Cake and Autism: The Making of a Short Film About Autism

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For a couple of years, whenever I saw a director friend of mine she would say, “We should do a short film together.” I agreed with her but never had a short film written.

Eventually, we came up with an idea that involved a third party but that project fell through.

Later, I began to think of another story. My son was learning about idioms or expressions that say one thing but mean another. I wrote a short story about an autistic boy around the same age as my son that struggles to learn idioms.

My friend read the screenplay and liked the idea but didn’t think the story was strong enough.

Some more time passed and my director friend called me up one day and said, “What if we added a grandfather to the story? And this grandfather doesn’t understand his autistic grandson? At the same time, the boy is struggling to learn idioms?”

Pretty soon we had the new storyline worked out and the short completed. We wanted to pitch the project to actor Ed Asner. The director had recently met him and I knew he is a big supporter of autism awareness, as well as a fantastic actor. We thought we’d see if he might be interested in playing our grandfather.

Ed said, “Yes,” and our project was off.

That was five weeks ago. Sometimes things happen very quickly in Tinseltown.

Quickly, we began to put together the shooting schedule and, at the same time, tried to raise money for the film. We received a bit of monetary support but not nearly enough for the shooting. The project ended up being funded mostly on our own dime.

We secured a fantastic location in Valley Village, California at the Faith Prespryterian Church. This location has a sprawling compound with several buildings and tons of space.

The director worked on casting. She auditioned and cast the boy, the boy’s mother, and six friends of our grandfather. We also needed a few extras for a birthday scene.

One more actor was also needed. This was a role I fought to keep from my original idea. In order for our kid and his grandfather to really feel like autism can be a part of their lives and their relationship, I had written a part for Temple Grandin.

My feeling was I wanted to put a very loud stamp on this relationship. Since I am involved in the autism world, I have always seen Temple Grandin as a “face of autism,” a successful person who just happens to have autism. Temple Grandin travels around the country and speaks about her autism. She is known as a no non-sense type of person. I envisioned her looking at this grandfather and saying, “Your grandson has autism… So get over it.” (The sentiment was similar but that’s not exactly how it came out in the film.)

Five days ago we wrapped shooting principal photography.

Once the film is edited, one of the first things we hope to do is to recoup our investment. We would also like to secure monetary assistance in order to send the film to film festivals.

Why did I write this film short?

While on set, I found myself once or twice looking around at the cast and the ten person crew and I asked some similar questions: “Why are we making this film?” “Why are we all here?” “Why did I write this story?”

I have been on a personal mission for a few years to give back to the autism world. I want to give back some of our luck. I stated my mission in my book, “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention” (available on Smashwords.com). I also wrote that book to help parents when they are just starting out in the autism world.

I have felt that we were very lucky. Our son was put into an early intervention program at age 14 months. I had free and unlimited access to very knowledgeable people who held my hand though those tough early years. We also had tremendous luck with good therapists.

In order to give back, I wanted to make this film to help increase autism awareness. My son still struggles to understand idioms. I don’t want him to go out into the world and get teased because he can’t “get it” as quickly as his typical peers.

Additionally, it did take my own parents a few years to finally accept that their grandson has autism. My hope is that someone who may be struggling to understand a family member’s diagnosis can be helped by this film.

My personal goal for the film is to screen it at conferences, high schools, colleges, and churches to raise awareness of autism. With Ed Asner’s support, and talent, I believe this film will do that.

Writing “Cake and Autism” and helping to fund the shoot was an extraordinary adventure. I am so proud of how it all came together and amazed by the support the film has already received. (And it’s still only in the editing stage.) This film is just another part of my puzzle. I not only hope you see it one day, but that you enjoy it as well.

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