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This Star Is Revolutionizing Disability in Entertainment, and You Can Join Him

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Twenty percent of Americans have a disability, yet people with disabilities make up just 1 percent of characters in film and television, according to GLAAD. Actor and producer Nic Novicki wants to change those figures. As a little person who has broken into entertainment, Novicki defies the odds. But he doesn’t want to be one of a few. So he started The Disability in Film Challenge.

This April, the Second Annual Film Challenge will give people with disabilities a platform to create a short film, increasing their exposure and access to mentors in entertainment. The Challenge encourages anyone to create a short that opens up a dialogue on disability. At the end of our Q&A with Novicki, check out the video for details.

When did you realize you wanted to get into entertainment?

Sixth grade — after a talent show sketch I wrote and starred in. I realized I love performing from that first crowd reaction and continued to act in plays. After going to business school for college at Temple University I started doing stand-up.

What was your big breakthrough?

I would say I’ve had a series of breaks. My first big gig was getting a role on “The Sopranos.” From there I was able to do other TV shows such as “Boardwalk Empire.” However, once I started to do my own projects, I was able to open up doors for myself.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Finding a way to continue to work in the entertainment industry. It’s an extremely competitive field and hard to make money, especially when you are 3 feet, 10 inches, so as far as acting, I realized early on that I need to do my own projects if I want to continue.

Do you have advice for people pursuing film and television?

Just start working. Help out on as many projects as you can, and continue to do your own projects. Work for free, and do whatever you can to help out on projects. You could start doing projects on a cellphone — a movie shot on an iPhone just won Sundance. The more experience you have as an actor, director, writer or producer, the better you get. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are no shortcuts. You have to do the work and put yourself in a position to succeed.

What was the highlight of last year’s Disability Film Challenge ?

We had numerous amazing films enter. Most of those filmmakers were first-time filmmakers who put together amazing projects over the course of one weekend. The winner of best actor, Rachel Handler, who is an amputee, got her first agent out of a meeting with casting director Pam Dixon. We also had other filmmakers receive mentoring sessions as awards for winning the challenge. All of the winning films screened at the Chinese Theater during the Hollyshorts Film Festival, and the winners attended a week of panels and films, free of charge, on top of their films premiering in a special screening.  

What’s your hope for the Disability Film challenge this year?

That people continue to make films that include people with disabilities. This year I am hoping that through word of mouth, more people sign up for the challenge. I would like for people with disabilities to make their own films, as well as have student filmmakers and/or filmmakers in general include people with disabilities as actors, writers, directors and producers — and work together on lifelong partnerships.  

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Originally published: March 10, 2015
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