“SPUD” Screens to Packed Theater, Helps Promote Employment in the Entertainment Industry

By the Thursday before Oscar night, the entire city of Los Angeles was abuzz with talk of the red carpet – from what the stars would be wearing to who was likely to win an Academy Award. And not too far away from the glamour on Hollywood Boulevard, near the heart of the “media capital of the world,” another red carpet was also rolled out – this one for the premiere and private industry screening of “SPUD.”

Executive Director Diane Anand says, “The aim of this screening was to promote employment of people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of the entertainment industry. What better way to demonstrate their capability than by partnering with Inclusion Films and WE Include, an initiative of California First Lady Maria Shriver, to screen a film that was written, directed, and filmed by people with developmental disabilities with production support from Inclusion Films.”

Held at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Leonard H. Goldenson Theater, the 680-seat theater was packed with filmgoers, including members of the entertainment industry, the cast and crew of “SPUD,” as well as many former students of Inclusion Films, and representatives from the many local and state agencies providing employment services and supports to people with developmental disabilities. Under the bright lights, the excitement was palpable as attendees walked the red carpet, were interviewed by members of the press, and had their photos taken as they made their way to the theater.

Standing in front of a soaring red curtain framed by two larger than life Emmy Award statues, Tina Marie Tyler, an award-winning broadcast journalist, writer, entertainment reporter, television personality, and mother of a child with autism, served as master of ceremonies for the evening’s program. Featured guests included Anne Altman, vice president of Software Help and Information Systems at the top-tier talent agency International Creative Management (ICM), and Joe Mantegna, an award-winning actor, producer, writer, director and advocate for people with developmental disabilities.

Altman introduced the film about the WE Include employment initiative, and after it’s screening, shared with guests “why hiring people with disabilities is not only good for business, it’s good for your soul.” Mantegna, straight from the set of “Criminal Minds,” also addressed the audience, acknowledging the significance of the night’s event and the accomplishments of all of the individuals involved in the Inclusion Films program and the making of “SPUD.”

“One of Lanterman’s initiatives is to ensure that every individual that wants to work is employed in a job that meets his or her abilities and interests; a job that they will be successful at. We live in the film capital of the world, the industry is one of the largest local employers, so it makes sense that we would open doors and create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities in the industry,” adds Anand.

Prior to the “SPUD” screening, guests were treated to a music video performance by a local rock band – Arrest My Sister – with front man Scott Siegel, a 23-year-old musician with autism, who is also attending Inclusion Films filmmaking workshop, and a 15-minute behind the scenes film about the making of “SPUD.”

Written and directed by Tyler Norman, a young man with autism, “SPUD” is his first creative endeavor with Inclusion Films and tells the story of a teenage nerd who is bullied at school until he decides to turn himself into a self-proclaimed superhero and retaliate. Norman says, “I was inspired by the comedy of director John Hughes and from my own knowledge of bulling in school. Special needs kids get the worst kind of treatment sometimes, and it’s usually hidden. I wanted to bring that to light, but with comedy.” Joey Travolta, founder and director of Inclusion films, adds, “It’s a film with an incredibly unique perspective.” The screening was followed by a short question and answer session.

The Hollywood Reporter said it best, “Best venue in town.” And that it was – the red carpet, the red curtain and the stately elegance of the theater, were the perfect backdrop for the “We did it” look in the eyes of the “SPUD” cast and crew. Or maybe it was the smell of traditional Italian food from Tarantino’s Pizzeria and Carmine’s Italian Restaurant & Bar mixing with Pink’s Hot Dogs and freshly baked cupcakes from For Cupcakes Sake Bakeshop. Either way, it will be an evening that won’t soon be forgotten.

For more information about Inclusion Films, visit www.joeytee.com.

For more information about WE Include, visit www.weinclude.ca.gov.