This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on June 3, 2020.
“Woke the Monster” is a documentary about addiction, PTSD and prison, but the heart of the film explores the intricate path towards recovery, redemption and a 100-mile finish line.
Working out of a minivan and using three cameras, a drone and a GoPro might sound like the makings of a newly emerging filmmaker, but Andrew Shebay is far from a novice.
The native Texan filmed his first documentary when he stayed with a native tribe of Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean. Soon, his film career would really take off after he moved to Sydney, Australia. Shebay has traveled the world making films that tell the personal stories of tragedies and triumphs, which might not have ever been told had it not been for the inquisitive nature of the Austinite.
Preferring a simplistic cinematic style, he vividly captures the raw, unfiltered emotions of combat veteran Shawn Livingston in Shebay’s latest documentary, “Woke the Monster.”
The personal retelling of Livingston’s struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and heroin addiction would take the Austin filmmaker and his crew to the rugged terrain of the Appalachian Mountains. It was here that Livingston would run the race of his life and Shebay and his camera wouldn’t be far behind.
“Documentaries definitely make me feel more alive. The connections I make with my subjects, I carry those with me my entire life,” says Shebay.
In making “Woke the Monster,” Shebay is able to capture Livingston’s internal conflict filled with raw emotions and the subsequent consequences that would unfold as a result of his personal demons. Facing the possibility of spending 20 years behind bars, the Army veteran would enter his own 12-step program of sorts along the Appalachian Mountain Trail.
Livingston was no stranger to the ins and outs of recovery. In fact, the Ohio native has tried everything from treatments to medicines, but with no lasting success. It wasn’t until his journey brought him to Austin that he was able to measure his success. Livingston says, “The running community has become like family and rallied behind me every step of the way. Together, running and recovery helped me fully address my mind, body and spiritual health.”
After 36 hours of filming and wearing a GoPro camera, Livingston completed the 100-mile race in just under 28 hours. “Woke the Monster” premiered virtually at the Thin Line film festival in Denton this past March.
Andrew Shebay’s insatiable desire for connecting with the subjects of his documentaries creates an impactful experience for audiences, which leads to a better understanding and appreciation for those living with addiction and PTSD.
How has the film been received by its virtual audience?
The virtual turnout and responses we received were in the thousands. It was amazing to see all the responses of gratitude and support we got from all over the world. It’s evident to see that addiction is not just America’s most neglected disease but a global disease.
How many Texas movies have you filmed?
We work worldwide but probably 80% of our productions are filmed in Texas. Texas is home and I love being here and telling stories. I’ve been to every corner of Texas with a camera, filming everything from post-apocalyptic stories to real Texas people doing what they love. My wife and I have our first baby coming in a few weeks, so as much as I still love to film all over the world I’m working on telling more stories in Texas!
Do you prefer filming documentaries or scripted movies?
I love scripted movies, but with documentaries it becomes extremely personal and emotional with that person in front of the camera. It’s a tremendous weight to have the trust from someone to tell their most inmate life stories to the world.
Were you inspired to start running?
I’ve always been an athlete and loved running. However, my running days have slowed down in the past couple years. But when I met Shawn and wanted to tell his story, I had to lace up my shoes again and hit the Austin Trails with him. Running together definitely helped us open up to each other and connect. As a filmmaker I wanted to put myself in his shoes and experience his life. And I’m still running more and more today– just sticking to two to three miles though.
What other films and documentaries have you produced?
I’ve produced several short films and shorter documentaries, but this was my first feature documentary that I produced and directed. It was a subject matter that was personal to me and one that Shawn and I believed could help inspire hope and strength in other addicts and their families.
It appears that Andrew, and a cameraman, were ALSO running this race to keep up with filming Shawn? Assuming they aren’t long distance runners, how did you cope with that filming sequence?
It was a challenge to capture Shawn along the trail race for 100 miles. We parked on the side of the road or a dirt road and scouted for the best shots. There were three of us–me, our DP and our AC/2nd Camera Op. We gave the GoPro to Shawn and had him film along the race to capture the more intimate footage along the trail. Then, we stationed ourselves strategically and waited for him to come in. We only had one chance to get the shots. And we waited hours sometimes but had to stay alert during sleep deprivation.