difficult child Film Stars!

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by Marguerite, Mar 4, 2008.

  1. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    We finally saw the film last night. "The Black Balloon" was written by a young film-maker who grew up with two autistic brothers, one of them profoundly autistic. She also directed the film, and so had a fair bit of creative control.

    The adventure started 18 months ago when we answered an email that had been sent out to difficult child 3's drama class (for kids with learning problems/disabilities such as autism). The call was for autistic teens and siblings, from 13 to 25, to be in a scene in a film. I had the impression it was a low-budget student film, maybe an awareness-raising thing. As easy child 2/difficult child 2 has been a professional performer for some years, and difficult child 1 has enjoyed the occasional overflow job with his sister, I felt it would be good for them to do it. On making more enquiries, I found that it was to be a "Noah's Ark" performance, so immediately we figured it would be good to sell them on the idea of easy child 2/difficult child 2 as a giraffe on stilts. I talked to Claire, the person who seemed to be organising it, and she was enthusiastic. On the day of audition though, difficult child 3 didn't want to go. It was a hot day in spring, he wanted to stay home and play computer games and not go for a long drive in the car.
    I won, but difficult child 3 complained the whole way. "I don't like acting, I HATE my drama class, I won't do it, you can't make me, people will laugh at me, I want to go home."
    As difficult child 3 was the autistic teen in the family (well, almost teen at that stage) and there wouldn't be much point if he wasn't involved, I felt I was taking a gamble.

    At the audition, Claire talked to all three kids. "What kind of animal would you like to be? And sorry, monkey has been taken," she jumped in, just as difficult child 1 said, "Monkey."
    She pulled out some swatches and some costume designs. I was thinking, "This is really well done, for a student production."
    difficult child 1 decided he liked the idea of a Rainbow Lorikeet. When Claire asked him how he thought the character would be, difficult child 1 did an excellent imitation of a lorikeet 'seeing off' a cockatoo. "They're psychotic," he explained.
    Meanwhile easy child 2/difficult child 2 was really liking the sketches of the giraffe costume.

    difficult child 3 sat in a corner. "I don't want to be in it," he said. I won't dress up. I just want to be me, not an animal."
    I expected Claire to say, "Goodbye, then, I only want people who are keen," but instead she asked him, "How about you play Noah? I think that would be great. You like animals, don't you? You like Steve Irwin? Well, Noah was like the original Wildlife Warrior."
    difficult child 3 talked to her a bit, then another sticky point - she wanted to get some video footage of him. He clammed up again and wouldn't talk on camera. So easy child 2/difficult child 2 got him to read from her book, as Claire filmed.
    We left with an assurance that the kids had the parts they wanted, all we had to do was turn up to the next rehearsal. Claire even saw BF2 waiting outside. "Does he want to be in it too? He's got a great look, I'd love to have him." But BF2 wasn't interested, he was expecting to be working all the weekends the kids would be rehearsing.

    The rehearsals were every Saturday for a few weeks, then up to twice a week through the school holidays. difficult child 3 was still reluctant, but Claire seemed experienced with autistic kids and worked to draw him out. All the other parents who were there got together as an informal social group. We already knew a lot of them from difficult child 3's drama class.

    As time went on and the sequence was made more complex, it became clearer that this was no student production - it was a full-scale commercial film. The rehearsal at Fox Studios clinched it. That day the kids had their costume fittings too. The costumes were evolving as the act was, too.

    By now we'd met a few other actors, including the two monkeys. In the rehearsal, one of the monkeys threw a classic autistic tantrum and ran off, which startled the kids; it turned out to have been scripted.

    Slowly we worked out what was happening, and the plot of the film - it was the director's own story. Claire was not the director, but the director's good friend and the movie choreographer.

    The director, Elissa (Down), talked to us all at the Fox rehearsal and filled us in on her story, and the film.
    In a nutshell - Thomas is in his late teens, can't swim very well and is at a new high school. His father is in the army so they move around a lot. He has a profoundly autistic brother who is a real handful, and a mother who is pregnant and having blood pressure problems.

    Thomas is embarrassed when the bus carrying his brother Charlie to school (along with a lot of similar kids) gets jeered at by other boys at the high school, and tries to pretend he's not related. But he can't hide it any longer when his mother goes into hospital and Thomas has to get his brother off to school, going on the bus with them all.

    Meanwhile Thomas really likes Jackie, a girl at the school, who seems to like him too. The friendship develops despite all these problems and despite a few confronting scenes with Charlie (and some very funny but exasperating scenes, too).

