” Shilaimon said. “This is not a popular story to tell,” likening it to 2017’s “Megan Leavey” — which he also produced — with Kate Mara in the title role, which dealt with her character’s post-traumatic stress disorder following a tour of duty in Iraq.
Layered in with schizophrenia in “Words on Bathroom Walls,” Shilaimon told CNS, is high school bullying, “which is catastrophic to a young person’s mind.”
The rock band the Chainsmokers also are on the movie’s production team via their own Kick the Habit Productions.
“We showed them an early cut and they just loved it. They’d dealt with mental issues themselves and they wanted to be a part of it in a big way,” Shilaimon said, contributing the film’s score and some songs. “It was nice to have younger guys on a project that deals with issues they had dealt with before or seen with friends of theirs.”
“Words” was filmed in North Carolina, and St. Mary’s School in Wilmington, North Carolina, serves as the fictional St. Agatha High School in the film.
The movie was filmed about two-and-a-half years ago, according to Shilaimon. It then took a year and a half to make it audience-ready, he said. “And then COVID hit,” he added.
Rather than head to streaming platforms for its Aug. 21 premiere, “Words on Bathroom Walls” will actually debut in theaters. The movie will open on about 500 screens, according to Shilaimon. “There will be another movie going in with us,” he said. “Two movies coming to you on the 21st.”
For those not listening attentively, Shilaimon’s surname sounds an awful lot like that of director M. Night Shyamalan. Do people confuse him with the director of “The Sixth Sense” and a host of other high-gloss creep shows?
“Every person!” Shilaimon replied. “Every person I’ve ever met asks me that question. It’ s very interesting. We have very similar things going on. I think he’s from India and I’m from Iraq. We’re definitely, definitely, not far apart.”