24. The Importance of Disability Inclusion in Film – Nic Novicki


Hello and welcome to the If We Knew Then podcast. I’m Stephen Saux

And I’m Lori Saux

And today we’re lucky to have Nic Novicki on the podcast. We met neck about seven years ago through a film challenge that we entered called the disability film challenge now the easterseals disability film challenge.

So the disability film challenge when we first came across it it was an email through the screen actor’s guild and it was about this film challenge over the weekend that you do and it’s a little period of time that you have to create whatever film to tell your story and they give you all the details right so it’s a great challenge as an artist it’s a great challenge and on the other hand it was a great challenge for me as the mother of a son with down syndrome who I didn’t necessarily have a voice I didn’t feel like I had my voice I didn’t feel like I had found my voice and there was a lot of things that I was experiencing and this first film challenge allowed me to teleport tion of my story and when it was done at the weekend was challenging as an artist because you’re under a time constraint but what it was done I had told a little bit of my story and that was a gift because as a parent I think our stories and our children’s stories and our loved one stores I think they’re very important and that’s what’s so brilliant about this disability film challenge is because as an artist you get to push forward inclusion and an inclusion is something that all of our children need that we all need it’s become such a huge part of our advocacy and so we knew it was a good a good idea to have Nick on to listen to how Nick created this disability film challenge what inclusion has meant to him and his life and %HESITATION we hope you enjoy it Nick novinky it is wonderful to have you on the if we knew then podcast Hey it’s great to be here thanks for having me Nick it’s great having you here we’ve known you for a few years now originally met you at the time was the disability film challenge now the easterseals disability film challenge and %HESITATION that’s brought us so much joy in our life and you have to is individual and we’re really just looking to have you on the podcast today we start by telling us a little about yourself sure well first of all thank you so much for those nice words and you really have been a part of the film challenge since the beginning I think you started maybe here too but every year we look forward to seeing great films Romeo %HESITATION your whole family I’ve seen them your son really grow up on film it’s not it’s really interesting to see every year my wife and some of the film John judges that been judges for all seven years actually comment about that how how amazing your films are but also about the growth of your children which is pretty interesting so a little bit of background about me this is a podcast and no one can see I’m a little person I’m thirty foot ten and I’m an actor and comedian I’m a producer I started really early on in my career creating my own content writing shooting producing directing creating my own short films web series independent films are and work leads to work so ultimately by me create my own content that’s led to a lot of opportunities and about seven and a half years ago I looked around I was like why aren’t more people with disabilities creating their own work %HESITATION writing producing making themselves our unstoppable basically so I created the disability film challenge which is a weekend some competition where over the course of the weekend participants write shoot edit and submit three to five minute films they had somebody with a disability in front of our behind the camera I’ve been so honored that you guys have participated you band winners finalists participants year after year with great films and really I I feel a connection to you and to so many other film challenge participants that really in some senses it feels like we’re a family we do screenings events workshops all year round and I’m really just excited to see the growth of the challenge and all the filmmakers and I got to give a very special props to easterseals southern California you mentioned being a part of the disability film challenge before I partnered with easterseals southern California now Easter seals this nation’s largest disability services organization and partnering with them really took it to the next level and today we have hundreds of films that have been created and I’m just so honored that we’ve been able to be there to create opportunities for people with disabilities in front of and behind the camera and I can’t thank you guys enough you know I as I said I I feel that a connection beyond the film challenge to you and your family what a wonderful community I mean we really fall fall in love with you and your wife and and the entire community that you let us into and that’s what we want to have you on the podcast because what I and I think we get the most out of the film challenge is just the subject and idea of inclusion and that’s such a huge word that we use in advocacy tell us about inclusion and and how the film challenge addresses it sure also with the film challenge similar to in my career I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities by creating my own work but also being on set being a part of productions being on the sopranos led to me being on boardwalk empire so work leads to work and really it’s about inclusion of people with disabilities in positions in front of and behind the camera and the roles for actors don’t have to be about their disability for instance I was on a freeform show called alone together really small world I had a couple lines and I was like a hot dog cart vendor and it was just really cool that it had nothing to do with me being a little person I did my transactions I did like one little joke and that was it but I was included and it wasn’t about my disability so that’s in some senses what inclusion means to me and I think the future of disability inclusion comes from network studios production companies independent producers directors filmmakers including people with disabilities and then ultimately you’re gonna have a fully inclusive inclusive production in then you’re going to be more marketable to death disability community where sixty one million Americans have some form of disability we’re always trying to get people either in the educational world or just in society to look at Liam as up as Liam and that’s not just down syndrome and and I remember being hit with the concept of your you just talked about when I was introduced into the film challenge thinking of roles in the past I’ve seen on TV I couldn’t come