Disabled Lives Matter
Season 1, Episode 11
Co-Hosts: Nadine Vogel & Norma Stanley
Guest: Joe Travolta
Intro: [Music playing in background] Disabled Lives Matter… here we go!
Voiceover: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the disabled lives matter podcast with co-hosts Nadine Vogel and Norma Stanley... yay!
Nadine Vogel: Well, hello everybody I am Nadine Vogel your co-host of this podcast disabled lives matters, and as I’ve said many times over, this is not just a podcast this is a movement and helping me in this movement is my co-host, Norma. Norma say hey to everybody.
Norma Stanley: Hi everyone, welcome to disabled lives matter.
Nadine Vogel: Yeah well, you are going to find our listeners that disabled lives really do matter when you hear from our guest today. Joe Travolta, Joe you know you you've been a teacher and you know, in many ways, I think you still are a teacher, but what I’d love to do is have us start with just some background, you know talk to us about how you came to be what you do today, which is with inclusion films and partnership with options for all and futures explored and working with kids with disabilities and adults with disabilities, but I think it all goes back sometimes to how we start so Joe take it away.
Joe T: Absolutely well thanks for having me here today and yeah, I came from a town in New Jersey kind of a blue-collar town, and I promised my dad growing up that I would go to college and finish it. I didn't want to go to college, but I promised him, I would go. So, we came from a blue-collard town, we had a tire shop that I worked at and I loved working with my dad. My dad was the most inclusive, kind man that I’ve ever known. And the gift that he gave to us as kids was inclusion and diversity, everyone was welcome in our house. Everybody was the same, what all religions teach my father had naturally. And as I said, I promised I’d go to college, so I did, and I finished it and my dad was always the underdog. When I was going into teaching the field that was open was special ED and two of my good friends growing up were special needs.
So, I just kind of was a protector of them, you know I mean we teach each other, but nobody else was a lot like that. And I went into that field and I taught for a short period of time, because I was putting all my money back into the kit. As I said, I promised my father I’d go to college, I went to William Paterson, two year college then I transferred to the state college, it was Paterson State at the time, and I think it sounded too much like a prison, so they changed it to William Paterson that's my feeling and I wanted to go into teaching and special ED teaching was the hot, there were a lot of jobs in specialized teaching so that was the track that I got on and I got my degree and I taught for a short period of time. There just wasn't enough money for me to survive because the kids in the school systems need some needed some, I taught in an orphanage for children so I was literally using my paycheck to buy supplies and do things that I really loved it and I knew I would get back to it and I come from a showbiz family, but when I was teaching back then I used theatrics. My mother was a drama teacher, all my brothers and sisters were in theater I was really the last one to go into it. But I, I learned that way I had this theory about kids watching TV. If you could, if you watch they watch TV for four or five hours and back then the only have three stations back in the late 60s early 70s and my theory was if they could sit and watch TV for five hours and not get bored and know all about it, if I could make my lesson plan that interesting and teach by drama, you know, I would perform, I would perform my lessons, but it was a lot that all you know all day because I had I had like you know 15 kids on 15 different levels and I, so I started singing and I got a record deal and actually in Atlanta Georgia Norma, my first visit was to that city, because I had a number one record at the station down there and I went down to visit, and you know it was a whole different you know coming from New Jersey to Georgia and 1978 was a was a very different just very different and I love going down there, it was right at that time that CNN one stared. So, I started after music from there I was I started acting but I always was writing and creating projects and eventually got into producing and then directing and I think it's the reason I do what I do now, I didn't want to direct. I had this project that I wanted to do and the guy that was funding it said, I would really like you to direct I said I want to direct when and what he goes no you do, because you know how to work with people. As a producer whenever there was a problem iron stuff out whatever it was. Because even the first movie I stared, I got to know the craft services, I got to know the PA’s, I wanted to know what everybody did. And what I loved about filmmaking is you have all these people working together for an outcome and it became like a family and when the production was over, everybody went on their way, but during that period of time you felt like you were part of something. So, I'll get to that a little later.
Nadine Vogel: Well, and I think that's important because you have created something, something quite big and something quite meaningful and definitely what I would consider a family like no other. So, I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about what you're doing now.
