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You Do You

Once when I was trying to get a dark, gritty feature film about prison solitary confinement off the ground, a film executive at a major agency said, "Don't ever call it a "message film", they don't sell and people hate them." At the time I was naive and let the wet blanket he threw over me snuff my ambition. But soon after I realized how stupid it was, because not only does every film have a message, every form of art does as well. It's just a matter of how overt that message is.

For the past three years, I've participated in the Disability Film Challenge. An event that requires people to write, film, edit and post online a short film in just 55 hours. The goal is to showcase actors, directors, or writers who have a disability. The competition is open worldwide and turns out a bunch of fun, unique, and odd films that anyone can watch. The best part is every film showcases people who we may not come across in everyday life. Shocking since the statistics are that 20% of the population has some form of disability (autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, amputee, deaf, blind, and so on...) yet, only 1% of media represents these people in any form.

Think about it. Take 10 seconds and name as many shows or films you can think of that showcase actual people who live with a disability. Ready? GO!

I come up with three: 1. Game of Thrones (Peter Dinklage) 2. Speechless (Micah Fowler)

3. Daredevil (not a real blind guy)

You may have come up with more or less, but I guarantee that no one can come up with a number close to the twenty percent which make up our population.

So - that's why the Disability Film Challenge is important. It gives people opportunity and an audience to be seen, and showcase their abilities.

This year's competition is a culmination of everything I've learned from doing this Film Challenge the past three years. I basically took what that agent said to me a few years ago, turned it on it's head and multiplied it. A. because this is a challenge about featuring people with disabilities, therefore there is an innate message attached. B. I wanted to showcase even more things I care about: Diversity and Pet Adoption. C. All these things can co-exist and never have a "poor me" or "spoon-fed" sensibility to the story. So of course it's a message film - and yet not a message film because the story isn't about any of those things.

The result? Overwhelming success, in terms of the film. In comparison, as of publishing this article my first DFC film - Speed Date - has 2,417 views, last year's film - Boxed Out - has 2,188 views. As of right now, after Best Friend being online for only ten days, between FB and YouTube we've got a combined: 24,980 VIEWS!!! - I'm pretty sure that is more views on Best Friend, than all the films combined from last year's DFC. And on top of that... We're not alone, other films in this years challenge topped the 20k mark, several passed the 10k mark and most the rest are between the 2-8k mark. THAT'S AMAZING exposure for everyone involved.

Everyone who makes one of these films chooses to take the challenge and do their best. Some stories are heavy handed with a message, some might not have great production quality, while others may look so polished it seems impossible that it was created in such a short time frame. No matter what the accolade, judgment, or impression you take away, I know one thing - every filmmaker, actor, and crew member who lends a hand in making one of these, walk away a slightly different person. That is the magic that keeps me coming back. Personally, my hope is that you the viewer get a little taste of that magic too.

I'll save the actual story of how Best Friend was written and produced for a different blog. But for this, I just wanted to give a little something that showcases how I, we, anyone, shouldn't necessarily take what others say as gospel, even if they are at the top of their career game. Stay true to your vision and make your art. I honestly love the complex, hyper-stressed process of making the film. It's always great to see the joy on everyone's face when we're in the thick of it. Able-bodied and disabled alike, if I'm not working to elevate my art, be it the style, story, or message, heavy-handed or subtle, then I'm not making something that will serve the wonderful community and artists who've come together to participate in this event every year. That's why I enjoy celebrating every filmmaker team who makes a DFC film. May we continue to make fun films that feature new and old friends and family joining together to showcase the amazing people that make our world such a beautiful place.

To see ALL the DFC films visit youtube: Disability Film Challenge

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