across the idea of someone was in a wheelchair and and wasn’t just somebody the wheelchair was was a thread and part of the character in that TV show why couldn’t the person the wheelchair just be the staples manager or the boss at a work place you know and that isn’t really how the industry is built and you’re changing that well I appreciate those nice words and you know I think it’s really it’s a collective movement and I’m honored that through the film challenge we’ve been able to make a lot of headway but there’s so many disability activists that have been put in the work for years and years so I don’t want to discredit their work and and all the work that’s being done but I really feel the times are changing and that there are more people with disabilities wheelchair users in roles that don’t have to do with their wheelchair out for instance you know Alice Roker winning the Tony this year you know peanut butter falcon you know we talk about it %HESITATION role for an actor with down syndrome in it in a starring role that that was also at pretty big leap for it I think in that disability inclusion one thing I was just thinking about when Stephen was speaking it is you know the truth stuff when you’re part of the disability film challenge but it’s not necessarily about disability but it is about disability even more so by not being about disability to just say this is how society should be a good point of that is Liam has down syndrome that’s usually a Stephen was saying how people will see them first and I think that by having the film start to normalise disabilities as we are all equal we we all you know have different challenges whatever they may be but normalized them to highlight the ability thank yeah somebody in a wheelchair can be the manager this person can be that like the love interest that doesn’t have to be the disability as the focus but more the human as the focus and I believe that sometimes it takes sienet first and that’s where film and television content in and play such an important role because then maybe where those blinders are upper those thought patterns are so ingrained into people’s minds as far as prejudices and stereotypes that when they start seeing that they can then be more able to accept it and their life in the world well I agree a hundred percent %HESITATION with what you just said and it all goes back to the field of dreams for me if you build it they will come you know I think a lot of times you just have to put it out there %HESITATION for instance need gone back to me as an actor when I’m creating the role I’m playing a gangster then I have that out there in the world people can see and %HESITATION you know he could be a gang Sir why not that’s kind of fun that’s unique that adds another layer if the gag there happens to be three four ten so I think a lot of times people in the industry you know this is not just disability I think there’s a huge diversity push which likely I feel like disability is finally being included in happening right now in the entertainment industry but as a whole they used to be a lot of the great roles were just first rate white guys and the reason for that was studio executives and writers would write to what they knew their experience now that net is being widened in its being widened by the me too movement the black lives matter all these different movements to further disability inclusion and I feel like disability was left out of a lot of these diversity discussions but now we really are included and I feel like it’s going to be more and more we’re gonna see more roles like that and ultimately going back to the peanut butter falcon you know somebody’s gonna go yeah you know he could be added on adventure you know you could be in my car oxen kind of story with that crazy silent Bob you’re now I think it’s it’s when you see it in the world then it does normalize it but the hardest thing is is getting those first eyeballs on an experience that leads to some executives and writers may not at we know TV and film I mean particularly T. V. has always been in the lead of social change I mean you see it through the years and sometimes there’s some N. normally are we just saw the normally a documentary and and we saw how incredible he was is and it was not clear documentary on what is it on my P. Netflix it’s really incredible it’s really good you know and it just shines a light on how he took it upon myself to change things and he did through TV and that’s what it takes people to see it now sometimes the entertainment and she gets flak for people call it a political stance one I don’t think this is political I just think it’s social change in the right direction but when a producer or a TV executive takes a stand and shows it to America on their screens that’s how change happens like you said people need to see it the the Norman Lear documentaries called just another version of you as on Netflix Nick it is it’s so incredible because you know of course huge fans with our lives impacted by him right and such a such a great icon and talent and game changer and you watch it and it’s just the date humanization of it and there’s accessibility to so many other things and and why it’s important for us to use our voices and also that we have a choice to use our voices to make a change we you know we all have experiences and right now we’re talking about disability film challenge and and you know we take those experiences and we can be beaten down by them we can let others on the outside dictates the road that we’re going to take we can and it’s and nobody would blame us I know there have been spurts of our our journey with Liam where we have been be in doubt and you know you just you get the energy to stand back up and that is a choice it’s not something that’s given it’s not something that even everybody can do but what it shows you is that yet you make a choice and you know obviously Norman Lear was able to reach millions of people but you can make that choice in your every day just by the actions that you take and the words that you use and the ground that you stand on if I want to pull it back to the disability film challenge eight I was so excited by this year because there were so many documentaries and if you’re listening to this please look it up and please look at those documentaries it was personal stories and they were all so beautiful and it was just %HESITATION an example of all the stories that are out there so I think a part of part of life is that feeling especially right now we’re so isolated at home and feeling like you’re alone are you the only one that that starts like when you’re very young you always feel like you’re the only one going through this specific thing or whatever it might be but having