Ben Steel’s feature doc ‘The Show Must Go On’ addresses the scourge of mental illness
Ben Steel with assistant editor Mars Williamson (l) and editor Lucy Paplinska.
As an actor Ben Steel often suffered from anxiety and depression – but for years his condition was not diagnosed or treated.
Discovering that many people in the entertainment industry struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse, the former Home and Away star embarked on a personal and professional journey.
Steel has interviewed 63 people from all walks of the industry, including actors, musicians, theatre producers, editors, roadies, dancers and sound recordists, who shared their experiences for The Show Must Go On.
Every single one recognised that mental illness is a massive issue and only a handful declined to go on the record due to their public profile or wishing to remain anonymous.
The interviewees include Sam Neill, David McAllister, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Dean Ray, Marcia Hines and Michala Banas.
Sue Maslin is producing the feature documentary with Steel, his feature directing debut, and Catreeana Saunders as co-producers. Daryl Dellora is serving as the consultant director and executive producer with Julia Adams. Diana Fisk is the impact producer.
Maslin tells IF: “We are setting out to lift the lid for the first time on one of the most important conversations we can have in the entertainment industry – that is, how we can have creative lives that are sustainable in terms of our mental wellbeing.
“The cost of entertainment has been way too high for many. We have to find a better way to support people and change the practices of how people enter the industry.”
Steel, who started out as an electrician on Heartbreak High, was a regular on Home and Away for two years. Just as he was relishing the fame and recognition, his character Jude Lawson was written out of the show.
“I was pursuing my dream as an actor, which became my whole identity and that was my downfall,” he tells IF. “When Home and Away came to an end I felt worthless and depression set in, but I did not know I had it.”
After working in the UK, the Czech Republic and the US for nine years, his career reached a new low point several years ago and he had suicidal thoughts. His husband pestered him to get professional help, which he did. The counselling also put him on a path of self-development.
Anecdotally, he knew many people in the industry are struggling with mental illness but that was not quantified until ground-breaking research by Entertainment Assist and Victoria University which found:
• In the previous 12 months Australian entertainment industry workers experienced suicide ideation 5-7 times more than the general population and 2-3 times more over a lifetime.
• Suicide attempts by industry workers are more than double that of the general population.
• The levels of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms are 10 times higher than in the general population.
• The levels of depression symptoms are five times higher than in the general population.
Post production is underway at Soundfirm. The producers aim to have the film and impact strategy completed in time to launch during Mental Health Week in October. Maslin’s Film Art Media will handle the distribution.
The production has been financed by philanthropic donors and partners including Stage & Screen, Documentary Australia Foundation, the MEAA, the Sidney Myer Foundation and Flight Centre Foundation.
Steel says: “My mental health and recovery are part of the film. I hope it will start a conversation so that people can talk more easily about their anxiety and depression, and most importantly, seek help.”
A website has been created for the film (www.theshowmustgoon.com.au) along with social media pages that will assist the social impact strategy put in place to coincide with the release.