Looking For An Opening

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on March 15, 2016 # Health

Having spent my adult life in the salt mines of Hollywood, I’ve learned one important lesson. Breaking through is often a matter of random, unpredictable events, the dice rolling the right way. I once asked David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” about this and he said, “Success in show business is a terribly tiny, tiny target and there is so much luck involved. Anyone who thinks otherwise, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.” Success, period, is a tiny target and success for someone with a disability even tinier. That’s why you have to look for an opening. That crack in the wall is the first stroke of luck.

Why do people with disabilities have so much trouble breaking into Hollywood? Again, it’s probably not that different than any other business. Out of self-consciousness or lack of savvy or both, they can’t find the right entry point. When going in for that first interview, they don’t know how they’ll transcend the inevitable pity response to move the conversation beyond their disability. Often that pity is unspoken, but at least from my own experience, it’s probably there. It may only be in the interviewer’s head: “Jeez, I can’t imagine being like this guy. I’d shoot myself! No one’s going to feel comfortable working with him…too sad.”

The right entry point can be tough. Again, I’ll use the entertainment business as a reference, but this could apply to any job anywhere. The way young people break into the TV or film business these days is to be lucky enough to land the lowliest of jobs, called a “PA” or production assistant. Sometimes you work for free – as an intern, otherwise known as slave labor – or get paid a pittance. The job is simple: run errands, deliver scripts, dash down the street for pizza, pick up cleaning, move boxes, etc. '

Sounds perfectly doable, right? Unless you are in a wheelchair or otherwise mobility challenged. Then all you will get is an awkward no.

This principal opening into any future job in Hollywood – producing, directing, writing, editing – is often shut off from people with disabilities. You have to figure out another entry point. The main alternate strategy is to let your work speak for you. These days YouTube is a terrific outlet for this. You can shoot, edit, and post a small filmette, tell your friends, and hopefully you can get some attention. You might have to make a dozen filmettes and still get nowhere, but you will be a lot more experienced and capable and may be able to turn that into another opening of some kind. It’s a long shot but as I said in paragraph one, it’s all a long shot and unless your daddy’s rich or your mamma’s a movie star, you have to hang in there. As the I Ching proclaims, “Perseverance furthers.”

Sometimes a random sequence of encounters pays off. Case in point: the Writers with Disabilities Committee at the Writers Guild of America decided to hold an event to showcase writing specifically about disabled characters and story lines. It was called the Disability Scene, a collection of short, original scenes written by guild members of any status. Nine scenes were chosen by the committee and staged, with mostly disabled actors, at a group reading. A “reading” means no cameras, no props, no effects, just actors in chairs performing the scene. Two directors rehearsed the actors beforehand, one of them an A-lister, Peter Farrelly of “Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber” fame. How did we get him involved? We asked him.

It was a great evening and every scene played well and we spent the next few days patting ourselves on the back. Then something extraordinary happened. One disabled writer, David Radcliff, encouraged by both a pro like Peter Farrelly and the audience, sent his script to a big-name writer-producer he had met at another disability-related gathering. Mr. Big Name liked the scene so much that he submitted it to a very prestigious Hollywood award-giver, called the Humanitas Prize. The people there read it and David was, out of the blue, nominated for the Humanitas Prize New Voices Award. Where that leads, nobody knows, but it is major exposure for a young, tenacious writer with a disability.

I really don’t exactly know how this little tale translates into the career you are hoping for, but I do know that if you are disabled, you can easily get discouraged, angry, or cynical by the barriers, both visible and invisible, you will certainly encounter. You need tenacity and a little luck. The one control you have over luck is repetition -- how many times you get up to bat, or pitch yourself to a potential employer, or go to meet & greets, or write a poem and send it to a magazine. The more times you take a swing, the better chance you’ll have of hitting one out of the park.

Perseverance furthers.

RUCKER-BEST-SEAT_20120130011903_400.JPGPurchase Allen's book:

The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life

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