Conquering the Catch-22

There are many situations in life that we find ourselves in the Catch-22. I have in a few situation but none like the one that I have been stuck in for the past 18+ years. It didn’t start out that way. I attended the Art Institute in Dallas for its Music and Video Business courses that incorporated the instructions and hands on approach for music production, video production, and the business classes to become successful within either industry. I had success in all courses but found a real passion in video production as a writer, director and editor. After school, I worked as a freelance camera operator, production assistant, writer, and whatever I could do to make a little bit of money in the music video field. In my free time I worked on transitioning my career from the limited storytelling in music video creation to becoming a screenwriter and director in the film industry. I found what was the most fulfilling in my life. I loved every bit of it and I knew I was going to make it.

Of course there were some ups & downs over the next couple of years. Just as things were looking promising, I had a life-altering accident that left me paralyzed from the mid-back down. Due to the nature of my work at the time, I had no medical insurance and the fall down the stairs was a no body’s fault but my own. Quickly all savings and money on hand was gone and obviously I was unemployed. Regardless, my passion and determination to be a filmmaker was not paralyzed with the bottom half of my body! In fact, I found that my dreams had become more focused and refined – as a paraplegic filmmaker I could create films that portrayed people with a disAbility in authentic, genuine and non-stereotypical ways that would show all that can be done and is being done by those with a disAbility. This would provide a new and realistic look at paraplegics rather than the stagnant and fairly hopeless lives that the entertainment industry usually portrays. This would give hope and inspiration to those living with a disAbility.

Within a year, I founded and served as Executive Director and President of the not-for-profit organization, “Wheelchair Independence”. With the goals to produce videos and a resource and social gathering website to help newly injured paraplegics become independent, I and my board of directors went to work in 1996 when the internet was still a new entity and no such website existed, nor did any videos to help the newly disabled and the professionals who treat and serve the disabled were available. Unfortunately, we found a major Catch-22 in fund raising and grant proposals. 80-90% of all private foundation grant money for each fiscal year is already committed to organizations such as cancer research to local operatic houses. All other not-for-profit organizations are fighting for the remaining 10-20% of grant funding. And despite our efforts we not find the acceptance needed to sustain the needs of the business and in 1998 I had to dissolve the company.

I was not deterred and instead went right back into following my real passion and dreams of being a filmmaker – to write and direct fictional films for mainstream audiences that featured a paraplegic in the starring role. And I was determined to hire only an actor with the same or similar disAbility as my featured character. Established and independent Hollywood did not welcome these slightly “out of the box” ideas of hiring a film director who was a paraplegic nor hiring an actor who is a paraplegic to portray the paraplegic character that I created in my screenplays. Even those that liked my pitches and accepted my screenplays to read and possibly purchase, wanted the characters and plots to be more stereotypical. I made some changes but they continued to want more stereotypical changes, I finally refused and pulled the screenplays from submission. Hollywood seemed content to keep business as usual and exclude paraplegics from portraying and representing themselves in movies. So I took the next step and followed the Hollywood gurus’ instructions to be a successful filmmaker by creating an independent production company and created, “Abilities United Productions”.

Now armed with the creative screenplays, and using my business skills and experience, I quickly went to raise the necessary capital to turn this start-up into a fully working production company. Only I found another major Catch-22. And again it was in funding:

  • Traditional funding sources, banks, venture capitalist, and even angel investors do not fund high-risk companies even with the potential for high-returns, such as the nature of the movie business. Even with the assistance of the Small Business Administration which I first had to prove to them that being a member of the disability minority was a disadvantaged group and deserved to have that status, I was still turned down and told to take my business to the entertainment industry’s avenues of funding.
  • But when I went back to Hollywood seeking assistance, now with a specific brand – the Abilities United Productions providing the authentic voice, vision, and representation of paraplegics – a brand with a business model and plan to capture the “golden egg” for most businesses by reaching and retaining an underserved niche market (the disAbility consumer market that is 54 million Americans strong and is the largest and fastest growing minority in America) with universal mainstream market appeal – I was still was met with the same resistance as before as they felt paraplegics were not necessary and would only get in the way.  

With this Catch-22 having me spinning my own wheels in circles – I changed directions and spent considerable time and effort to reach another option for independent filmmakers and for one like myself who has a cause. A noble cause that would at least get to pulling at some heart strings, along with the fair & equal opportunity for those who are not treated as most other minorities. And with the business model and business plans that I developed – I could show the real opportunity for social responsibility, critical praise worthiness, and commercial success:

  • Hollywood star power – and ask for their assistance in helping me attract the funding and attention of those who could assist me in this historical “turning point” in American cinema. I was sure that would help overcome and even conquer the Catch-22 was I surrounded by. But all I found was another Catch-22. I could not get past the agents, or assistants of the actors, actresses, directors, or producers unless I had the money to produce my films. I could not even get their time to explain the cause – the need for their assistance to overcome this huge injustice, along with the simple solution that my business model, plans, and films would provide. I had to have the money and be ready to produce my film before anyone would even listen. I have a database with well over a hundred of the power makers and players and documented every time I attempted to contact, who it was I directed the conversation with, and how, i.e.: phone calls, letters, emails, faxes.
  • Throughout this process, I did find some individuals who saw that this was a very good opportunity to invest – but as it turned out most of them were posers – those who said they had access to investors, to hedge fund managers, etc. – but
    when it came down to it – I never got in front of the person or persons who can sign on the bottom line and they never produced any real investors.

And then came the 2008 economic recession. Nobody was going or was able to invest in independent films.

Over the years, before and after the economic crises I have tried many, many other independent filmmaker options. From the well-known to the not so well known, such as:

  • Sundance Institute – tried to apply but they said it is not wheelchair accessible. Even the Sundance Film Festival isn’t accessible to most of the seminars, etc.
  • Film Independent the organization that produces the Spirit Awards for independent films and the Los Angeles Film Festival also has several programs to develop and help independent filmmakers and promises to help those who need it – but you have to already have a majority of the help in place! I know because I applied to several of their Filmmakers’ Labs, the programs to help independent films and filmmakers but was turned down for every one of them.

Despite the many obstacles and objections from all of the standard methods of raising capital for my production company I vow not to quit. I will find a way to conquer the Catch-22 that unfortunately happens to be 10 times the factor most other independent filmmakers encounter. I will continue to find opportunities that offer a chance for independent films, disAbility causes that seek to help improve the images of those with a disAbility, seek the support from Hollywood individuals, celebrities with the power to help make a change, as well as potential angel investors that have a personal interest in seeing people with a disAbility portray and represent themselves in non-stereotypical, mainstream, fictional movies and television programs.

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