Joe T: Yeah, well eventually I knew I would get back to it and there was this group called the entertainment industry, no, the entertainment experience, and I was directing a film and the producer asked if I could put some of his kids in the film. And I said yeah sure no problem, and I said, you know this is kind of cool I’d like to do this. Not with specialize ed in mind, but with teaching kids because I loved it and I had an office to do my production company, and then we could teach kids and my daughter had a film festival at Chaminade high school out in West Coast California she asked if I would help her with her festival, and I said yeah, I said I’ll get you publicity and I’ll give you camps to give away an acting lesson and whatever. And an article was written in a newspaper called the acorn and it mentioned that I was a former special ED teacher and two parents with children with special needs autism approached me and said hey would you open your doors to special needs, because the doors are being shut. Nobody gives them an opportunity they're not included, and this was in 72 73 and I said sure, I said, you know why not, I have the teachers I love this you know we can do it. And in that same conversation, one of the mothers wanted her wanting to know first son could submit a film. I said sure if he's in high school, those are the rules. You just have to be in high school in the area, and I said what's the film about and she said it's about what it's like to be autistic from an autistic kid’s point of view that's really cool. I said well why don't you send me the film and I’ll get it in the film festival, and she said he doesn't know how to make a film he's never made a film before I go okay well that’s a problem. So, I met with him at all kids six five with big blonde curly hair and not that interested, very articulate, very high functioning. But I saw the whole demeanor changed when I said all right I really like this idea, this is what I’m going to give you a camera man, I'm going to give you an editor you have to do all the work you have to get the people that you want to interview the moms the dads the aunts the uncles. And the kids on the spectrum and you have to conduct the interviews and then I’ll mentor you. So, I you know we did that and, as we were cutting it together man, this is kind of cool. I called the Daily News out here in California and they love the story so much they did a feature about it. Then the week that we were we were doing the festival, we were expecting like 50 people. They ran another article, the day of and we had 500 people come. ABC news came down and they covered it, and that was where it really we had been doing classes for special needs, but this little documentary I got a call from Oakland University in Michigan and said hey we hear you doing camps for special needs kids, you know, would you consider you know we just got a grant. I said well how much of a grant did you get. I said ok, I'll call you back in five minutes, so I called, and I figured out how I could do it, I said why don't I come and run it. And that was the start that was like 2006 and then in 2007 I took that camp concept and created an adult program for adults with developmental disabilities and it's a filmmaking program and we've been doing that since 2007 and we have seven studios around the state of California and they go year-round, and our big push now is to employ folks that are nuero diverse.
Nadine Vogel: Absolutely, wow, that's you know I’ve kind of known the story, but hearing you tell it and just you know I’m captivated is if I knew nothing about it. It's such an amazing story and what we're gonna do now is just a quick commercial break but when we come back let's talk about that let's talk about the employment of people with disabilities and specifically those on the neuro diverse spectrum. So, everybody hang on to your hats we'll be back in just a minute with disabled lives matter and Joe Travolta.
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Nadine Vogel: Hello everyone and welcome back to the second half of this evening’s episode of disabled lives matter, I’m Nadine Vogel your co-host with Norma Stanley. And today's guest Joe Travolta. And just before we went on break Joe you were talking about how it really came to be that these camps that that you run for people with disabilities film camps and specifically on the autism spectrum have really transition to this issue of employment, and what that means, so I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.