all those documentaries and all those beautiful stories I just love how it you just told so many stories and so many people had the opportunity to tell their stories but also so many people have the opportunity to hear all of these different stories and be affected now well thank you so much and and one of those amazing stories was your film so you know I I I do feel that though when you’re able to tell your story from your point of view you’re ultimately gonna share a true authentic personal take on it for those listening D. easterseals disability film challenge is typically a narrative short film competition I had this is making a film then we give you the Chandra you have to have somebody with a disability in front of or behind the camera you make your film and then we have an awareness competition which you know tries to get as many likes views and shares for the films %HESITATION the Sox family are usually ringers every year and you guys are Killin it every year and thousands and thousands of views for your films but ultimately this year we had to change the way we did things like so many other organizations people out we had to cancel the normal film challenge and we did a home edition which was documented short films and as you said so many of these phones we had a record breaking amount it sounds eighty seven films that were created and these are people with disabilities that many times where the directors producers editors %HESITATION subject matters that this was the family production or it was so many different levels of inclusion %HESITATION with that individual films but the one theme among them all is the personal and the heart that was in these films and some of them were touching some of them were funny all of them are beautiful and if you go to our YouTube channel and searched easterseals disability film challenge you can see the play list of all eighty seven films this year I know you guys spent time watching the tiger king at the beginning of the quarantine yeah now it’s eight hours and this is the eight hours that I think is more wealth I spent so please check out these films right and you know for the disability film challenge it is a yearly thing will put a link to it and our show notes because it’s something that anybody can join and anybody can make their film and it’s a great experience for many many reasons it has become a yearly weekend that we share the family we know at the end of the weekend if everything goes right we’re gonna get a five minute short that we did that documents are family or moment in time with our family that we can look back on it also pushes us as artists to do things different and in this case with the home addition it pushed us to build almost like a little sizzle reel for a larger project a larger documentary you keep it to finance something you need to do because it’s a weekend thing but there’s so much that you can get out of making a short absolutely and that you hit the nail on the head to this can be used for a larger project and if you’re listening and you’re thinking wow I really want to make a film you know feature film and I want to go to the movie theaters I wanna sell TV show generally the way you do that is create smaller projects and you do those on a reduced budget and then you get more experienced in you get more exposure because you can’t take that film and you put it on YouTube and you can check your found which all that film challenge participants own their own sound and %HESITATION submitting to film festivals and you guys are screening at film festivals all the world I see your film screening in Africa Asia South America so that’s just amazing I’ll say one other thing you did say that you have that family documentation every year son many senses the film challenge has become a Sox family scrapbook that’s right it only has and the one which was two years ago really got some legs we were able to take it I I put it in every free of film does like to find and then I also you know it was a few hundred few hundred several dollars but we but you end up just put it out there and keep put it out there it was all over the world right Africa we had a nice win in Milan it was just need to have people around the world to see your work and I think one thing that’s also great is that a lot of our stories seek we started we started off in our store was a little soft because we’re trying to find like one thing one thing to tell and I believe it was when the what was so prominent in our life that year was that people always thought that Liam didn’t know what was going on and so we took that one sentence I understand you and we made that to our five minutes and then and then then you know the next year I think it was about you know it’s it’s always Liam’s ability that’s being questioned and so we made that year was that it was supposed to be the mystery and so we made it into that he was this brilliant artist and you know he had this whole other life had this whole other life and her sister was narrating about what she witnesses that people don’t think he can do anything but here he she was finding all the secrets about who he was so it’s been a chance for us to speak on maybe what was prevalent that whole year what’s something that’s always come up for us and also a lot of times in our life we can’t talk about these challenges because one we spend our energy overcoming them and to we really believe that what you focus on in life is what expands and so instead of giving the negative all this energy we deal with that and we work against those challenges we work to overcome those challenges but we don’t speak on it and there’s there’s a lot of things that we you know we just don’t go in and talk about these things all the time that are challenging us and so the film is give us a chance to actually speak about what we can’t always speak about you know that’s the power of storytelling to me to be able to share your story and have that taught somebody else that is thinking it but hasn’t been able to express it and I think a lot of times you know giving you speech is great but sometimes you don’t want to hear in a lecture you wanna you wanna have a connection to it that’s more from an entertainment perspective which I think is why it’s so important have disability inclusion it all goes back to that if you have down syndrome where your artistic or your wheelchair user your little person you want to see yourself represented and I would say that I would think that family members that have %HESITATION individuals with disabilities also want to see those characters represented and so I think the fact that you’re able to do it and make these films are are given even an extra layer of authenticity because your knowledge having