Skip to content
This search input has a predictive search function. When 3 letters or more are entered, a number of predictive results appear in a dropdown. Use arrow keys to navigate and use the enter key to go to the page highlighted.

    Destigmatizing Mental Illness One Concert at a Time

    Mar 16 2022

    Today, we are joined by the Executive Producers/Directors of the documentary Orchestrating Change that tells the inspiring story of the Me2/Orchestra - the only orchestra in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them. Margie and Barbara talk with our Librarian and Archivist, Deena Gorland, about the origins of the Me2/Orchestra, the making of the film, and lessons we can all learn from the musicians.

    Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin are both Emmy Award-winning producers with years of non-fiction television experience. They have produced shows for CBS, NBC, ABC, HBO, Showtime, Lifetime, HGTV, Disney Channel and others.

    Listen on Apple Podcasts   Listen on Spotify

    Resources for this Episode

    Transcript of Audio

    Deena Gorland: Hello and welcome to Mentally Healthy Nation, a podcast from the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. I'm today's host, Deena Gorland.

    Deena Gorland: In celebration of Women's History Month, I would like to introduce two amazing women, Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin, who are the Executive Producer/Directors of the documentary film, Orchestrating Change. Orchestrating Change tells the inspiring story of the Me2/Orchestra, which is the only orchestra in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them. The orchestra's mission is to erase mental health stigma one concert at a time.

    Deena Gorland: Orchestrating Change has been seen on PBS stations across the country. The documentary was the sole 2021 winner of the prestigious Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media and was just voted one of the 2022 top 12 notable films for adults by the American Library Association and Media Round Table. Margie and Barbara are both Emmy Award-winning producers with years of nonfiction television experience. They have produced shows for CBS, NBC, ABC, HBO, Showtime, Lifetime, Disney Channel, and others. Their previous films have aired on PBS, including the prestigious series Independent Lens.

    Deena Gorland: So welcome Margie and Barbara. I am delighted you are both here to speak about this groundbreaking documentary and very moving and very riveting, I must say. So please explain briefly the story of Orchestrating Change, either Barbara or Margie.

    Margie Friedman: Well, Orchestrating Change, as you said, tells the incredible story of Me2/Orchestra, which is the only orchestra in the world for people living with mental illness. It was started by Ronald Braunstein, who was really on a trajectory to becoming one of the leading conductors in the world. He had won the von Karajan conducting competition. In fact, he was the first American to win that and then went on to conduct orchestras around the globe. But when he made his diagnosis of bipolar disorder public, his career really plummeted. His agent, who was one of the top agents for conductors, dropped him. And he really struggled for many years after that. And then decided, years later, to start Me2/Orchestra for people like himself. Hence the name Me2. Because when he told people what they were doing, they would say, "Oh, that's me too."

    Deena Gorland: Wonderful. How did you both even learn about the Me2/Orchestra? You're in LA and they're in Vermont. What's the story behind that?

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: I'll tell the first part of the story and then Margie-

    Deena Gorland: Okay.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: The first part of the story is that we had worked together in various capacities for years and had been friends for a long time, but we had never made a film together. And some crazy day we decided that we should do that. We were actually looking at another topic that did not pan out. So we were sort of in the market, so to speak, to find a great topic for a film and it had to be something that was meaningful and had some really good social purpose. And then Margie, you can take it from here.

    Margie Friedman: This was quite total coincidence, complete accident. Caroline, who's the executive director of Me2/Orchestra, and Ronald's wife, contacted me because she wanted to purchase a copy of my previous film, which was about the only men's prison choir that performs outside of prison and that had aired on PBS and she had seen it, wanted to order a copy of it in the course of that told me what she was doing. And I was like, "Oh my God, this is incredible. What a fantastic story. Has anybody ever done a documentary about you?" And she said, "Well, we've sort of been approached, but we've never really considered it."

    Margie Friedman: Anyway, I went back to Barbara and I said, "I think this is the story we want to do." And we talked to them and laid it all out and said it's going to be a five year process, which of course they didn't believe. And it was, but that's how it began. It was just complete coincidence.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: We actually went to Boston to meet with them. I remember meeting them at a little cafe that they used to go to before their rehearsals in Boston and sitting with them. And they said, "Well, how long do you think this is going to take?" And as Margie said, we said, "Oh, probably about five years." And they were like, "Oh, come on." No, for independent documentaries, that's about the timeline by the time you raise all the money and shoot and all of that, that's pretty much what it's going to take. And I think it was about six actually, by the time it hit the air on PBS. But in a lot of ways, it really was a lucky thing because it allowed us to follow the process, not only of the orchestra growing, but also what happened to a number of the musicians and their lives over that two-year period that we actually filmed with the orchestra. And I think that's really what made the film, that we saw their lives, not just at one occasion or two occasions where we hopped in and had cameras with them, but we got to know them. And we were able to see them at good points in their lives. And also at rather painful and not so good points in their lives.

