Learning to Drive
About The Project
To get straight to the point my brother Andy, 8 years my junior is a homie with an extra chromie, aka he has Down syndrome.
When our mother found herself on the wrong end of a cancer diagnosis and moved on to more peaceful environs, Andy moved in with my small, young family. Among his other untiring demands my then teenage brother repeatedly begged me to teach him how to drive. I would generally respond with some noncommittal mumbling that implied agreement, but behind which was zero intent. I was so consumed with my own fears for his future that I failed to see the purpose of teaching him how to drive when I was sure driving would not be a part of his daily life. Further, I assumed that there were laws in place automatically excluding him from that group of citizens privileged with the honor of a driver’s license. Maybe I thought part of the MVD application read – “Check here  if the applicant has Down syndrome: do not proceed to the counter as you are not allowed to have a driver’s license.”
When one of Andy’s advocates pointed out to me that no such absurd law existed, I suddenly realized that the only one keeping him from enjoying the freedom of automotive navigation was me! I felt like an actual tool. With a friend videotaping the event, we piled into our family minivan (this was the 90’s you know) to a sparsely traveled byway and proceeded to educate him in the ways of P-R-N and D. To be honest, he did pretty darn well and we have proof! The reality is, Andy’s coordination, reading and decision-making skills aren’t quite up to the level of making routine, licensed driving a reality for him, but at least he’s gotten to experience the thrill of getting behind the wheel and maneuvering down the road like most of the rest of us.
Following is a video we edited together back in the 90’s to introduce Andy to new residential support staff that came to work with him. This includes said aforementioned ‘driving lessons’! 😀
When my mistaken beliefs were laid bare, I thought “Surely I’m not alone in my ignorance!”, and a screenplay began to blossom. In 1998 I copyrighted my first draft of a feature-length script called Learning to Drive. Over the next decade and a half I wrote 15 more versions as I sought to capture two challenging principles.
First I was ever determined that this would be Andy’s story and not my own. I’ve long observed that even when a movie includes a character with a developmental disability, they are often a supporting character. It is at best difficult and at worst near impossible to grasp the experience of someone with Down syndrome. I know what it’s like to be me; I don’t know what it’s like to be Andy, so how do I write from his POV? This was my biggest challenge and I believe the primary aspect of our project that makes it so unique compared to any other film.
Secondly, I feel that the circumstances have drama built into them, so I always sought the humor in the story. There is enough sadness in the world and I prefer to embrace joy where I can. These two cornerstones of the film in my head made getting it out of there and onto paper (or laptop) quite the test.
In August of 2013, I was suddenly struck by the answer to my point of view challenge and new life was breathed into the project. I decided then that I wanted to produce a short film version to help find an audience and show Hollywood what could be possible in a feature length film. Fortunately for us, the script won accolades from two screenplay competitions, we were awarded fiscal sponsorship through the 501(c)3 From the Heart Foundation and an incredibly humbling amount of support came from equipment vendors, restaurant donations and a volunteer crew of seasoned film-industry professionals. The role of Michael, the cinematic incarnation of Andy was enthusiastically portrayed by the award winning actor Connor Long, who also coincidentally has Down syndrome.
Beyond my desire to tell a fun and engaging story, my hope is that we will connect with an audience that comes to better understand not only the capabilities of those with developmental disabilities, but also – and just as importantly – their desires. Many people don’t realize that someone like my brother has many of the same dreams and wishes for independence and accomplishment as the rest of us. Additionally, I would love to think that those with disabilities will find themselves inspired and empowered by our film and will push to make their voices heard.
To say the production has been life-changing for many of us is no exaggeration, but that is yet another yarn. There is still much to do on the project, but without a doubt, one of the highlights of my life has been watching Andy call “Action” and “Cut” on set with both his film reflection and a young fella with DS named Caleb who played “Young Michael” for the flashback scenes. I can only hope that when it’s finally finished, the film makes him proud of his brother.
The final film is estimated to run about 30 minutes and everything we have edited together thus far comes to 23 minutes, so we’re 80% THERE!!! So close! We just have two scenes left to shoot, plus some inserts, pickups and background plates during our 2nd Unit schedule in January. Clairmont Camera has offered us the same incredible camera package for free that they gave us last year and most of our crew has already signed up to descend on the desert again!
We just need your help to cover the costs of those items we can’t get donated, like production insurance, fuel, lodging, expendables, etc.
Check out our fantastic and unique assortment of incentives! And be sure to toss us your suggestions for new incentives if you think of something you’d like to see. And remember SHARE the campaign with everyone you’ve ever known who has a pulse!
- The Team