these disabled actor in Liam in the film but you’re also creating and creating it from your point of view and from something that’s important to you and that’s talking to you and that you know as a mom is also touching other moms and other people like you and other areas in in going back to something that Stephen said a couple minutes ago the do you do these films and it’s it’s something we look forward to every year and to do it as a family and it’s something that you do and you make this film and you submitted to free film festivals you know we’re not talking about you spending a significant amount of money so in terms of the economics of it this is an opportunity easterseals disability film challenge as it’s all volunteer for you to use film professionals to get music donated to you that you can get rights to odd to use SAG AFTRA town without paying up front fees this is a time for you to make something and not talk about the lack of opportunities but create something and I gotta be honest when I’m going to some of these short film festivals and I’m seeing you know different filmmakers some of them are talking about their spending a hundred thousand dollars on the film and yes you can but you guys have done amazing films I’m really no budget other than you know some some cost to screen it %HESITATION to submit it to some festivals %HESITATION so if you’re thinking about doing this in mind you don’t need to make a film for the easterseals disability film challenge but it does give you an amazing incentive for you to make it and also finish it because as artists that’s the one thing we struggle with the most is actually completing a project and also you get the chance to say how he wants to be represented you get to represent yourself you get to be strong be powerful be the hot dog vendor not just be a disability you you get to be you human and whole and that’s a gift to be able to choose how you’re presented can you actively can make a change you can make a change that is a positive thing and that’s what we want in this world keep putting positive energy and inclusion when we talk about disability no matter where it starts it’s important you know one day it’s just gonna be inclusion it’s not even to be a word because it’s just going to be and and we and we find the places where we can plant it wherever we can and this is a really great star and this easterseals disability challenge this disability challenge that you created for that sole purpose of creating your work and being seen and it’s it’s still much more than just a Film Festival so much more than a film challenge because it affects things and just a deeper level and we thank you I thank you you know because really this is that collective effort so it takes powerful storytellers and honestly people that have that passion to make change not just by telling a story that by sharing it as I said earlier you guys won the awareness competition you’ve been finalised pretty much every year %HESITATION you know you’re unbelievable at sharing your film and I’ve had the honor of speaking at Liam school and I’ve seen the passion that you guys share %HESITATION for that school and for inclusion and I think that’s what it takes it takes passion it takes the ability to get your message out it’s not just making your found but it’s about sharing it’s about submitting it finding places to share finding places to have it exhibited online it’s about sharing it with other people and letting it you know the torch be passed and I think that we do that as a community and as humanity if we share our stories N. F. for empathetic for other stories that that’s how we really make that change in the world I thank you for being a part of a part of our change because you’ve changed our lives to change our perception and with you know you’ve given us strength and maybe didn’t know that but by being able to tell our story our legs get stronger and we can stand on a more solid ground and foundation so we will always be thankful for you for that I’m bump right back at you it’s all love all love in the community Nick we we like to end the podcast episode with and if we knew then statement did you have one something you wish you knew then when it came to the easterseals disability film challenge I I had no idea how big it would get me now and that how much of a part of my life how much of my life that I spend focused on talking with film challenge participants I sharing their films getting job opportunities being a part of this disability community I’m actually I I wasn’t that much a part of it but for the for the film challenge I just went to little people conventions %HESITATION you know so but I don’t know if I would do anything differently in terms of my disability now representation I I felt like I live the path that I was supposed to be on in terms of my exposure to the disability community and in terms of the growth of the film challenge how it started with a couple films and me and my wife showing up with sandwiches like workshops and then evolved into something way bigger with huge network studios and %HESITATION you know big fortune five hundred companies as sponsors and you know but it but I feel like it was it was the needed growth it was they needed and and because of that growth the community is has really embraced it and bend there along with me as it’s grown and so if I had known they they could get as big as it you know is now ice I still would have hoped that I would put those same organic reach St the beginning of starting it and and doing everything on my own and and that you know just not gone back to my field of dreams if you build it they will come you know I think I think a lot of that was it was an evolution so I wouldn’t change anything Nick what a pleasure it has been to have you on the podcast now do you guys validate it’s so funny well this this definitely has been %HESITATION love fest and thank you for doing it and and being so ready did you just jump right in it’s always it’s always such a joy to talk to you and you know as friends we get to talk and we’ve we’ve become friends over the years and we get to talk it in little spurts you know every year around the challenge but it’s been such a privilege to get to connect and get to talk I know there’s always bigger conversations and more conversations to be had that I always look forward to while it’s been an honor for me to get to talk to you guys and also with that being said it an honor for me to get to know you and to know your whole family and I do I consider you guys friends and it’s really a part of the film sound family cell thank you so much for having me for this amazing podcast and for everything you guys do.

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