    Deena Gorland: Yeah. I mean, what really struck me mostly, it was really their personal stories and just how amazing they were. They had courage to be able to tell what was happening or even allow you all in. Were you surprised by how they were so open to you all? And being featured in a film, it's a little, I would say nerve wracking, some anxiety, even for someone who may not have a mental illness. And altogether, the movement here, it really encourages conversation about mental illness, but did you guys have any setbacks or during that time of filming with the musicians

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Well, first of all, what you're talking about about being open, as you say, anybody who agrees to be in a documentary it's like opening your life to the public. Now that we live in social media world, it's somewhat less of an ask than it was many years ago, because people are used to doing that in a way that no one was before, but it still puts a glare of publicity on you that nothing else does. So it was incredibly brave of the musicians of Me2 to be willing to let us come in and talk to us so honestly and so openly. I think part of it was because in being part of Me2, they felt really part of a movement to push back against the stigmas and to say... When we first met Sandy, for example, who plays the flute in Me2 Boston, and is a big part of the film. She stood outside the church where they rehearsed. And she said, "I have this diagnosis and this diagnosis, and I have a boyfriend and I have a job. And I want people to know that people with mental illnesses are just like everybody else." And Margie and I were just absolutely bowled over with admiration and just, this woman has to be in the film. She's fighting for a place in society. And that's what we want to say. It was fantastic.

    Margie Friedman: I think the musicians were incredibly courageous in sharing their stories. And then part of it is, like Barbara said, and I think they wanted to be heard. I think so often people living with a mental illness are put in the corner and said, "You be quiet. We don't want to hear from you. We don't want to see you." And I think the orchestra has given them a platform to show who they really are and to show what they can achieve. And again, we were just so impressed by their willingness to share their stories, because I think that came with a real purpose. I think they really have a mission, which is to erase mental health stigma, and the best way to do that is to show people, they're just like everybody else.

    Deena Gorland: Sure, your film really showed that.

    Margie Friedman: They sound like your neighbor, they look like your coworker. They look like your family member because they are.

    Deena Gorland: Go ahead, Barbara, I'm sorry.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: I'm sorry. I was going to say one of the other good things about having it take so long was we were there a lot, so that we weren't just a news reporter showing up with the mic. We got to know them really well. And it was like, "Oh, there's Barbara and Margie again." So there was a level of comfort, I think, that was achieved, a level of familiarity and comfort. So that I think really helped a lot.

    Deena Gorland: Well, you could see that. I mean, I think it's quite intimidating just in general having a whole film crew and whatever have you, but you could have easily made this film a fluff film about this orchestra. But you did have a couple of, there were a couple of setbacks in the film. One of the musicians, I think it was Dylan perhaps. Well, there was Dylan and then there was Merrick, but I think Dylan, he had a sort of a breakdown and you showed that. And then Merrick, he also had a bit of a setback. And I think that was important, but that was probably a hard decision on your part to include that. Why did you all decide to include the incidents that happened with Dylan and Merrick?

    Margie Friedman: Actually, interestingly it wasn't our decision in a way. It was theirs. And it was Caroline's. Because I remember when Dylan got into trouble and we got a phone call from Caroline who said, "I just want to tell you what's happened with Dylan." And we said to her, "Well, how do you feel about our including that in the film?" And she said, "That's why I'm telling you." I think they really wanted to show the reality that mental illness can be cyclical. You can go through good times. You can go through bad times. And I think it was really important for them to show and particularly like in Merrick. He wanted to show that, yeah, I've had this setback, but I'm going to pick myself back up again and I'm going to keep going. And I'm going to go back to the orchestra. And what's happened to him several times, even since we've completed the film, and I think that was part of their message is you pick yourself up and you keep going. And I think that's incredible message for other people to hear, regardless of what you're going through in your life.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Yeah. With any chronic disease, you don't just have it once. There isn't just one incident where something happens and you need perhaps to be hospitalized or for your medication to be adjusted. Why should that be treated differently because it's a mental disease and not a physical disease? And I think that's part of the message that they wanted to put across.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: I want to say one other thing about aside from not making a fluff film, we also didn't want to make a film with experts. There's not one doctor, not to say anything bad about experts, they're important and very needed, but we wanted to just hear it from the people who are living its point of view. We just wanted to hear from the orchestra. We felt like there were a lot of other films where you can learn so much about mental illness and the chemistry and the biology and from the therapist's point of view, from the psychiatrist's point of view. We wanted this film to really be from the individual's point of view, from the patient's point of view.

