It’s been 22 years since Langhorne filmmaker Mike Walsh penned Sno Babies – a heart-wrenching look at teen heroin addiction that was inspired by all-too-real events.
“There was an overdose at my daughter’s high school, a heroin overdose,” said Walsh. “Heroin was becoming popular in the suburbs, especially in high schools. But nobody was talking about it. Nobody was talking about this drug overdose and I thought, this is just going to get worse.”
Although Walsh had several opportunities over the last two decades to sell his Sno Babies script, he didn’t want to rush the project.
He had to get it right the first time.
“My fear was, if it got in the wrong hands, it could be homogenized or sensationalized, or just turned into some light fluff piece,” he said. “I wanted to tell the unvarnished truth.”
When Walsh met South Philadelphia director Bridget Smith, he knew she was the perfect person to help get his message across – addiction is real, and it does not discriminate.
Sno Babies, released last month on digital streaming platforms, centers on middle-class suburban teens Kristen (Katie Kelly) and Hannah (Paola Andino), whose college-bound futures are put on the line as they quickly become addicted to heroin. All it takes is one party, one attractive guy and one oxycontin pill.
“My goal, and everyone’s goal with Sno Babies, is that people watch it together with their children. Perhaps they will possibly see themselves in the movie, or a kid might see some behaviors that they’re leaning toward, some of the pressures and some of the stresses, and start the conversation,” Walsh said. “Then that can bring awareness, and awareness can bring change. We have to have some change with this. It’s killing people. It’s a true pandemic.”
In a recent interview with Pop Entertainment, the two actresses shared Walsh’s sentiment, explaining how Sno Babies can help viewers destigmatize those battling substance abuse.
“When people think about someone who has an addiction to any sort of substance, it immediately draws a mental image right then and there,” said Kelly. “This movie shows it could be a 16-year-old honor student who lives in nice suburbia. It doesn’t discriminate and, at the end of the day, addiction is a disease. I hope that it opens people’s eyes to see that your child, your aunt, uncle, brother, whoever, they can have an addiction.”
“Before someone is an addict, they are a human. They are a person,” added Andino. “We see that these girls have great personalities. They have great chemistry. They’re likable. They’re just your regular students, and that’s so important to see because it really can be anyone.”
In-depth research was done before and during production to make the scenes in Sno Babies look disturbingly authentic. A technical consultant, Dr. Deni Carise, chief scientific officer at Recovery Centers of America, was on set to help the girls “shoot up” as realistically as possible. Walsh also drove them through Kensington, where they saw real-time drug deals.
“We got to take a very good look at something very real,” said Andino. “We got to fully immerse ourselves as actresses. It wasn’t like we were on set or just some different street that was made to look like Kensington. No, we were really there.”
Walsh praised the pair for not only their acting chops, but their willingness to learn about this uncomfortable, often taboo subject.
“It was really critical that the movie dripped with authenticity,” he said. “I was really adamant about working with the talent. The actresses got the physicality down right. These actresses were absolutely amazing. I said, if we don’t get this right, and anyone who is familiar with the subject sees it, we’re going to be indicted, tried and convicted of the highest form of hypocrisy.”
The film was acquired by record label Better Noise (Motley Crue, Papa Roach, Five Finger Death Punch), which now has a film division led by Allen Kovac. Label artists, including Six:A.M., Escape the Fate, From Ashes to New and Bad Wolves, are featured on the intense Sno Babies soundtrack.
Better Noise and the artists are donating Sno Babies proceeds to Global Recovery Initiatives. Sales in the United Kingdom will go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
Walsh, Smith and the cast were on hand during a special Live Nation-sponsored screening of Sno Babies at Punch Line Philly. Several parents who lost children to addiction were in attendance, and praised the team for spreading awareness about the ever-growing issue.
“It’s a powerful movie, so there were a lot of tears, a lot of tissues,” said Walsh. “We’re happy with the notoriety that the film’s getting, and the amazing feedback about how we got it right. People who have lost loved ones to this epidemic are saying things like, ‘I wish we would’ve seen this before we went through this.’ Our goal, it really is to get as many people to watch it, and watch it with their children.”
Sno Babies and the soundtrack are available at snobabiesmovie.com.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org