Autism Interview Series: The United States of Autism Movie

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Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing an amazing man who travelled all over the United States of America, to provide awareness, advocacy and education about Autism Spectrum Conditions. His efforts and his movie provide a poignant movie about how Autism affects families across America. Please meet Richard Everts.

Tania: Congratulation on a fabulous movie! The United States of Autism is a movie that spans 11,000 miles, 5 first languages (English, Arabic, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese) and 20 families. Could you please tell us how this movie started and it’s evolution to now (where is being shown in movie theatres all over the United States of America)? As the Director of the movie, how did you become involved in this amazing project?

Rich: My son is on the ASD spectrum, and so I have a first-hand look into the spectrum with all its joys and challenges. For the film, my crew and I travelled 11,000 miles around America in 40 days interviewing families and individuals affected by autism. We captured about 100 hours of footage, and broke that down over the course of 20+ revisions and 2 years into the finished 90 minute product you’ll be able to see soon. Today, it’s taken a life of its own. We thought we’d do a small 40-city run in the US and that would be it. Now, we’re scheduled for almost 100 screenings, and requests are coming in from the UK, Canada, Australia, South Korea, and more. We’re beginning an Oscar qualification run this summer and hope that we can qualify to be in LA for the 2014 Academy Awards.

Tania: How did the movie land the Pepsi Refresh Project?

Rich: My wife and I started a Foundation in 2005 that supports families and individuals affected by autism. At the end of 2009, we began to look for opportunities to expand the reach of organization on a national level, and thought creating a film might facilitate that process. So, we entered our idea into the Pepsi Refresh Project contest in February of 2010, the first month voting would be allowed. The top 10 ideas in each category would receive funding, and our first month we failed in the last week by dropping to number 12 from 8. Luckily, that meant we qualified to re-enter automatically next month, and we made sure to qualify in March of 2010. After 59 straight days of a massive social media campaign, we placed 8th out of 10, and the rest is history.
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Tania: Please tell us about Tommy and the Tommy Foundation? How did the Foundation get started and/or become involved in the movie?

Rich: Tommy is now 14 years old and the inspiration for the Tommy Foundation. He’s on the more severe end of the autism spectrum, yet he still will sit through the entire movie whenever we play it! While most of our mission at the Tommy Foundation includes activities and events for families and individuals, we do awareness projects from time to time and this was a great way to help with the overall autism movement.

Tania: How did “The Refresher”, at 3 years old, get involved in helping you promote the movie?

Rich: He’s one of the children of a local family in the film, and he was excited to play a part in helping make things happen. We had a whole green screen setup at our home, and filmed 2 videos with him in it. I would say that he was one of the great inspirations for the contest, and as a non-union actor he was worth every penny.

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Tania: How many families did you interview and what did you learn from them?

Rich: We interviewed 21 families and individuals affected by autism, and we learned a ton from each of them. One of the challenges with the film was of course reducing hours spent with every family to 3 minutes of footage; so unfortunately, we lose something in the translation to the screen. However, each family or individual presented a unique lesson to me as I travelled, and I’m thankful for that experience.

Tania: What is the message of the movie?

Rich: One of the great things about the film is how we incorporated the American experience into the story. We have a wide variety of religions, ethnicities, races, socio-economic statuses, and more in the film and autism reflects itself in those threads of society similarly. While part of the message is a unifying one for the autism movement, a part of it is a unifying message for the US and world as well.

Tania: What kind of response and feedback are you getting from organizations and people who have seen the movie?

Rich: The feedback has been astounding, even to us who produced it. We’ve had so many tears, laughs, and stories it would be impossible to put them all down. There are some controversial things in the film of course, yet without a doubt we’ve made huge impact wherever we’ve gone, especially as we’ve donated 25% of net ticket sales to a local organization/family/individual wherever we’ve had a showing. Change happens at the local level, and we’re enabling people to make a difference in their communities.

Tania: Where can people find out more information about the movie (website?; YouTube?; Facebook? ; Other?)

Rich: The best way to follow the film is at http://www.usofautism.com/, or our twitter @usofautism. We’re also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-United-States-of-Autism/225733958739

The official page to read more about the film and it’s availability is here: http://www.janson.com/rights/2013/03/06/the-united-states-of-autism/

Tania: Do you plan to follow the families into the future? Do you have any further plans, possibly a second movie?

Rich: This first movie was incredibly exhausting to put together on such a small budget having put in over 4000 hours just myself, so I’m ready for a little break. However, I would say that perhaps in 10 years I’d like to maybe do a small 30 minute follow-up with each family for posterity’s sake. An “Autism Around the World” film would be great to put together as well, and we could make an incredible movie out of it. I think I’d need more than $50k to make that happen.

Tania: When might we be able to view The United States of Autism movie here in Australia, or in other countries?

Rich: We’re working on it. We’re a small operation, so converting everything to PAL can take a while. If anyone wants to send some good vibes and a few coins our way to help speed up the process, I won’t turn them away! I expect a Blu-Ray/DVD release in Fall of 2013, and hopefully can arrange a movie run Down Under in Australia this summer.
Tania: Thank-you Rich for allowing me to interview you about your fabulous movie. We are looking forward to future Australian screenings.
Rich: Thank-you Tania for the interview and your support. I will keep in touch with you about future screenings, further movies and the families.

The official page to read more about the film and it’s availability is here: http://www.janson.com/rights/2013/03/06/the-united-states-of-autism/

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Tania Marshall©. 2013. All rights reserved. Autism Interviw Series. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

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