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Hollywood Inclusion

Top Entertainment Professionals Speak to Participants During Lab’s First Session Focused on Physical Production

Los Angeles, CA, August 13 – Physical Production, often overlooked as a less glamourous part of filmmaking, is a cornerstone of creating in film and TV. Based on feedback by alumni of prior cohorts, a new one-of-a-kind session was held as a part of RespectAbility’s third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities this summer. Barriers abound for disabled creatives craving a career in production, so opportunities to speak about how to form and break into production crews is a special treat.

Lisa Peters smiling headshot

Lisa Peters

Participants first welcomed Lisa Peters, a Physical Production Executive for Documentary Features, Shorts, and Limited Series at Netflix. Peters previously has managed projects for BET, TLC, Discovery, BBC, and Oxygen and is on the advisory board of Hue You Know, a community for BIPOC people in media. Starting her journey to television through news at World News Tonight with Peter Jennings as a desk assistant, Peters spoke about her evolution in the world of production after realizing, “news isn’t really it for me in terms of no one looked like me that was telling the stories. No one cared to hear about the stories that I wanted to tell.” [continue reading…]

The Importance of Hiring Diverse Voices in Production

Separate headshots of four panelistsLos Angeles, August 13 – When looking at who is working on a Hollywood set, there continues to be a lack of diversity, including the inclusion of disabled crew members. A group of seasoned industry professionals are aiming to change that. Jens Bishop from Remedy Health Media, Nicole Go from Staff Me Up, and Jonna McLaughlin and Stacey Kleiger of The Documentary Group recently spoke about the importance of hiring historically-excluded minorities like those with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Pitch Decks and Selling Your Story with Manon de Reeper

Los Angeles, August 12 – Manon de Reeper is a screenwriter, filmmaker and the CEO and founder of independent film magazine, Film Inquiry. The online magazine is a manifestation of de Reeper’s love for film and design. De Reeper also is heavily involved in Women of Color Unite, where she aims to give a platform for women of color to tell their stories. De Reeper recently joined the RespectAbility Summer Lab participants from a sailboat in the Caribbean. The participants were given a hefty rundown of pitch decks and how they are an essential tool for selling your story.

“Pitch decks are basically the first visualization of your script or your idea if you’re still at the idea stage,” began de Reeper. “You can do them for feature films, you can do them for movies, for tv, for graphic novels, even books if that’s what you’re working on.” Pitch decks are made to carry the heart of the story so that agents, producers, directors, etc., have a feel of the script without actually having to sit down and read hundreds of pages. [continue reading…]

New Docuseries “Born For Business” Shines the Spotlight on Disabled Entrepreneurs

Docuseries from the Emmy Award-winning creators of “Born This Way,” Bunim/Murray Productions, as well as Shopify Studios, begins streaming on Peacock and CRAVE on August 23

images of 4 disabled entrepreneurs and logo for Born For BusinessLos Angeles, August 11 – A powerful docuseries that spotlights the untold stories of four entrepreneurs with disabilities, Born For Business gives viewers an insider’s look at what it takes to launch and run a thriving small business. Just as each entrepreneur is on the brink of success, they must navigate the complications that the COVID-19 pandemic presents.

Chris Triebes of The Congregation Presents is a single father with spinal muscular atrophy (type III) who is making waves in the music industry with his concert production company, two venues, and music festival ticket service. He said he was interested in appearing on Born For Business due to the lack of representation of people with disabilities “who have a disproportionately low voice” in media, especially when it comes to portraying stories of proactive business owners making their own opportunities and succeeding. He laments the often-repeated tropes of pitied people with disabilities who are painted as helpless or unresourceful. “I want to help normalize disability,” he said in a conversation with the disability advocacy nonprofit RespectAbility. “I think I can be someone who’s good for that.”

The show also features: Qiana Allen of Culture’s Closet, a fashionista with lupus who opened a plus-sized boutique, which quickly became one of America’s top plus-size clothing stores; Collette Divitto of Collettey’s Cookies, a baker with Down syndrome who owns a successful cookie brand that employs people with disabilities; and Lexi Zanghi of Always Reason, a millennial entrepreneur with anxiety who runs a three-year-old fashion brand that will soon expand to its first physical location.

“For too long, people with disabilities have been shut out of the workplace,” said Jonathan Murray, Bunim/Murray Productions. “With Born For Business, we are showing how people with disabilities have long been using entrepreneurship to create an economic livelihood for themselves.” [continue reading…]

The Act of Pitching with Pearl Street Film’s Head of Strategic Outreach, Fanshen Cox

Fanshen Cox smiling in her apartment on ZoomLos Angeles, August 10 – RespectAbility’s Summer 2021 Lab cohort was recently joined by Fanshen Cox, award-winning producer, actor, and head of strategic outreach at Pearl Street Films. Cox, who also served as a Faculty Advisor for the 2020 and 2021 Labs, shared numerous tips and extensive insight with the Lab Fellows, all about the ins and outs of pitching their projects, garnered from her years of experience working as an executive. She stressed the importance of having a fine-tuned elevator pitch of your project(s) ready to go at a moment’s notice, as well as mastering the art of following up.

