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Buffalo film 'Blink of an Eye' aims to dramatize risks of heroin use

A local filmmaker, a volunteer cast and crew, a suburban Christian high school, Buffalo police and Mayor Byron W. Brown have joined forces to produce a dramatic short film about the deadly risks of heroin use.

The five-minute film, "Blink of an Eye," which starts shooting Monday, tells the story of a teenage girl, played by Camryn Clune, 16, of Amherst.

"She's a normal teenage girl, a good student, a wonderful daughter, but she has a heroin addiction," said writer and director Greg Robbins.

A dancer, the girl is prescribed painkillers after she injures her knee. "This story happens every day, all the time, and it seems so innocent," said Robbins, who was born in Hollywood and has lived in Amherst for six years. "The doctor puts her on painkillers, she gets addicted to the painkillers, builds up a resistance, so she goes to something harder, which is heroin."

Because there is no spoken dialogue, "there is so much more movement and placement and emotion. I think it makes it a little bit deeper," said Camryn's mother, Patty Clune.

Camryn is a student at Williamsville's Christian Central Academy, where some scenes will be shot Monday.

Touches of reality and place are sprinkled throughout the gritty film. It opens with high shots of the City of Buffalo. Two Buffalo police officers, Liz Baker and Joe Szafrankski, play officers in the film. And a pivotal scene will be shot at an underpass at Niagara and Virginia streets, where several people have overdosed and died.

Robbins said he wrote the script nearly 15 years ago, then put it aside. But after becoming concerned about the opioid crisis, he suggested the project when he met Brown.

"I suggested that I would do whatever I could," said Robbins. "I emailed him the script, and said, 'I will donate my time and donate this script if it will help.' "

Brown shared Robbins' proposal with Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who connected Robbins with Community Policing Captain Steve Nichols.

"The mayor said, 'Let's go with this,' " said Nichols. "It's a positive message, as dramatic as it's going to be."

To orient Robbins to the true nature of the crisis, Nichols arranged for him to ride along with Baker and Szafrankski, both of whom have extensive experience with the problem.

Erie County reported 42 suspected opioid overdose deaths in December; and 33 in 2017, as of Jan. 25. While toxicology reports to confirm the cause of death can take weeks, Erie County could end 2016 with 357 confirmed deaths for the year, a significant increase over the 256 deaths in 2015 and 128 in 2014.

Erie County sues drugmakers over 'addictive and dangerous' painkillers

With city support but no budget, Robbins had to seek volunteers. He outlined the project for his crew, then asked for a show of hands of those who would volunteer. "Everybody raised their hands," said Robbins. "Twenty-two people said, 'I'm in.' " The owner of California Road Studios in Orchard Park is also donating the facility time for Camryn and a band called Joyful Noise to record the film's theme song.

Robbins said he wanted to do more than tell a fictional, if realistic, story. "I wanted to get a drug addict, and not only help them, but at the end get a testimony from that person," he said.

Through the Buffalo Police Department's Angel program, a young man named Bob, who was addicted to heroin, entered and completed rehab. After he got out, said Robbins, "I went with him to court, and he's been clean now for 34 days. I call him every single day."

Bob appears at the end of the film.

"Beyond making a film, he is trying to make a difference," Nichols said of Robbins.

The film could be completed as early as March. Robbins isn't thinking of a first showing yet, but he knows that the film will be available to anyone to use, for free. "It's going public as soon as I get it done," he said. "Nobody is making a dime off of it."

Several people involved in "Blink of an Eye" have been personally affected by the opioid epidemic. Patty Clune's sister – Camryn's aunt – died of a fentanyl overdose.

"If we help one person, that one person could have been my sister," said Clune.

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