    Deena Gorland: That's what made it so real because it was like a day in the life of Ronald or a day in the life of Merrick or the other musicians that were there. And so there were some funny moments and I think it was important for you guys to include those, but what was your take on that?

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Well, they're funny, charming people. And we enjoyed it we just felt that if we have not included that we would be leaving out a huge part of who they were and what they enjoyed about one another.

    Margie Friedman: And also I think humor sometimes helps get a message across. So I think that was very important to include. And as Barbara said, that's who they are. We wanted to show all sides of them.

    Deena Gorland: Sure, sure. Another thing too, I noticed, which I actually liked in the film was you incorporated the animation, which was also very well done. So what was your reasoning behind adding that element throughout the film?

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Well, first of all, we want to thank the Satrun sisters, Catherine and Sarah, who did the animation and worked really hard with us and we think did a wonderful job. First of all, as you said, we both live in LA and this was all happening on the East Coast, in Boston and Vermont, so that was one thing. But also for example, we had no desire, when Merrick or someone else went into the hospital to be running to the emergency room and having a camera in his face as he's at a very bad moment in his life. That just seemed intrusive and just not the right thing to do at all. But at the same time, we felt that it was very important for the audience to understand what it feels like to be inside that kind of crisis.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: So we came up with this idea of, well, what if we took the words from the interviews of people talking about it and then had these little brief animations to visualize it. And I hope that it really worked out well to just give you just a momentary sense of what it feels like to be inside a mental health crisis like that. And we could do that without really interrupting and being intrusive in someone else's life. In our characters' lives. Yeah.

    Deena Gorland: You could see that throughout the film that they felt comfortable, but as you said, six years of filming, they became a part of your family and you became a part of theirs. Though throughout the filming and just the whole process, what would you say were some of the biggest challenges? Because you have a background, both of you, in documentary filmmaking, you know the business. What were some of your biggest challenges with this particular documentary?

    Margie Friedman: Well, I think the biggest challenge, and it's not just with this documentary. It's with any documentary. When you do an independent film, the hardest part is, of course, always raising the funding to do it. And we were very fortunate. We got some very lovely grants, and of course did some crowd funding campaigns and put our own money into it. And that's always the biggest challenge, but that's part of the reward of doing it as well is you actually get to see the finished product. And of course for us, as Barbara said, we live on the West Coast, they're on the East Coast. So we couldn't have picked a farther place to go to than Burlington, Vermont from Los Angeles. So we went back and forth a lot, but it's actually a beautiful place. So that was kind of fun also.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: And every time we'd go there and say, "Oh, wouldn't this be a lovely place to live." And then we'd say to each other, "Winter." Even though we both grew up on the East Coast, now that each of us has lived, you've lived here longer than I have, but we didn't feel like we could deal with the winter in Burlington anymore.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: The other thing I think though, that I particularly I think was always really concerned about is just stepping really lightly with each of these folks. You don't know if it's a day when... We did have one day, particularly with Dylan, where he was really having a rough day, and as it turned out, this was the beginning of when he eventually did get into trouble that we we cover in the film. And he was very volatile and very kind of angry and anything would sort of set him off. He was just not having a good day. And it was just trying to negotiate that in a way that was still to get what we needed for the film, but also not to agitate him or upset him or make him feel like we were trying to make him do something that he didn't want to do. But there's always an element of that in any interview situation. It's always sort of a delicate dance, but if somebody's particularly having a rough time, of course, it just hypes it up even more.

    Deena Gorland: Obviously you were spending so much time with them and the incidences that may have happened and what you have seen. So how did this experience making this film deepen your understanding about mental illness diagnoses?

    Margie Friedman: Well, I think part of what I said before is the cyclical aspect of it. Dylan's incredibly charming, and so we obviously saw that side of him before this particular incident that Barbara was talking about. So we really got to see the range. I had had some experience before, because I had done a show that involved bipolar children for a network. And so I'd gotten a little bit of an introduction to that, but certainly we got even more so in doing this film.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: I've lived with episodes of depression since I was a little girl. So this was not a new field to me, but what I think was really new and hopeful to me was there's also a good deal of mental illness in my family. And my mother's brother had real periods of breakdown since I was an infant. And it was treated, particularly by my grandparents as something that should be hidden and was shameful and no one should ever talk about. And that was that generation. So that to come into this situation where people were talking about it out loud and not being ashamed of it. And that to me was just a wonderful new idea about how this could be dealt with. I thought that was really radical and important. And I was just really changed by the idea that this was a whole movement to pull back the curtains and stop treating it like it was this shameful thing that my grandparents had thought it was. So that was a huge, huge shift for me.

