From a very young age, Joseph Serrano knew what he wanted to do with his life:
When I was 5, I saw Jurassic Park with my mother and sister, Amy, and I couldn’t believe the spectacle set before my eyes—Dinosaurs actually coming to life! I knew then what I wanted to do. I wanted to see my ideas projected hundreds of feet high on the big screen for an audience in a dark room giving my work their undivided attention.
Big thoughts for such a little guy. And now that he’s all grown up, Joseph still hasn’t wavered from his dream. He worked with a few mentors, most notably his sister Amy of Siren Studios, who taught him the importance and responsibility that comes from projecting ideas out into the world through films on human rights and social justice. Today, he finds fulfillment by helping others through cinema. His company Locus Films’ first two projects have autism-related themes. He’s found inspiration in the autism community and hopes to inspire others about autism through his films.
You have been working on The ASPIration Journal, a documentary about Asperger’s Syndrome. Can you tell us about it?
I see the film being a mosaic on Aspies around the world with expert testimonies aimed at elevating families and individuals receiving the diagnosis for the first time. I just want to hold up the mirror and show them just how cool they are. In the documentary, we interview experts, families living within the Autism community for years, and those just finding out about their diagnoses. We speak to celebrities with connections to the community and explore the prevalent Aspie personalities already in Hollywood.
As parents we want the proverbial ten toes, ten fingers, neurotypical, limbs in all the right places outcome, but after you’ve watched this film I’d like you to walk out thinking to yourself , “You know it might not be such a bad thing if my child was born an Aspie, though it may be different it comes with its own set of rewards and in fact, it’s a great thing!”
What motivated you to make this documentary?
The ASPIration Journal (rebranding soon to the name ASPIration) started off as a conversation between myself and a friend at the time who had a ten year old son with Aspergers Syndrome. I felt the need to explore this area, because so many amazing people who shaped the known world have been proven to have had the so called disorder or they are very much thought to have had it. Tesla and Einstein alone are reason enough to be curious. When you take into account that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are most likely Aspies, the topic is something I had to explore.
Production on the film is still ongoing as it has been a trail of bread crumbs figuratively speaking. Every person we meet that we interview leads us to another expert on the subject or another family wishing to share their story with us, or even to another film that in turn needs creating.
Who’s in it?
I started attending autism conferences in 2013 and meeting Temple Grandin, Eustacia Cutler, Anita Lesko, Jennifer O’Toole, Fazli Azeem, Michael Tolleson, and many others. I have been fortunate to have interviewed each and every one. Ideally I want the film to also feature Dr. Tony Attwood, Dr. Lorna Wing, Hugh Laurie, Anthony Edwards, Dan Aykroyd, Trent Reznor, Gary Numan, and Susan Boyle.
Where will it be shown or available?
I will be entering film festivals and hope to have the chance to compete as well. Shortly after it has made its rounds for consideration, I’d like to promote it through a distributor like HBO or the IFC channel with physical copies being made available on DVD or Blu-Ray soon after but I am very much invested as I am with all of my projects in it not simply being an educational piece. It will certainly be educational but using our tools and talents as film makers I hope that we will capture an experience worthy of a night at the movies, the new documentary on the block, that you simply must see because it changes your perspective on the subject at hand.
During the filming, you met and interviewed Jennifer O’Toole, the founder of Asperkids. From what I understand, over the course of your meetings the three of you sparked a new idea that has led to a brand new adventure—Jennifer and the Red Shoes
We did meet Jennifer at the Flying High with Autism Conference in Pensacola in June of 2014. Seeing her speak was absolutely electric but what really got to me was her ability to connect to people. Her proclivity for seeing what is wonderful about a person, reflecting it for them, and then reassuring them that they have the tools necessary to be great. Her signature style and award winning book series Asperkids begged for there to be a documentary in relation to the force of nature that is Jennifer O’Toole. Jennifer is awesome and having worked personally with many families that hold her in the highest regard, I have made it my mission and responsibility to tell Jennifer’s story in a way that will spread the light in an inspiring way.
Is this about Jennifer’s life story?
Though we will spend some time introducing the audience to Jennifer, the film will primarily focus on her interactions with the autism community. It will be a sort of Jennifer on the road piece. We will of course briefly touch upon who she was before she was Jennifer O’Toole of the Asperkids. It will be a portrait of a woman ascending to her respective role as a thought leader in a community emerging from long standing stigmas and social set-backs. Jennifer will tear down the stereotypes and invite you and the rest of the audience to search for that one thing that makes us all great, essential and necessary.
Why is it important and how will this benefit the autism community?
It will benefit the autism community by showing the world that not all those on the autism spectrum are the same. It will show that they can be whoever they put their minds to being. Though Jennifer is most known in the autism community, the film will be aimed at a general audience. It’s for anyone who has ever sought to manifest themselves and has been met with resistance or has been put down for simply being different. It is a film that will celebrate diversity in all of its forms.
How is the movie being funded?
There is a crowd funding campaign up on RocketHub.com until July 1st. This is participatory filmmaking and we are asking for stakeholders from the autism community, Jennifer’s fans, as well as our very own friends and families to become invested in the outcome! Word of mouth is our strongest ally as we want to get people excited about the film. We would like to explore other avenues as well but most importantly the foundation is the crowd funding campaign as it will prove that there are people wishing to hear and promote Jennifer’s message. Our goal is to start filming during the July 8-11 autism conference in Colorado where Jennifer will keynote with the remarkable Temple Grandin to specifically discuss women and girls on the spectrum.
Why are you personally motivated to make films about autism?
Growing up, I always felt that I loved movies and the film making process more than the other kids. While most were playing with Pogs, Pokemon or Paintball Guns, I was compiling a DVD collection as well as following my sister around on her film making adventures. Sometimes the other kids could be cruel. I understood at 12 why “Apocalypse Now” was such an important film. I was frequently told by adults that I spoke “like a little professor” on the subject. When I met an eleven year old with autism using Legos to explain survival situations, food rations, and gender roles (using these very terms)…I was hooked. I realized that, like me, this kid might never be the Homecoming King but his talents were important to the grand scheme of things. After endless nights, books, websites, conferences, and discussions on the subject, I knew it was always going to be a topic and community that would be close to my heart.
Where can we find out more about ASPIration Journal and Jennifer and the Red Shoes?
You can follow both films on Facebook: The Aspiration Journal Film or Jennifer and the Red Shoes. Twitter campaigns and Instagram will be going online in the very near future and you can fund the film at RocketHub.com.
Any final words?
Please, please, please have everyone you know become aware of the film’s existence and follow its progress on Facebook as well as all other forms of social media. This is a film not only for the autism community but for members of humanity seeking to elevate not only themselves but the world. It is a film about individuality and acceptance.
Find more about the film or contribute to the campaign on:
- Rocket Hub
- Jennifer and the Red Shoes Facebook Page
- Twitter: @JennysRedShoes
- Video Message by Joe Serrano
*Images courtesy of Jennifer and the Red Shoes Film