Maybe it’s that time of year or simply a love story that has the power to reach deep into your heart and gently squeeze it until your eyes get weepy. Well ours sure did…sniff. >^..^<
Our emotional journey began after we had the distinct privilege of speaking with this delightful couple – Aly Miller and Paul Castro Jr.
Aly is a director, writer, producer, actor and co-founder of Lynx Point Pictures. Paul Castro Jr. is a director, writer, producer and actor. Together they wrote and produced a short film about their kitten (Aeris) who was born with a rare and incurable disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). It compassionately chronicles their twelve day journey spent together trying to defeat the horrible disease that eventually took the life of sweet Aeris. We told you that there’d be tears!
Their film is not only about FIP, it’s about an innocent, life deprived animal who taught two people one of their greatest lessons ever learned: how to love. Not only each other, but all living things. And about how those twelve days gave purpose to Aeris’ life.
We asked Paul a series of questions and here’s what he shared with us:
Q. Describe the scenario when you first saw Aeris at the pet store.
When I first saw Aeris I just had a feeling something was off. She was tiny, frail and her coat was as dirty as I’d seen for cat not living on the street. Also, her belly was HUGE. When I asked the owner about it I got the response that she had just been de-wormed, and that worms are common in kittens.
Still I knew something else had to be wrong… BUT, when the owner took her out of the cage and let me hold her, she immediately started purring and rubbing all over me. She looked at me with her blue eyes and spoke to me as if she was saying “Please take me.” I know it sounds cliche but it’s true. I just had a feeling I had to get this cat out of this store. She was a hypoallergenic Bengal as the owner said and Aly was allergic to cats so it just seemed like it was all in the stars.
Q. How soon after bringing her home did you realize she needed a vet’s attention?
I was actually a bit naive to the idea anything might have been severely wrong, being young and not having much experience with cats other than having them as a kid.
It was actually Aly who had done the digging and researching to find out if it was something other than worms because Aeris was lethargic and had the big belly. Once she starting looking on the wonderful internet where it scares you into believing the worst, FIP (in this case it was right) we went to the vet the next day.
Q. Can you describe the emotion once the vet explained to you her diagnosis?
There were so many emotions, I think we went through the entire spectrum. Shocked, angry, concerned, afraid, doubtful… In the film we touch a bit on the real human reaction that happens when you experience something like this. Aly was devastated and couldn’t believe it, where I was furious that the owner allowed something like this to happen to Aeris.
I’d called the owner and threatened to have her shut down by the ASPCA after looking online to find so many similar cases on the stores reviews. She had wanted us to give Aeris back in exchange for another one, her father, which sent me even further into rage. In just two days we’d already felt so attached to her and like we were responsible for her. Whether she would live or die. I became a parent instantly.
Q. Having never heard of FIP – what went thru your and Aly’s minds?
Aly had researched FIP before we went to our appointment due to her belly size. So when the Dr. brought back the syringe with the yellow fluid she knew what it meant in terms of the prognosis. I honestly thought the vet didn’t know what she was talking about. We were still in shock after hearing it was fatal with no cure or treatment.
Aly was hysterical as we walked out of the office and we both decided there had to be something more we could do. It couldn’t be that simple of just “She’s going to die.” We were broke… literally I was working an Off Broadway play making no money and she was baby sitting to pay credit cards. But it didn’t matter. We needed to get a second opinion and then that eventually led us to trying homeopathic remedies.
Q. During those 12 long days…can you touch on a few highs & lows? What did you learn?
The highs were getting to see a real change in Aeris. When we got her she was so lethargic… she would just sleep, but as the days went on she got more playful and looked happier. I could just tell she knew we were looking out for her. She would sleep on my chest every night and be there right when I woke up. She taught us both how to love. There’s no other way to go about saying it.
We really learned for the first time what it was like for another living being to be dependent on us. It may sound ridiculous, but as I mentioned we were her parents… and we lost a child. She also sparked the flame that ignited the animal activists in us. We made this film to give anyone who has experienced this terrible disease, or even just lost an animal a voice. We no longer eat meat or dairy… She changed our lives.
The lows.. Because I was acting in a play I had performances every night and Aly would have work. It was really tough leaving her alone for those few hours each night scared something might happen, so I set up a camera from my computer so I could watch her on my phone from backstage before I’d go on. She would just sleep there. We lived every day during that time like it could be her last, but still life had to go on. We had to pay our bills and had responsibilities.
When we lost her it shook our whole world. We each felt like it was our fault… Aly took a huge hit thinking the homeopathic remedies put Aeris over the edge. It took her a long time to be able to not think that way. Additionally, when you lose an animal some people don’t understand how devastating it can be thinking “It’s just an animal” but as I’m sure you know and any animal owner will tell you… its so far from that.
Q. When/what was the defining moment when you realized…holy &^%$#…I’m gonna do a film about this!
We’re artists. But more importantly we’re story tellers. We’d just moved into our new apartment a few months after Aeris. I’d suggested Aly write about the experience as a form of comfort and off she went writing our feature “12 Days.” Mid way through the process I joined in and helped to finish the feature and it sat on the shelf for about two years.
We’d recently been working on a T.V. show concept we are in the midst of pitching, Next Big Thing, as well as a feature film called BarbieBoy about a 14 year old boy who’s addicted to Barbie dolls … but had a desire to work on something of real substance immediately while waiting for those two things to sort themselves out in this wonderful entertainment industry where things take time to get into production.
We had been wanting to shoot 12 Days, but didn’t know if we wanted to act in it ourselves because of the experience, in addition to what scale of viewership we wanted. But we had the thought of doing it as a short to get people excited about the idea and we just ran with it. Adapted it into a short and decided we needed to be the actors to tell her story. It had to be right. Our entire pre-production was only about a month, very little time to try and get a movie together.
