Remember the child’s game, Red Light, Green Light? A leader turns his back on a group of friends and calls out “green light;” then the kids run forward from a starting line until the leader says: “red light,” and everyone must stop. Anyone caught still moving is sent back to the starting line. Whoever makes it to the finish line first becomes the new leader, and the game resumes. In some ways the financing of my daughter’s movie, Keep the Change,
has resembled an extended, adult version of Red Light,Green Light. Two years have passed since the original short film won multiple awards at film festivals and received some early financing. After that, funding stalled and the world gave it a “red light, and the project stalled far from its bare-bones financial goal/finish line.
But not anymore! In the past month, Keep the Change
has successfully raised 100% of its $50,000 basic budget on the crowdfunding site, Seed & Spark. That means the movie project has a green light and will start shooting next month. For my daughter, Sarah, Brandon and the other cast members on the autistic spectrum, this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step into the spotlight and show the neurotypical world what they are capable of achieving as actors and as people. For Rachel Israel, a uniquely talented and sensitive director, making the feature-length version of Keep the Change
is the culmination of a five year journey—from befriending Brandon Polansky (lead actor) in college and wanting to tell his “looking-for-love-when-you-have-autism” story, to casting my daughter as the female lead, after auditioning 100 neurotypical actresses during her last semester at Columbia University’s film school. Hurrah for the determined director, eager cast and devoted crew!
Over a thousand people either supported or contributed to “green lighting” Keep the Change
—too many to thank individually in a single post (!!!) To all the people on Facebook, Twitter and social media who felt moved to support the project, I offer my deepest appreciation, because without YOU, the film’s crowdfunding campaign would not have been successful. Of course my biggest “thank you” goes out to my friends and family who gave generously with their dollars, time or both: Robin Reinach, Andrew Cohen, Michael Cohen, Gail Cohen, Lisa & Barry West, Paula Dennis, Anne D’Innocenzio and (of course) my husband, Henry, who gently twisted a few arms.
It’s not too late to donate! There’s still one day left (till midnight Friday, July 16th
) to add flesh and muscle to the movie.Keep the Change
has made it to the critical $50,000 finish line, which covers principal photography with a skeleton crew and meetings with VIP investors. What would happen if they collected $75,000? That would pay for full equipment, full crew and complete photography. How about $100,000? Principal photography with a full crew and initial post-production costs would be covered. We might as well shoot for it, right?
Up until recent years, movie characters with disabilities were mostly depicted as villains—like Captain Hook and Quasimodo—who were angered by their limitations and wanted to retaliate against society. In 1988—two years before my daughter was born on the spectrum—Dustin Hoffman starred in Rain Man, playing an autistic savant, who was brilliant at numbers and counting cards, but severely disabled and living in a mental institution. Rain Man
won four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor), however, I believe it greatly stereotyped and misrepresented the vast majority of people on the autistic spectrum (including my daughter). Although progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of people on the autistic spectrum, many neurotypical people still fail to understand or appreciate the mix of strengths and weaknesses found in individuals with autism. It’s my profound hope that films like Keep the Change
will help to educate neurotypical audiences about the different perspectives of people with autism. Maybe just maybe the world will be a little bit kinder and more accepting of people like Sarah and Brandon, if neurotypicals can step into their shoes for an hour or two.
Until that time, we must rely on celebrity spokespeople, like deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who recently addressed the ACLU to advance the rights of all people with disabilities and break stereotypes. Matlin’s work in film and television has earned her an Oscar and a Golden Globe among other award nominations Who could be a better role model—not just for the deaf and hard of hearing, but for people with a variety of disabilities—than Marlee Matlin, a successful actress AND a married mother of four? In addressing a panel on People with Disabilities in Time of Economic Crisis, Matlin revealed that more people with disabilities in the U.S. experience poverty than all other minority, racial and ethnic groups combined! Further, she added, “the cost of excluding disabled people from the workplace deprives society of 2 TRILLION dollars in annual losses.” (!!!) With a wry smile, she concluded: “Though some people may think I live in a world of silence, silence is the last thing the world will ever hear from me.” Go Marlee and my Sarah too!
Let’s help give Keep the Change
the best and biggest chance it can have to change people’s minds and hearts about people with disabilities. As Marlee Matlin says: “Every one of us is different, but for those of us who are more different, we have to convince the less different that we can do the same things, just differently.”