CATCHING UP is the first project to launch under Gray Savarese Films and an official selection of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival under US Narrative Short. It’s a short film about a physically disabled teacher who falls for his able-bodied co-worker, and seeks the advice of his brutally honest yet witty friend. The short discusses sex and love through the scope of the disabled, without the use of trite or offensive comical tactics to appease the audience.
Executive Producer, Jill Gray Savarese (she’s also the President and CEO of Gray Savarese Films…in case you were lost on that), has been an advocate for further diversity in entertainment having executive produced five main stage productions with deaf and hearing actors. Recently, Jill and I chatted about the varying types of diversity in film, her many projects, and the stigma behind “mental illness.”
CATCHING UP made me re-assess, or acknowledge, my bias very quickly. Was that intentional?
The director-writer is Bill Crossland, and he is the main character Frank that’s trying to get a date. I think when he wrote it, I can’t really speak for him, but I think that this is just something that’s close to him, it’s a passion project for him. He has a lot of experience with similar issues, because of his own personal life having muscular dystrophy. For me, as an able-bodied person, I watch it and I agree. I think it answers a lot of questions that I wondered about, and I’m interested and I’m passionate, I want to know what his experience has been like. I’m interested, I care about that.
I read about your history and how you want to want to diversify the entertainment industry. There isn’t much diversity, and I think right now everyone’s talking about people of color and women in the industry, but that’s not the only way to diversify actors.
It’s not. As a woman I am very interested in women that are in positions of power, like producer and director. Positions to actually be at the helm. I’m very interested in that personally, but I also have a background working as a sign language interpreter. I have a lot of experience with the deaf community, and they’re like everybody else, they just don’t have as many opportunities because people can’t communicate with them very easily. It’s something that I’ve been interested in, but I see it more as an opportunity to find a story that has never been done, and really, because there’s not enough diversity, there’s lots of stories that have never been done. You just have to look in the right places, so people aren’t looking there.
They should be looking there, not because it’s charitable but because it’s in their own best interest. Because there’s a lot going on that people want to see, there’s a lot more stories out there that haven’t been told already. People go to these tentpole films, and I love them, I go to them too. Sometimes I want to see something else.
There are films that they spend so much money on, and they don’t do well, but then the film doesn’t do well because they’re stories that have been told before, you know? At times people are like “How can we make this different,” but like you say; there are so many things that haven’t been done before. I think people are afraid to sort of …
Take a chance, because they don’t know, it’s unknown.
So you want to make CATCHING UP a full-length feature?
Yeah, actually I have a couple of projects. Both of them deal with disabilities, different ones. This we already have, it’s a feature length script already written. We’ve been working on developing it for a while now, so yeah, it’s really a strong script that I really like. I want to see it happen. We’re working on that, and it goes more in depth. Basically, it takes the same characters, this is really the theme from the feature. It goes much more in depth, with the relationship, but he’s talking about trying to find this able-bodied girl that he loves and see if it’s even possible for them to have a relationship if she would accept him, if he would accept himself, and deals with those issues.
What about your other project?
The other project that I’m interested in developing is a play that I co-wrote a long time ago, with Ken Feinberg, my writing partner. We produced it in LA years ago, on stage. There were a couple of productions, one of them had Jeff Conaway in it, he was Kenickie in Grease, and he was in Taxi. The film is about a mother that has schizophrenia, and she’s raising young children with her husband. It’s called the Good Mom, and the point of that story is the idea that a person with schizophrenia can actually be a good parent. The point is to not show a film that’s just depressing and tears you up inside to see what people go through who experience this, because that is tragic in many ways. I don’t think most people even consider the idea that it’s possible to have a kind of a disability and still have relationships, and have good ones. She’s loving, you know, she may have her own demons and struggles to deal with, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not a good parent.
I don’t think most people view it that way, and I think that’s what’s unique about it and I would really like to do that too. There’s lots of projects, a lot of my projects, in fact I think all of them, all of the things I’m really interested in have to do with similar issues of diversity.
I like that a lot. I actually struggle with anxiety, and I do see films that kind of touch upon anxiety or depression, but they don’t really talk about people who go through it. They don’t really mention how exhausting it is. If you don’t go through it or you haven’t been with someone who has, you can’t relate.
I actually believe that more people go through it than we know. That’s really the last. I think most people would rather be a lot of things than be mentally ill, because there’s just so much stigma associated with that. There’s a lot of disempowerment, because once someone’s going through that they don’t really have a lot of power to trust themselves. That’s the hardest thing, is if you can’t trust your own mind it’s hard to advocate for yourself. There are sanctions that are involved, there are questions. When somebody says to you “Have you ever been hospitalized for this?” It’s almost like something you don’t … I think it discourages people from getting help, because they don’t want to have it on their record, like they’re a criminal. If you do, there could be sanctions for, I don’t know, gun ownership.
There can be insurance problems. There can be people that don’t want to go out with you. You’re met with suspicion. What in fact is happening is, the people who say that they’ve gotten this treatmentare the ones you should be able to trust, because they’re seeking help. It’s the ones that aren’t seeking help that are the ones that are dangerous. It’s ironic, you know? People are afraid, they don’t want to do that and I wouldn’t either. I think for that reason, I think that there’s a lot more people … It’s not actually that uncommon.