Joe T: Yes, well before I was directing like two movies a year and the one thing that I was noticing, I learned filmmaking from being an actor I didn't go to school for it, I went by seeing, the lucky thing was I stared in my first movie and I had never been on a set before so I was intrigued by it and I love the camaraderie and I’d want to know what the grip did what the electrician, there were so many, usually when you think of film you think of producing, directing, acting, and writing. Those four, but there's a world of jobs in filmmaking. There's accounting, there is set building, there's makeup, there's driving, there's food there's everything that goes into everyday life goes into filmmaking, so I thought to myself, while we had a slate of films that we are going to do, I said thinking to myself wanting to be a cool thing to start a workshop. Not for people we haven't gotten a special message yet so what, how great would it be where when I do a film someone can come on from day one, when we break the script down when we budget at when we schedule it when we go for locate casting. To be able to go through it and learn the way that I learned it all the way through postproduction. And this had always been in the back of my mind. And we're funded through the regional centers in California, they pay for the folks that are in the adult program. And I was in a meeting with them, one day, and at this time we're redoing camps and acting classes, so we weren't it wasn't down that vocational route. And in a meeting with the head of the regional Center she said we're going to have a tsunami of young folks with autism, they're going to be coming into the workplace and there's nothing for them she said do you have anything. And I said well as a matter of fact I do. And I pitched them the practical film workshop, and then in 2007 we did a pilot, and you know we took like 10, 10 young people with developmental disabilities and we created the script the concept of the program is to teach them each thing, but we develop a script and then we produce the script and shoot it and edit it. And then that project becomes the lesson plan, and you just apply all the things that you've learned, that's what it is today so then once we started, I started one in Bakersfield and my partners that did the camps, they wanted to start one where they are so we went up to the east bay and then Sacramento then options for all came into the picture and we develop programs with them too and that's what we've been doing, you know pretty much the last since 2011, 2012, so it's coming on 10 years that's all the other branches started developing.
Nadine Vogel: I think what, you know, Norma this clearly illustrates that Joe you know he walks the talk however you say that. Because it's really the work show that people with disabilities do matter and they can work in all of these aspects of the entertainment industry, the film industry, that you know I think people don't think about.
Norma Stanley: Absolutely, and I think so awesome that you know you coming from a famous family just in general that you even take the time to you know, to give of yourself the way you do because I mean that was something that came naturally to you, but it was still something that's so important to the community, and I just think it's a beautiful thing. And these camps, are they just in the California area around the country because I think we share our children with that.
Joe T: Yeah, well the adult programs are in California and they're year-round. The camps there from life like 10, 11 up to 21, whatever they when they age out but we've done camps in Florida weekend camps in Arkansas, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Chicago and then Northern California, San Diego we've done them so.
Norma Stanley: We have to get you in Atlanta.
Joe T: Well, I’m actually talking to some folks in Georgia about doing something down there so yeah. And all well, in the film industry actually there was a movie called the poison rose that my brother actually stared in but the producers of that show, we've been friends, I got them started in the business. And John came on to the scene even before we had this conversation, but we sent five of our folks to Georgia to work on that film and they were there for I think a good month. And they stayed at a house all together. Two of them, and it was really nice because my brother kind of looked out for them while they were down there. He said they were the best crew members that they had, and we actually have a nice little tribute that he did to our folks and two of them became Union eligible.
Nadine Vogel: Isn't that fabulous. So, Joe, tell us if you will a little bit about your, I think it was just released in December, Carol of the bells. Because recollection is that I think 70% of the crew on that film was made up of the students that that you trained.
Joe T: Yes, yeah, again, about talking the talk and walking the walk, I have four employees that are neuro diverse and they're my best employees to be honest. You know they show up on time they're the first ones there they leave their early and they leave late and it's a great thing to see when you train somebody and then they apply what they learn. So, I went to my partners, and I said look let's do a feature, you know you have me as a director. I'm not going to get paid as a director, so you have my services for free, we’ll each throwing some cash and let's make a film where the crew is made up of people that we train so they're always talking about outcomes and the special needs feel. What the outcome from the camp what's the outcome from this well the outcome from this is that we created something competitive of value and showed that we did this in 12 day. You know, look at what we did in 12 days and you know we used we went through screen actors guild and we got a few names in their RJ Betty from breaking bad was our main star and Donna Pascal from Saturday night fever was in it. Donna Mills and Lee Purcell and really, you know, and the great thing was going back to why I became a director is I make it feel like it's a family. If you're a PA you are as important as my biggest star or the or the cinematographer, everybody, and when you treat everybody like that they buy in, this is their film their a part of it and they're going to work harder and you know they're going to care about it and I, you know I’m tough, a little bit tough, because my expectations are so high, but the nice thing about the production company because we do documentaries, we do commercials we do PSA is like minor league baseball it's professional they get paid but it's where you can make a mistake, or you know you get to grow, you get to cut your teeth, so when I pitched I said to production company you're getting me you're getting my pros but at the same time, those monies you're going towards employment and if there's a format pro three of them will be folks that we trade show to wait for them to. To get ready for the fields and be ready to go.
