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With New Series, Alums Explode What We Think We Know About Drugs

Jeremiah Zagar’s mind was blown when he heard author Johan Hari speak about drug addiction.

For Zagar ‘03, addiction is very personal. His brother has struggled with addiction for most of his adult life. He covered it in his movie In A Dream.

“Then I heard [Johan Hari’s] Ted Talk and it made me think completely different about addiction. We’ve all been touched by addiction. Whether it’s ourselves or a loved one struggling,” said Zagar.

Based on Hari’s book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Zagar along with co-showrunner and director Nathan Caswell ’02 created The Fix, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. The docuseries started streaming for free on the Roku Channel on January 21.

Pitching the series wasn’t easy, said Zagar, who’s currently in post-production as the director of Hustle, starring Adam Sandler.

Along with Zagar and Caswell, fellow alums Josh Banville ’03 and Matt Lombardi ’04 made a moving eight-part series that posits that everything we think we know about drug addiction, legalization of drugs, the opioid crisis, and 12-step programs is wrong.

Top left to right: Jeremiah Zagar ’03, the author, Josh Banville ’03, Matt Lombardi ’04, Nathan Caswell ’03

“There’s so much hypocrisy and politics, and to distill those hypocrisies is interesting and challenging,” said editor/director Banville. “For me, how society deals with drugs and drug users as a whole is a disgrace. We’re trying to take a harder look at a better way to do things,” said Banville.

Episodes are only 8 to 10 minutes long, so points must be quick and clean, said Caswell, similar to the technical ethos of television advertisements.

“The sound bites have to be really punchy. One of the things is that we may look at an hour-long interview for what’s the best 30-second sound bite and a 4-second sound bite from that 30 seconds,” said Caswell.

Caswell credited Lombardi with excellent writing that moves the story along, with quick narration from Jackson intercut with soundbites. Signing Jackson was a huge get, and he was atop a list of celebrities the production team thought would be good narrators who’ve publicly expressed personal struggles with addiction.

“[Jackson] can be sarcastic and dead funny, and it’s a way to believe both. There are lighter funny parts and parts that are more serious,” said Lombardi. “He feels comfortable in both worlds, and you don’t doubt his disposition and what’s he’s saying.”

The show’s production coincided with the pandemic, and working remotely is tough, but working with their friends from Emerson College was a wonderful comfort. That if you had a hellish day you’d be connecting with a friend at the end of it.

“Having your friends at your side gives you energy,” said Caswell. “The collaboration for me – a lot of it is picking up that energy when you’re lagging. That healthy rivalry, a creative rivalry, someone raises the bar, and gets you through it.”

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