“Medical Divorce” is a dark comedy with a serious subject
FilmFilm includes Beth Shalom cemetery, Rabbi Seth Adelson

“Medical Divorce” is a dark comedy with a serious subject

A Jewish couple pondering divorce is the focus of the locally produced and shot short

"Medical Divorce" included Beth Shalom's Rabbi Seth Adelson. Photo by Heather Gray.
"Medical Divorce" included Beth Shalom's Rabbi Seth Adelson. Photo by Heather Gray.

Scott Danzig’s latest short film is sure to engender strong emotions.

“Medical Divorce” follows an elderly Jewish couple that debates divorce as a solution to their rising medical costs. Danzig wrote, produced and directed the film being shown at various film festivals around the country.

The filmmaker said that he was inspired to create his latest work by an article he read.

“I was like, ‘It can’t be that bad,’ and I looked into it, and it is,” he said.

The “it” Danzig refers to is divorce forced by the rising cost of medical coverage. Couples want to stay together, but the prohibitive cost of health care could mean a “medical divorce” is the only solution. Jointly-held assets are transferred to the healthy spouse allowing the other, ailing partner to acquire or maintain insurance — often Medicaid — to cover treatments or long-term care.

“I’m always looking for a concept that inspires me,” Danzig said, “and this was pretty easy. You can really capture that story arc. A short film is challenging to make people care. They get really invested in TV series that go on for months, but to do it in less than 10 minutes, only certain subjects work.”

A marriage threatened by medical costs is something people can relate to, he said.

“The fact that it’s accepted in modern society and so normal, I thought was a powerful story,” he said.

The Pittsburgh filmmaker knows of what he speaks. He is the owner of Sneaky Ghost Films and has produced more than a dozen shorts.

Scott Danzig wrote, directed and produced “Medical Divorce. Photo courtesy of Sneaky Ghost Film.

Danzig, who is Jewish, spent the first 30 years of his life in New Jersey, then spent time in Boston, New York City and Binghamton, New York. He moved to Pittsburgh when his wife was hired at the University of Pittsburgh.

He said that he’s always been creative and took up filmmaking while in New York. After leaving New York, he bought the equipment needed to create his own films and started a production company. He’s brought that DIY attitude to Pittsburgh.

“I feel like I’m having a really good time,” he said. “This seems to be a great indie filmmaking town. COVID was a challenge, but I’ve been working a lot locally since. It’s given me wings in terms of what I’ve been able to do here.”

The films Danzig produces aren’t your typical “happily ever after” works, he said.

“It’s like my personality, which is a fun blend of sarcasm and goofiness. Well, maybe not sarcasm, but realism, I guess,” he said. “My films don’t usually end well.”

While the subject of his latest opus, “Medical Divorce,” is serious, he said, it is also a dark comedy.

Danzig said the film has Jewish elements. While he typically makes universal films, he felt that incorporating Judaism in this short allowed him to add richness by embracing culture, something he has been tentative about in the past.

“I’ve learned that the ‘Green Book,’ for instance, was a great movie,” he said. “It probably wasn’t the place of the writer to tell that story, and there is a laundry list where cultures are appropriated. I thought about it, and this is my culture. I also think there’s a beauty in the culture that I wanted to leverage and thought I could do that in this film.”

For Howard Elson, one of the actors in the film, “Medical Divorce” provided an opportunity to combine several different areas of experience and passion.

Ellison, a dentist, is Jewish and has performed since he was a teenager.

“I sang professionally,” he said. “That’s how I put myself through dental school.”

Elson said that he had mostly performed in theater, but when the pandemic caused theaters to close, he was looking for opportunities to continue acting. He saw an ad in a trade publication for the movie and auditioned for Danzig.

Plus, he said, as a dentist, he knows the hardships that can come from medical insurance issues.

“As a pediatric dentist, dealing with a lot of Medicaid kids and kids from working-class families, I deal with a lot of insurance issues,” he said. “This really intrigued me. Despite medical insurance and Medicaid and Medicare, various ways of paying, some people literally go bankrupt trying to pay for medical bills.”

Jewish Pittsburghers will find more than an interesting subject in “Medical Divorce.”

The movie was filmed at Congregation Beth Shalom’s cemetery in Shaler Township and features a familiar face: Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Seth Adelson.

Adelson said that when Danzig inquired about using the cemetery he said he also needed a rabbi.

“I’m very grateful that I now have an IMDB credit,” Adelson said with a laugh.

And while the rabbi was happy for the opportunity, he won’t soon be trading his tallit for a Screen Actors Guild card.

“There’s only one stage I want to be on, and that’s called the bimah,” he said.

“Medical Divorce” was accepted into both the NYC Short Comedy Film Festival and the Red Rose Film Festival. It will be screened as part of the Short. Sweet. Film Fest from March 1-4 in Cleveland. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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