    Deena Gorland: Thank you. Thank you for being open and telling us about that. I think to me, the Me2/Orchestra is this vehicle of social change and the mindset that, because you're diagnosed with a mental illness doesn't necessarily mean then that's who you are. And I think that is also the message from this film, which is super important. And I'd love just to talk more and find out more about the model of this organization, because they're kind of this leader, these trailblazers with being comfortable about talking about mental illness and not to be shamed.

    Margie Friedman: Well, I think what's really unique about Me2 is that roughly half the orchestra of people living with mental illness and half are not. Half have no diagnosis. And that's the point. And when you look at the orchestra, you can't tell who's who, who has a diagnosis, who doesn't. And again, that's the point. But it shows what people can do working together and what they've created, and it's as simple as literally putting a sign on the door that says, "You are entering a stigma-free zone." So that when people walk into that room, whether it's a rehearsal or even at a concert for the audience, you know that you are walking into a space where acceptance and understanding are the norm and you are expected to follow that. And I think that's such a simple, simple concept.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Yeah. And it's funny because they kind backed into a in a way, because there Ronald and Caroline will tell you they're not therapists, they're musicians and it was not really, even though this was their stated goal, I don't think they had any idea that this was going to turn into the kind of movement that it really has turned into. But like Margie says, by creating this expectation, it's simple, but it's incredibly profound, that people should be treated for where they are and what they can do at that moment. And that's just fine. And that model can be used in any kind of group setting. A team, a school group, really anything to just say where you are today is okay. And you can give what you can give today. And if you need to take some time, take it. We'll be right here when you come back. And that's the gist of it. And it sounds really simple. Perhaps it's not that easy to practice in reality. They joke that they never know what exact combination of instruments they're going to have on any given day and for a typical conductor, that's probably their worst nightmare. What, 12 flutes and two cellos? But somehow they make it work. So it's that attitude of flexibility and acceptance that I think they're promoting for just about any way I can think of.

    Deena Gorland: Yeah. I think the acceptance, you can see that because generally in an orchestra, the head of the orchestra, the maestro is usually the one that's the bossy one. Well righteously so, because they're conducting, and there seems to be so much acceptance that it's okay. If you're having a bad day, we're open for you to come back. Take that time for your mental health right now. I got that sense specifically from the two musicians and their episodes. It struck a chord with me because I thought, wow, this is really a wonderful open space where Ronald's accepting them and not saying, "Well, nope, can't do it. Sorry, goodbye. Close the door." And I think that's a very important message that came across in the film as well.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Ronald who was trained to be this typical, tyrannical, hierarchical conductor in the old school, I think it's been a joy and a relief for him to be able to step away from that role and to be able to be, as he says, friends with his musicians and to know them as people and not just flute number one and violin number three, so that even on the top level of the orchestra, it's been really liberating for him to change that whole paradigm. So it's kind of cool.

    Deena Gorland: Yeah. No, I think it is. To me, the most fascinating part of the film was the final performance in the concert hall when the lady, I think her name was Carol, was it Carol?

    Margie Friedman: Yeah, Carol.

    Deena Gorland: Yeah. And she stood up at that podium in front of all those people. And she just said to them the truth, who she was, and that she once was afraid to tell people that she had a mental illness.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Yeah.

    Deena Gorland: But yet it just sent chills up my spine because I'm like, wow. You know what courage that she had, and she spoke so eloquently in front of all those people to say, "Listen, I have a mental illness. I'm okay with it." But I think it's also, too, because of the Me2/Orchestra gave her that courage and strength to do so. And that she no longer has that sense of fear, knowing it's okay. And that to me, besides the music being so beautiful and exhilarating and just amazing, you can see all the hard work and dedication through that whole performance, that struck me.

    Deena Gorland: You've shown the film. It's been out. Were you surprised about some of the feedback from just people who've seen the film, even maybe your family or your friends?

    Margie Friedman: Yeah. We've gotten nothing but wonderful feedback, so that's really been lovely. And because I think it has reached a lot of people. I was surprised that actually I heard from several friends who for the first time said, well, one friend in particular I've known for a long time. And I knew she had some issues, who came out and told me her diagnosis. And I think it gave her the courage to do that. It made her feel more comfortable. And someone else I know came and said to me, "My mother was institutionalized for many years when I was a child." I had no idea. As Barbara said, it's just not something that, particularly in the past that people were comfortable talking about or revealing. And I think hopefully we're reaching a time where it's a little bit less taboo.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Every time we show the film, we really get different reactions from people, which is so rewarding. From people we've shown it to various different kinds of audiences, from professionals to people who are involved on a much more personal level. And it's very rewarding to feel that people think that the film is sort of speaking for them in a way. And for me, a really wonderful part of this whole experience.

