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Interview with AUTISM: THE MUSICAL filmmaker Tricia Regan

By Maria Esteves – June 7, 2007

The Sixth Annual Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) Official Selection World Premiere AUTISM: THE MUSICAL documentary film, directed by Tricia Regan was held at the Regal Battery Park Cinemas, Sunday, April 29, 4:00 pm. A special Q&A immediately followed. The world premiere after party was held at The Knitting Factory venue, 7:00 pm. I had the honor of interviewing director Tricia Regan, at the TFF Filmmaker’s Lounge, Monday, April 30, 2007, 5:30 pm.

ME: What inspired the making of the documentary film “AUTISM: THE MUSICAL?”

TR: In spring 2005, a small group of people in Los Angeles decided to make a film about Autism. My friend Janet Grillo who has an Autistic child asked me if I would help guide them. After a series of conversation, I realized they really didn’t have a direction. I basically said, “Personally, I would not want to go see a movie about Autism, because Autism is hard, challenging, and painful. I would rather see a movie where people are the subject and Autism is the obstacle. Like a group of Autistic kids who are trying to put on a play.” At that moment, Janet Grillo said, “I know this brilliant woman Elaine Katz, she runs The Miracle Project. She takes Autistic kids and together they write, create and perform an original musical.” Based on that idea, the group was able to raise money for the film, then they asked me to direct it.

I did an internship my freshman year at the Autism clinic in SUNY Binghamton University, which fascinated me. It just made sense; here I am directing the film.

ME: What is the film about?

TR: AUTISM: THE MUSICAL follows eleven Autistic children over a six month period while they work together to create and perform an original musical for the stage. The film focused on five of those children and their families. We go home with them. We learn what it’s like from the parent’s point of view to have an Autistic child. We learn from the kids what it’s like to be Autistic. It’s intensely intimate and personal. It’s a film that totally loves these kids and enjoys them. Because kids are great and funny!

ME: What film festivals was AUSTISM: THE MUSICAL introduced?

TR: 2007 Tribeca Film Festival is our world premiere. TFF Co-founder Jane Rosenthal introduced the film. New York is my hometown, we’re delighted and excited to have the film at the festival. In June, it will screen at the 2007 Newport Film Festival.

ME: What has been the audience reaction?

TR: Our world premiere at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival was so beautiful. The audience laughed as much as they cried. There were a number of the parents and children that starred in the film that flew in from Los Angeles. At the end, when they stood in front of the audience, there was not a dry eye. The audience gave a standing ovation that would have gone on all night. I had to tell them to please sit down so we can begin with the Q&A. It blew me away to see the audience appreciation.

TFF07 Official Selection World Premiere documentary film AUTISM:
THE MUSICAL at AMC Loews 34th St. Theater, Saturday, May 5, 2007.
(from left-to-right), Director, Tricia Regan, with Lexi Aaron (one of the
stars) relatives, Hillary’s family: Aunt Nancy Kessler, Aunt Andie Kessler,
Grandma Bea, Grandpa Harold, Uncle Stu, and nephew Cory Kessler.

ME: How long did it take to make the film?

TR: AUTISM: THE MUSICAL was made in a very short amount of time. In September 2005, we began pre-production. In November 2005, we began shooting the film and ended in May 2006. In December 2006, we finished editing the online. In January 2007, we finished the music and mix. By the way, the song we’re hearing this very moment “AS” by Stevie Wonder is the song that closes our movie. The song says it all. No matter what, I’ll be loving you always.

ME: What style of music did you use for the film?

TR: The music and soundtrack bridged the two generations, parents from the 1970’s era and children of this new millennium. The opening song, a new song released this year, sounds like Motown and the closing song “AS” by Stevie Wonder gives the 70’s vibe. The five musicals composed for the film has an acoustic sound much like the new folk artists Iron & Wine. The song “FLY” was written by one of the kids.

ME: What has been your greatest challenge in making the film?

TR: AUSTISM: THE MUSICAL was a child assist creation. The Miracle Project was taking notes as ideas, and dialogue came up. Elaine collected all the notes and took it to a professional screenwriter and they created the script. During rehearsals, the children came up with new lines and old lines were removed.

ME: Any interest from film distributors?

TR: Yes, definitely, we’re excited and feel very hopeful. It’s really important to have an out reach campaign where the film gets distributed in schools. At our world premiere in New York, a lot of people brought children to see the film. I never really intended the film to be for children. There were approximately twelve children, ranging in age from ten to seventeen years, and they enjoyed it. They really got it! That opens a whole new audience, reaching out in helping to change the world in their expectations, and presuppositions of Autistic individuals.

ME: Tricia, where and what did you studied?

TR: My undergraduate study was literature at SUNY Binghamton University. I was going to be a lawyer. My senior year, I took a still photography class and my whole world changed. My graduate study was a joint program between New York University (NYU) and International Center of Photography. The program basically encouraged you to find ways to express yourself. Therefore, I took a video art class within the art’s program and based on my work, I immediately received an NYU fellowship to work at a television studio.

ME: At what point in your life you became interested in the film industry?

TR: It was in graduate school, while jogging one day around Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, I literally stopped and realized I’m a filmmaker. I’m going to make documentaries and narrative features.

ME: What films have you directed?

TR: In 1996, A LEAP OF FAITH documentary film, with Jennifer McShane, premiered at Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, SOLDIERS PAY, short documentary film with David O. Russell and Juan Carlos Zaldivar. I produced and directed non-fiction television for Lifetime, NBC, and FOX. I did an episode of WIFE SWAP reality show, ABC Network. Nine episodes of ROOM RAIDERS reality show, MTV Network.

ME: Any new projects in the works?

TR: Currently, I’m looking at a few projects.

ME: Thank you, Tricia.

For more information contact: AUTISM: THE MUSICAL

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