A recurring theme of Cox’s presentation was the importance of knowing how to craft one’s own personal experiences and point of view into a compelling story. “No matter what you want to do in this industry, you are a storyteller always, first and foremost,” Cox emphasized to the 30 participants. [continue reading…]

Bentonville Film Festival Inclusive of Disabled Writers, Directors and Actors

Bentonville Film Festival logo. Founded by Walmart, Presented by Coca ColaBentonville, Arkansas, August 4 – The Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) took to the screens – both live in Arkansas and virtual on computers and TV sets throughout the country – for its seventh year. Chaired by Academy Award winner Geena Davis, BFF champions women and diverse voices.

According to festival programmers, out of all films selected for this year’s program, eight percent of the directors identify as having a disability, as well as four percent of the writers and four percent of the leads.

Below please find a guide to several of the films featuring disability in the plot or talent with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Alaa Zabara’s Selahy Highlights a Story Not Being Told in the Media Through the Lens of a Girl Who is Hard of Hearing

Narrative Film Selected for Competition Shorts of the Bentonville Film Festival

Poster for Selahy, a film by Alaa ZabaraWashington, D.C., August 4 – An independent Hard-of-Hearing Yemeni-American Director and Cinematographer, Alaa Zabara recognizes the power of media to “change the hearts and minds of an audience, highlight the stories that need to be told, and to amplify the voices of the voiceless.”

Her newest film, Selahy “My Weapon,” is an official selection of the Bentonville Film Festival in Bentonville, Arkansas where it will screen during the first week of August. It will compete within the festival’s Competition Shorts program.

In 2015, Zabara and her family were evacuated from the crisis in Yemen, an event that has shaped her life and her storytelling goals as a filmmaker. To Zabara, it is important that audiences relate to her not as a filmmaker but as a human, “filling the distance that comes between each of us.” [continue reading…]

Writer and Actor Anna Marr Channels Comedy and Personal Experiences While Combating Stereotypes About Narcolepsy in Short Film Walking Through Peanut Butter

Poster for Walking Through Peanut ButterLos Angeles, August 4 – There’s no denying that the intersection of comedy and disability is historically shrouded in stereotypes and misinformation; however, this is far from the case with writer and actor Anna Marr’s latest short film, Walking Through Peanut Butter. With a run time of just under nine minutes, this comedic film inspired by Marr’s own experiences of living with narcolepsy manages to make audiences laugh while simultaneously breaking down false stereotypes of narcolepsy and educating viewers on the overwhelmingly misunderstood neurological sleep disorder.

The film follows a stubborn, overachieving recent college grad named Jessie (played by Marr) as she dives headfirst into the NYC comedy world while still coming to terms with her own narcolepsy diagnosis. During a recent Q&A with Bentonville Film Festival, where Walking Through Peanut Butter will screen during the first week of August, Marr explained that the premise of the film is very similar to her own journey with narcolepsy. [continue reading…]

How Pixar Casts Talent Authentically in Animation with Erica Milsom and Krissy Cababa

Three panelists and ASL interpreter on a Zoom meeting togetherLos Angeles, Aug 4 – When Erica Milsom and Krissy Cababa worked together at Pixar to release the animated short film Loop, they knew they were embarking on new territory. A continuation of a SparkShorts project, where Pixar creators work with a limited schedule and budget to bring a short story to life, Loop is the story of Renee and Marcus who embark on a canoeing journey and must learn to communicate as Renee is autistic and non-verbal.

During a recent RespectAbility Lab session, Cababa and Milsom joined the group to talk about the success and struggles that came with the creation of Loop. “For me, one of the best things about Loop was the fact that we were working with this character Renee, an autistic character, and Pixar had never done that before,” explained director Erica Milsom. “And all the thought that went into all aspects of the short to convey that in a realistic and truthful and honest and respectful way.” [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Advises the National Council on Disability on the Imperative of Fighting Stigmas that Hold Back People with Disabilities

National Council On Disability sealWashington, D.C., August 3 – RespectAbility recently submitted comments to the National Council on Disability (NCD) discussing ways to improve our education system and expand opportunities in the entertainment industry for people with disabilities.

In the comments, RespectAbility recognizes the gaps in our education system which have been widened by the pandemic. RespectAbility called for a specific focus on black, indigenous and students of color with disabilities, who disproportionally face greater challenges in receiving an education. Additionally, RespectAbility proposed the addition of a 13th year in secondary education to provide a fluid transition for students before entering the workforce. [continue reading…]

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