Tune in to “Tune Out”

Kevin Leon


     Sophomore student Tommy Armstrong is set to premiere his movie, “Tune Out,” at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 11, at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. Admission is free.

     “Tune Out” is a musical comedy about depression. It is the final product of a project Armstrong set out to complete last spring. “Tune Out” was an idea pitched at last year’s Be Entrepreneurial and ROAR (BEAR) Innovation Competition hosted by Ursinus’ U-imagine Center. Armstrong received funding for the project when he was awarded the “Ready, Set, Go!” prize, an award handed to the team most prepared to start their venture.

     In “Tune Out,” a college senior begins to imagine the people she dislikes breaking into song and dance. It is a satirical portrayal of the issues the protagonist, who suffers from depression, faces, and because of that, the genre oscillates between comedy and drama.

     The idea for the film came out of works Armstrong wrote concerning his own experiences with depression and anxiety for his intro to creative writing class with Dr. Jon Volkmer. These writings turned into conversations with himself, the highlights of which were funny and meaningful moments.

     “I typed up the journal transcripts and made a story out of it, which was pretty well received by the class, and then I thought, ‘what’s a funny way to talk about dissociation, depression, and death?’” said Armstrong.

     Simultaneously, Armstrong discovered the memoirs of his grandfather, Ken Johnson, which cataloged his experience with depression. Ken detailed how his household played a huge role in the emotional trauma he inherited. A notable aspect of the memoirs was Johnson’s focus on people who loved to laugh. He never laughed much as a child, so in his memoirs, the people he met who loved to laugh left the strongest impressions. These memoirs inspired Armstrong’s production of “Tune Out.”

     At the time, Armstrong felt that his movie would help approach the subject of depression in an empowering way. He admits that depression plays an important role in his life – it affects him daily. Consequently, writing became a way for him to cope.

     Armstrong paid close attention to how he chose to write about depression. He wanted to be as fair and conscientious as possible. He went through drafts of the script, figuring out which tone would most adeptly reflect each character. He discovered that it’s easy to make a frustrated, depressed character unlikable.

     “A lot of films that tackle depression face that problem with little success. They either create an honest film whose protagonist you don’t root for, or a film with a likable character that trivializes depression,” Armstrong said.

     Since “Tune Out” is a musical, it threw another learning curve into the mix. Armstrong had to learn everything about musicals and their moving parts in just over twelve months. Andrew McSwiggan 20’ and Morgan Dickerman, a friend of Tommy, came on board for the musical composition. The film’s cast is a collection of Ursinus students and faculty. Some of the featured cast members are Claire Hughes 20’ as ‘Ken,’ Dr. Meghan Brodie as the therapist ‘Joan Portnoy,’ Dr. Rebecca Roberts as Ken’s mom ‘Carol,’ Mya Flood 18’ as ‘Morgan,’ Codi Yhap 20’ as ‘Scot,’ and Prof. Dominick Scudera as ‘Prof. Rubin.’

     Students will be able to leave a donation at the movie’s premiere. All proceeds will go to the Treatment Advocacy Center. It is an organization that provides mental health resources for those who lack access.

     Armstrong is currently planning his next project, a miniseries called High Education. It is a satire about the role of education today, with focuses on student culture, social practices, and drugs. Anyone is invited to contact him at toarmstrong@ursinus.edu if they would like to get involved.

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