To Write Love On Her Arms is a film starring Kat Dennings and Chad Michael Murray based on the struggle of recovery of Renee Yohe. More than that, the film is also an origin story of an organization of the same name, established by Renee’s friend, Jamie Tworkowski. This organization stands as a beacon of light for those dealing with depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. In collaboration with musical artists, the organization has helped hundreds of people on their road to recovery, either financially or mentally/emotionally. We talked to the founder Jamie on his hopes for the future and experience on the set of the film.
Jon Espino: On a personal level, what does this organization mean to you?
Jamie Tworkowski: TWLOHA [To Write Love On Her Arms] has certainly changed my life. It means I get to do a job that I believe in, and I get to bring my heart to work. TWLOHA has taken me to India, Australia, Europe and the UK, and to almost every state in the U.S. It has allowed me to meet incredible people and to experience things I could not have imagined.
JE: What do you want it to mean to others?
JT: To others, I hope TWLOHA means that it’s okay to be honest and it’s okay to ask for help. I hope we make it possible for people to believe their story matters and that life is worth living.
JE: What was your original intention when posting Renee’s story?
JT: It’s been nine years, which is wild. I certainly couldn’t have known what would come from posting the story. I suppose the intention initially was to move people. For starters, to move people to try to help Renee, and beyond that to encourage people who might be struggling. Finally, it was to encourage other people who have the opportunity to step in and help when someone they care about is struggling.
JE: It was a very personal story you shared. How did Renee react to the news?
JT: She was in treatment when I first posted the story. I think her family told her a little bit about the surprising response, while she was in there, but thankfully her focus was on her recovery. I’m sure it was a lot to process when she got out, suddenly having so many people know who you are and what you’ve been through. I’ve heard her say it was a mix of challenging and encouraging.
JE: Aside from being the initial catalyst of the organization and a sort of unintentional founder, what role does she currently have in the organization?
JT: She doesn’t have a day-to-day role but she’s still connected. The organization just hosted a hometown screening of the TWLOHA Movie, and she came to play music and to participate in the Q&A. We sell her rings and her book in the TWLOHA online store. Her and I are doing some college events at the end of the month. I think it’s healthy that she is free to do her own thing, to be her own person and to tell her story on her own terms beyond the organization. But on the other hand, we’re fully aware and proud of her place in the TWLOHA story. My hope is that TWLOHA will always root for Renee and vice versa, and I love when we get to do things together.
JE: What plans or hopes do you have for the future of TWLOHA?
JT: I love that we get to run a few different circles at once. We get to do things on college campuses, on the Vans Warped Tour, and obviously we do so much online. There are now more ways than ever for people to get involved, and also for us to reach people. My hope is that we will continue to be creative and brave in how we expand on that. For the near future, I have my first book coming out on May 19 – it’s called “If You Feel Too Much” – and that is very much a dream come true.
JE: After seeing the film, do you think it did justice to Renee’s struggles and the origins of TWLOHA?
JT: I do think the film does justice to her struggles. The film definitely focuses more on Renee’s story than it does the early days of TWLOHA as an organization.
JE: What, if anything, was cut or missing from the film that you think would be important for the audience to know?
JT: Part of me wishes it could have shown more of how we got started. One example would be the role that bands played in the shirts and story going viral. We had tremendous support from the music community and it would have been cool to see that in the film.
JE: Did you have any part in the filming process?
JT: I was supposed to fly to Australia on the second day of filming, but I showed up the first day and it all felt too special to walk away from. I got sucked in and cancelled my Australia trip. I ended up being on set a ton during the five weeks of filming.
JE: How was that experience for you?
JT: I was a story consultant, meaning that I spoke into the script. When it came time for the actual filming, I was just happy to be there and to cheer people on.
JE: How well do you think Chad Michael Murray captured your essence on-screen?
JT: I think Chad did a good job. Of course there are some moments I like more than others, some parts that feel more accurate than others. It meant a lot to me that Chad made an effort to get to know me, and also to get to know the story and the spirit of the story he was portraying. There was a moment during filming – it was the scene where Renee gives me her razor blade. Chad stopped the scene so that he could ask me a question. He wanted to know what really happened and what it felt like. That meant a lot to Renee and I.
JE: After people see the film, what message or lesson do you want them to leave with?
JT: In my mind, it’s a story about broken people loving broken people. It’s friends trying to figure out how to be friends while navigating their own pain. Our hope is that the film inspires honest conversations, that it leads to people realizing they’re not alone and that it’s okay to ask for help.
To Write Love On Her Arms is out on DVD now, but if you can’t wait to see it, it is also available on VOD from Amazon or iTunes. I’ve been told that a portion of the sales go towards the organization. Also, the film is worth a look. You might just fall in love with it.