Hey! I Know This Story…Or Do I?

A Loose adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about the West Virginia Drug Epidemic.” That’s one heck of an elevator pitch. How did I come up with it?


Austin Susman is a Spring 2017 Graduate. His concentration is Digital Filmmaking.

Well the story of this project really starts the semester before I started working on Capstone when I took a Seminar taught by Dr. Kevin Williams about Technological Mythologies. These are stories, common cultural myths that were either portrayed using or somehow portrayed technology science. We looked at works starting as far back as Petrarch’s revelation of using a 2D canvas to portray 3D Space in 1500 and going all the way to Star Wars the Force Awakens in 2017. We even briefly touched on Jekyll and Hyde in that class, but that’s not why I’m bringing it up here. One of the things that really fascinated me about the class was the way we looked at the idea of adaptation and how different mediums change a story like Jekyll and Hyde into completely new myths when they’re adapted for film in television, or as Marshall McCluhan, one of the first scholars of television famously said “the medium is the message.” 

Essentially the same experience story that is told on the page can’t be had on film or television. You can try, but in the end you’ll have a new phenomenon with similar elements. So I thought, and I think a lot of other people have thought this as well, if I can’t tell the same story, why not take advantage of that and use that to my benefit. Do something unique.

So, how did I get to Jekyll and Hyde? Honestly, it’s just been something that’s always fascinated me. I’ve always loved the old horror classics. Anything Universal adapted into a black and white movie back in the 1930s, Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde. The interesting thing is, I’d read Dracula and Frankenstein, but I’d never read Jekyll and Hyde until last year. I knew the story, but had never read it. I just knew the myth. This was a story that was so well known and so oft adapted that I didn’t have to read the book to feel like I knew the story.

Of course to work with the story in an academic sense I knew I’d have to start by actually reading the book. So I got myself and copy and set aside a day for reading. It’s a pretty short book. It was a fun read, but for a lot of it I didn’t see much room to do anything unique, until I got towards the end and I read this quote.

It was on this side that my new power tempted me until I fell in slavery. I had but to drink the cup

To me, this quote signifies alcoholism. Before reading the book I’d never associated the theme of addiction or alcoholism with the Jekyll and Hyde mythology. It was to me, and I think in the common cultural mythos just a story of science gone wrong. But addiction…that was my angle. That was something from the original source material that I could use to create something new.

But Austin,” you may say “how did you get from Alcoholism in 1880s England to Heroin and Opioids in West Virginia in 2017?” Well, as Brian A. Rose, author of Jekyll & Hyde Adapted: Dramatizations of Cultural Anxiety puts it

Examining the process of serial adaptation indicates how the content of the Jekyll & Hyde story, in one specific instance, has been appropriate by producers of American popular culture for a variety of narrative, dramaturgical and cultural reasons.. In doing so the creators of adaptations record and exploit social concerns reflected by motifs derived from the original story, remodeled to affect specific audiences.

This quote really says it all. What adaptations choose to focus on shows what issues were important to the people who made them.I’ve seen addiction in people I know, and I’ve seen it in the news. Not just on CNN but on my local news sources as well. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a WV native born and raised and I check the major West Virginia News outlets on a daily basis. I’m not sure a single day has gone by in the past year without some sort of story on the issue.

So that, in a few paragraphs, is a summary of the research and though process that led me to the idea for my Capstone Project. The production was a fairly straightforward process, going from writing, to preproduction, to production to post production. What as different about this process than others I’ve been apart of was just it’s complexity and the amount of attention to detail that was given. My experiences in semesters past from classes such as Narrative Screenwriting (Comm 302),  Single Camera Production (Comm 350), Music Video (Comm 333) and Sound Design (Comm 329) have prepared me quite well. While much of the equipment I used was my own (Camera, Microphones, Recorders…etc) almost all of the post production was done on the comm department’s computers using Adobe Premiere Pro.

So how well did it all come together? See for yourselves!

If you’re interested in seeing more of my work, please visit my Online Portfolio.

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