    Deena Gorland: So what do you hope that viewers will take away from the film in general and are there ways that we can support these types of efforts and Me2/Orchestra movements? And then what are the future plans for the Me2/Orchestra? There's a two part question, but because I'm curious and I was quite moved by the film.

    Margie Friedman: Well, I think we hope that it generates the discussion just like we're having today. I hope that people, when they see the film will talk about it, talk about it with their friends, with their family, and really have that conversation. In terms of the orchestra, unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed them down a little bit, but not their determination. They hope to create more Me2/Orchestras around the country and even the world. There is a small ensemble in Portland, Oregon. They now have one in New Hampshire and there are hopes to expand and they're in talks to expand. But again, the pandemic has slowed things down a little bit.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: They're starting one here in Los Angeles. They've got two in New Hampshire. I think they have Manchester and no, well there's one in-

    Margie Friedman: Manchester. Yeah.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Manchester. Yeah. Anyway, but that's really their mission. If people are interested, their website is me2music.org. Is that correct, Margie?

    Margie Friedman: Yeah, me2music.org.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: They're always interested in hearing from people who are interested in possibly starting a small ensemble. They're not expecting you to start a full orchestra to begin with. They're open to starting on a much smaller level, maybe just a little ensemble group to start off with. And another thing we know that they're talking about farther in the future is that maybe they're going to look into choral music as well, because they felt like the last barrier to being part of a Me2 ensemble was actually having to know how to play an instrument. But pretty much everybody can sing or learn to sing. So that's something that they haven't started yet. But I know that they're really seriously looking into. So that's pretty exciting.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: They really hope that in the long run they will have a Me2 ensemble of some sort in every major city in the United States. And one of the things we're really proud of is I think that the film has really helped them get support and funding and really get them better known, which is what we hoped from the beginning, was that people would get to know about them. And I think we've been very successful in that regard. So we're proud of that.

    Deena Gorland: That's wonderful. That's wonderful. So people who are interested, where can they see this documentary?

    Margie Friedman: Well, there are a couple ways they can do it. If they belong to PBS Passport, which is PBS' subscription service, they can certainly see it there. We're also for educational purposes, for educational institutions, we're with Bullfrog Films, which is bullfrogfilms.com or bullfrog.com. And then of course they can always reach us at orchestratingchangethefilm.com or our email is [email protected]. So there are lots of ways that people can see the film. And we hope that they do.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: I'll mention too, that it's been our mission to do as many grassroots screenings of mental health community groups, groups like the APA. We did a group with one of your internal groups that was really wonderful. As many stakeholders in this community as we can get to, because we've really found that these smaller screenings that we do, and we very often do the discussions, Zoom panel discussions afterwards with Margie and myself, and also with members of the orchestra who can join us, that we really get at deeply into the issues and people relate. So anyone who would be interested in setting something like that up, we can make that available to you at a very low cost, I must say. So yeah, we've done quite a number and we really interested in doing as many as we can.

    Deena Gorland: Yes. Wonderful. Well, wow. Just so happy that we had the chance to talk today. I really appreciate both of you, Barbara, Margie, for taking your time to speak with me about the film Orchestrating Change. And just to repeat one more time Barbara, if someone would like to get in touch with you personal by email, what's the email address again?

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Our email address is [email protected].

    Deena Gorland: And then if you want to learn more about the film, it's orchestratingchangethefilm.com.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: That's our website.

    Deena Gorland: That's your website. Wonderful. Also too, just to mention, if any listeners are planning to attend APA's Annual Meeting in New Orleans this year, Margie and Barbara will be screening Orchestrating Change and leading a discussion about the making of the documentary. It's going to be held on Tuesday, May 24th from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Thank you so much. We're so looking forward to being with you in New Orleans.

    Deena Gorland: Me, too. Me, too. Well, thank you ladies. I appreciate your time.

    Margie Friedman: Thanks Deena.

    Barbara Multer-Wellin: Thank you.

    Speaker 4: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individual speakers in their personal capacity only and do not necessarily represent the views of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation or the views, official policy or position of the institutions and organizations with which the speakers are affiliated. The content of this podcast is provided for general informational purposes only and does not offer medical or any other type of professional advice. If you are having a medical emergency, please contact your local emergency response number.