Nadine Vogel: And what's amazing is, and I think that it should illustrate how talented these individuals are if that films like how the bells I mean it's been you've received awards they've been featured film festivals. This is not you know some charity side project, and these are just ok. This is important stuff yeah.
Joe T: Yeah, and they did a, we made 25 minutes behind the scenes that cox communication played all over the country and PBS picked it up so it's you know, I want people to see what I see.
Nadine Vogel: Right absolutely. Now I know that we don't have much time left, but I did want to talk if we could just a minute about the delivering the jobs campaigns, because you produce them.
Joe T: Yes, yeah, so two years ago they were delivering jobs as a partnership between Special Olympics autism speaks and best buddies. And the entertainment foundation that's been around for years they're the ones that are like putting this whole thing together and I get a call that they're doing this PSA and the PSA was a utopian world where it's a natural thing for people with disabilities to be employed. You know whether it's in a coffee shop whether it's an art gallery or whatever and they were making this big PSA at 20th century fox big Union shoot you know, there was a you know 7500 people. So, but all most of the cast that were featured were special needs, so I got a call they asked If I have any crew members that would want to work, I said absolutely, what do you need so they go, we need someone to grab we need someone in electric we need someone in craft service and the end of the day, they had six of our folks who are hired at Union wages for this day working. To me the PSA what was happening behind the scenes, because they were hired to do skilled positions. That was the story to me, so I said who's doing your behind the scenes and they said well, no one, and I said well, why don't you hire me to the behind the scenes I’ll interview all the kids the actors and everything and you'll have this beautiful thing. Because what they do is they take that behind the scenes and that's how they get the free advertisements they got sponsors from around, so it went so well that the next year they hired us to do the PSA’s, so I directed the PSA and the behind the scenes and again 70% of the crew was made up of our students. And it's doing really, really well, which was exciting to me because we didn't have the budget that they have. But you know and again it's getting that word out and Sharm is one of the partners there a what they call that. Their HR and you know that's the big thing with HR that's where the education is. They have to learn that it can work, and you know each time you do something like that, and people see oh wow this is kind of cool and you know and I don't lose anything from hiring the people that we've trained. I don't lose any of it. And how much do you gain, you know so that's it that they're more than students their teachers. So, they teach us you know they teach us tolerance, they teach us patients they teach us understanding and we need a lot more of that with what's going on in the world.
Norma Stanley: Absolutely.
Nadine Vogel: You know, in the corporate space we refer to it as reverse mentoring. Well, I am sorry to say that we are out of time. Joe, you know I am a raving fan, we’ve had many times and I just even more after this interview. Norma.
Norma Stanley: Thank you so much, I’m so excited about meeting. You know I’m a big fan of your brothers always have been, great dancer, but yeah, thank you for being on the show today.
Joe T: I gotta tell you a story really quick. The guy is from Georgia lease containers and his son is on the spectrum and he he's going to be coming to our program and the father said, you know I got to tell you something. My son, he's a big John Travolta fan so he's going to ask you about john right away. So, I said don't worry about it, I said that's okay, so we did a zoom and before we even started his name is john to I said john I gotta ask you a question what's your favorite John Travolta movie. So, I took that out of it and boom he right away, it goes all of them all of them that's the right answer.
Nadine Vogel: Oh, what a great way to end today's session Joe, thank you for everything that you do.
Joe T: My pleasure. Norma so nice to meet you.
Norma Stanley: Thank you so much, let me know when you come to Atlanta.
Nadine Vogel: He already told me he’ll have to tell me when he comes down to Florida. Alright, well again, thank you all of our listeners for another great episode of disabled lives matter because it’s not just a podcast it is a movement and people with disabilities do matter. Right Norma.
Norma Stanley: Absolutely. See you next time.
Joe T: All right, take care.
Nadine Vogel: Thank you. Bye-Bye.
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