Q. What were the main challenges in filming?
EVERYTHING! Making a movie is extremely difficult. I learned so much about the entire film making process. Myself and Aly directed, wrote, produced and starred in this film. We had a lot on our plate and this was the first time we have done this much. Working with animals can also be daunting, but Kairi was a natural born star who literally did not need any direction or training. It was simply amazing.
Luckily, we also had an amazing cinematographer/friend on board who believed in our vision Jason Montalvo, in addition to an entire cast in crew who did as well. I’ll name them because without their help we couldn’t have made this project: Joey DeFeo, Noa Rachel Bricklin, Indigo Ciochetti, Andrew Daniels, Mike Steidley, Hassan Kahn, Justine Sierakowski, Kai Elvis Lovelace, Jaime Lovelace, Catherine Hogan, Ken Miller, Lisa Davies, Ibrahim Ouchikh, Peter Bumcrot, Jake Deter (forgive me if I forgot anyone!)
Our Cast: Frank Deal, Arabella Oz and Betsy Aidem.
Not one crew member got paid a penny on this project yet (most lost). That is why the Aeris Kickstarter is so important to us. We want to pay everyone what they deserve for making such a great product. We also need the funds to FINISH THE FILM. By having people contribute they are not only helping us either, 7% of all of our donations go to Heaven on Earth in addition to all proceeds made by the film.
Another big factor was finding our sponsors and supporters… starting off with our champion and fiscal sponsor Heaven On Earth Society for Animals. They are the most generous people we could have found to help make this film. They are a nonprofit that care so much about the welfare and lives of cats — with them we were able to establish authenticity with our other sponsors such as Gotham Veterinary Center, Cat’s Exclusive, Carlstadt Animal Clinic, Rutherford Veterinary Hospital, Little Falls Animal Hospital and The Shelter Pups.
Q. What do you hope the film will achieve?
We simply hope the film will get to be seen by the world. Whether that be through the film festivals, or some sort of distribution, or allowing us to make the feature. We just want to tell our story and share our experience, because we know people will appreciate it. Losing an animal, particularly a cat isn’t explored that much in film or television and we hope to be able to be a voice for those who’ve dealt with it. Also to make FIP known throughout the world. Finding a cure or treatment would be a dream come true and if this film helps that initiative in any way we’ve done our job.
Q. What would you like Aeris’ legacy to be?
The kitten who helped save the world. Her story being a legacy for the FIP community and helping find a cure. Regardless, she’s already a legend in our eyes and has changed our lives forever.
We’ll never forget our experience with her. We are so much better people having known her even for such a short time.
Q. Where did the name Aeris come from?
As you know — I am a ginormous nerd. Video Games are a second language for me. I’ve literally beaten every Final Fantasy that’s come out (except the XIII trilogy that was meh.) It’s also what our T.V. show is about: Gamers. So, when Aly and I we’re deciding on a name — she’s big into astrology and horoscopes… She asked when her birthday was and it was April 21st. She goes “Oh she’s an Aries or Taurus.” From there I said what about Aeris: one of the main characters from Final Fantasy VII. It just fit. There’s also some foreshadowing if you know the game. We actually discussed this in the real story where we said to each other “The character dies in the video game really early, you don’t think that’s jinxing it do you?” And we thought about that when she passed. You remember those little things and for Aly being very spiritual it affected her.
Q. Do you and Aly currently have a cat(s)..if so…names?
OH yes. Two prior to Kairi (who plays Aeris and is the newest addition to our crew). Sasuke our boy who’s named from the Anime Naruto. and Luna named from another video game called Lunar: Silver Star Story… did I mention we’re nerds?
Q. Assuming the film gets funded (duh)…how will you promote it? Where will people be able to see it?
This film WILL get funded! There is no IF! We plan to have a screening in LA with Heaven on Earth. Additionally we hope that we will get into some big festivals which will allow us to screen at even more. From there, VOD is an option or who knows? Maybe Netflix will have a shorts section by then!
Q. Care to mention any well deserving plugs for some of the awesome people who helped you on this journey
As I mentioned, everyone before on the cast and crew… Frank Deal who jumped on board from the get-go and has been in my corner since I’ve been acting. He’s a tremendous mentor and friend (and amazing actor as you will see.) Bill Timoney who helped us assemble our last minute team… But also my entire family who helped make this with me, even some of them having cameo’s in the film =).
Aly, her parents were a crucial part of even being able to shoot this movie. With her parents Lisa and Rich Davies we couldn’t have even entered production. They were saviors to us. Her father Ken Miller literally did everything, including driving our production van. He was the on set hero.
From the Kickstarter we’ve already acquired an executive producer in Anirban Bagchi (with his two cats as his “Assistants to the Producer” Kit and Kat.) Without his contribution and belief in the film we would not be where we are, as well as all of our current backers. You mean the world to us!
Some other FIP advocates deserve to be noted… Such as the FIP Fighters Facebook Group Community led by Susan E. Gingrich who were an absolute crutch during our time dealing with Aeris (before and after) including members such as Kim Barotti Jesson with her kitten Kona who died a few days after Aeris and even mentioned Aeris in her book, “KONA’S FIGHT: Tiny Kitten, Big Heart” available on Amazon, which talks about his story against FIP. Susannah Czernicki and her kitty Achilles who also wrote a book called “Achilles: The Story of One Family’s Fight With Feline Infectious Peritonitis“.
Photo credits: All photos provided by Paul & Aly
Did we mention (at least twice) that this story really touched our hearts? OK, now wipe those tears and go fund the Aeris kickstarter … like right MEOW! Paw-lease! >^..^<