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My Experience Making 'Normal People Scare Me Too'

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Making our film, “Normal People Scare Me Too,” with a cast and crew of autistic people was challenging, both during filming and editing. But when we finished our film in April, the rewards were worth it. We had about 75 percent of cast, crew, art, animation and music done by autistic people. Beyond the cast and crew, though, making our film as mother and son, was really hard at times — especially for me as an adult, and for my mom in the roles of both a director and a mother.

If you are a parent, you might relate to asking yourself this important question: “When do I back off, and when do I keep doing things in my kid’s life — especially when they are adults?” If you are like me, you might ask yourself this about your parent a lot! We had to deal with this question — over and over — for an entire year while making our film, and it was definitely not always easy. We know lots of parents around the world who work as their adult child’s “manager” to support and promote their futures and micro-enterprise-like businesses. This sometimes creates breakdowns and hopeful breakthroughs.

I worked on this article, at first by myself, and then side-by-side with my mom. When we made our first film, “Normal People Scare Me,” a decade ago, I was 15 years old. Today, I am 27 and live independently with supports. Mostly, these are my words with a bit of my mom’s suggestions to help me word things that are hard for me to get out. She asked me basic questions to help get me started.

Mom: Taylor, what motivated you to make this film?

Me: OK, I’m laughing at myself right now. I’m sitting in front of my laptop, inside of a Chipotle, finding it difficult to find the motivation to write an opening paragraph that’s almost all about motivation and how I sometimes have trouble with it. It’s laughably ironic.

Mom: Is that a common theme for you, trying to find motivation for things you want or need to do in your life?

Me: Yes, it can be very hard. It is often the process steps that confuse or stall me. What does any of this have to do with my experiences filming “Normal People Scare Me Too”? A lot. It’s about how I decided that I needed to get back on the proverbial horse so that I could lead a life that I’m more than happy with, and the journey it will take to get there, and the amount of effort it would take for me to get there.

I got involved with NSMP2 very early on in pre-production, when (you) asked me if I want to do the film. I accepted almost immediately. However, I was not heavily involved with the main production of the film behind the scenes. My primary responsibility during the film-making process of NPSM2 could be summed up fairly easily. I was essentially the lead actor who helped guide the other actors to better serve their parts on camera. I asked the questions that were in the script, and I went off-script to ask even more questions that were related to the people I interviewed. Some of the better recorded moments were even tangents that couldn’t be helped because they showed the struggles some people as a whole go through on a day-to-day basis, and that’s not even factoring in the autism. Those are the ones that I remember the most.

Mom: What were the highlights for you in the interviews you had with old and new cast members?

Me: For me, the things that I remember the most are some of the most emotionally intense in the film. However, they are intense for the same reason stated above, it’s just some of the struggles and horrors people go through every day. I remember those moments because they serve as a strong reminder that people will not believe that things are going to be OK just because someone says so, but because they will believe things are going to be OK because they want to get help, and will move their butts to obtain said help. Also, it makes the more inspirational moments shown in the film all the more special to me.

As an example, one of my childhood friends, Vince, got involved with wrestling — something he was passionate about since he was a kid. I was excited for him when he told me about that on camera. However, it also got me to think about where I was going in my life, because he showed that his passions have made him a much more emotionally healthy person. I wanted the same thing he had. So I re-evaluated everything about myself. My likes, my dislikes, and my overall skill set. That got me on the path to going back to school, getting job development, and the support needed to succeed at both.

There were also points where I got to chat with some of the people from the first NPSM, like Vince, Ben, Kyle, Rick and others who are now 10 years older and have gained more real world experience in between the two films. Some have become really cool people that I would totally hang out with if we lived in the same area code. With others, I just went and quickly put them in the “best kept as acquaintances” folder of my mind’s file cabinet. We all have those, you know.

Mom: What are you doing now to help you with motivation?

Me: I have new and better staff in place now. My current staff, James, who is employed to work with me through a program called FADE, is on the autism spectrum. He is close to my age, and he gets me. Last semester, he attended an English class with me at community college. After failing college classes in the past, I finally got my first B. That was highly motivating.

I have fallen down a lot since I made the first “Normal People Scare Me” film.  I graduated a Transitions to Independent Living (TIL) program through the ARC of Ventura County. Three years ago, I moved into my apartment supported by Social Security and support staff.  People often ask me why I can’t “just” follow through? Or say to me, “Taylor, if you would ‘just’…”  I seem capable, yet executive and administrative functioning are hard for me. Sometimes it is hard to say the right words or share my thoughts. It’s just hard to get them all out. Sometimes, when I am interviewed for my film work, though, I get my words out OK.

Mom: Sometimes you wanted to drop out of the film. Why was that?

Me: During the filming of “Normal People Scare Me Too” this past year, I almost dropped out of the project. I just didn’t know where I fit in to “Normal” and making my real dream of becoming a gaming reviewer happen. At one point I told you (Mom) and Joey Travolta (our producer) to just finish the film without me, because I felt no value to me in completing the project.

After I took some time to think about it and realized that I needed to form the skills that would be required of me to do what I really wanted to do, finishing this film made more sense to be a foundation for eventual goal of being a good writer. So here we are. Needless to say I completed the film because along the way I found inspiration among the people I interviewed in “Normal People Scare Me Too” to get back on the horse I mentioned so that I could lead a life I’m more than happy with and the journey it would take to get there. I am beginning to see I have to do many things that take a lot of effort if I want to reach my other goals.

Mom: What would you say to young autistic boys/girls, men/women about following their dreams?

Me: Well, now I feel motivated to go after what I truly want in life outside of this film (which was a lot of fun to do), and I will go to great lengths to get it. I hope that my thoughts on how “Normal People Scare Me Too” affected me on a personal level will inspire people to get either themselves or others to be motivated to live life to the fullest. Doing the hard thing eventually inspired me. It is not easy, but hey, who said life would be?

And now that the film is done, I look forward to speaking engagements and to sharing our film all over the world. And even though I like to travel with my mom to speak, if my staff, James can come, I would really like that.

About the Film:

A decade after the award-winning film “Normal People Scare Me” was released, Taylor Cross, the film’s co-creator, is at it again with “Normal People Scare Me Too.” In the new “Normal,” he interviews former and new cast members and family about attitudes and first-person perspectives about autism today.

Created by a film crew comprised of 75 percent autistic students and graduates of Joey Travolta’s Inclusion Films, with music and art created and performed by 65 percent autistic musicians/composers/artists, the new “Normal” is pleased to be a more inclusive production this time around. “Normal People Scare Me Too” is driven by Taylor Cross, directed and co-produced by Keri Bowers (Taylor’s mom,) and produced by Joey Travolta. Keri is the co-founder of The Art of Autism, a key supporter behind the scenes of the film, and has created four films about autism and other disabilities. The new “Normal” can be ordered through our website.

About Taylor and Keri:

Together, Taylor and Keri have worked on four documentary films together, including “Normal People Scare Me,” “The Sandwich Kid,” “ARTS,” and “Normal People Scare Me Too.” Their films have taken them all over the world to speak at conferences and facilitate workshops on transitions planning and person-centered practices. Using the arts as tools for interventions since Taylor was an infant — including music, drama, movement, art and film — Keri helped Taylor gain critical life and social skills, which have supported him to live independently as an adult. Keri is the co-founder of The Art of Autism, a sponsor of their new film.

Originally published: September 12, 2016
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