    At first Thomas is embarrassed by his brother, but learns, with the help of Jackie's compassion, that you look after your own and that Charlie is lovable and needs him.

    The final scenes with the Noah's Ark stuff - Charlie is on stage in the show, the other monkey gets upset and runs off. Charlie's big scene in the show can't continue without the other monkey, so Thomas put on the monkey costume and does the routine with his brother.

    And that was the scene our family was in. difficult child 3 was Noah, easy child 2/difficult child 2 was one of the giraffes and difficult child 1 was a lorikeet, with a staged fight scene with the other lorikeet. husband was in the audience, thinking he would not be seen - but he was very prominent! I'm not in the film at all, I was supposed to be in the audience with husband but the kids needed me, especially difficult child 3, so I stayed with them in the marshalling area.

    The filming of the stage production took one long day. difficult child 3 actually had to start the scene and once we'd explained the need for multiple takes even when he got it right, he was OK. More than OK, he was exactly right each time. The kids had all been rehearsed so well that it went off without a hitch - from them.

    By this stage we knew it was big. Toni Collette plays the mother, Gemma Ward (a supermodel, we're told) plays Jackie, and other well-known Aussie actors fill the rest of the cast. And our kids. Our kids got autographs signed by the two big stars, plus difficult child 3 got some big kudos from Toni Collette, for being on the mark with each take.

    They also had filmed the kids' rehearsals, and interviewed them, we're told for a "Making of..." documentary which should be on the 'extras' on the DVD when it comes out.

    Over the next year the emails flashed across spasmodically with each rumour of release date, etc. We'd been told we might get to a cast preview, but we heard nothing. Then we heard it was going to Berlin, and at last there seemed to be a firm date for cinema release.

    In the last few weeks the publicity has been growing. In the Berlin Film Festival "The Black Balloon" was chosen to commence the over-14 films section. It sold out within three minutes, with people lining the walls and sitting on the steps. They loved it, and the film won a Crystal Bear as Best Film for that section. Newspapers and TV shows have been promoting it and reviewing it - four and a half stars out of five, in one review we watched.

    Last night we all got to a preview. The premiere was a week earlier, but last night we were at a screening for Autism Australia (ASPECT). Claire was there, so was Elissa. They presented our kids each with a necklace identical to one used in the film. Elissa couldn't stay, but Claire talked to us all afterwards, hugged the kids, talked about plans and said yes, they hope the film will be sold in the US as well.

    The film is brilliant. I'm not just saying that. It's less sanitised than Rain Man, this is harrowing and at times violent. But just as you think it's getting too much, you get hit with a belly laugh which any of us who have dealt with autism (or difficult children in general) can really appreciate. And the ending is brilliant - uplifting, happy, a really good warm glow. Charlie is Charlie, unchanging. But Thomas was the one who needed to change - and he did, with Jackie's help.

    The week after our kids were filmed, the filming moved to a beach just south of us. These are perhaps the most beautiful scenes of the film, where Thomas's understanding of himself and his responsibilities really begins to take shape.

    If you get the chance, see this film. Not because we are in it, but because I think you will get a lot out of it. If you have family who find autism confronting and uncomfortable, get them to see this film. They will enjoy it in spite of themselves, and learn like Thomas.

    And now I have to write a newspaper article - a year's silence is over!

  2. WhymeMom?

    WhymeMom? No real answers to life..

    Sounds like a wonderful film. Are they going to release it in the US? If and when they do can you let us know? I'll be watching for it.......
  3. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    Ditto WhyMe's question...how do we get it "over here"?

    (Or I'd come over there and watch it with you! LOL)
  4. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I know they're hoping to sell it in the US. It's a matter of being able to convince the big movie distributors in the US that it won't need subtitles, just because it's got Aussie accents.

    (And I'm not kidding about the subtitles - I remember watching an episode of "Oprah" which had a doctor from Sudan or Ethiopia, who set up the Fistula Hospital to treat young girls who had been rejected by their families due to developing fistula from giving birth too young. This doctor was Australian but British-educated, she had what we call a very plummy accent, like British Royal family, but they subtitled her! I couldn't believe it!)

    "The Black Balloon" shows its understanding of autism even in the opening credits - you see the family moving in, the autistic older teen sitting on the ground tapping a stick rhythmically and making noise, while everything you see has a label. Man, shirt, car, dog, box, stick, and the actors credits float around in the same sea of words. Brilliant.

    It should be available on DVD, I hope they make it multi-region. I HATE the way a lot of DVDs are locked onto regions, it makes it very hard for us Down Under to get DVDs that we want if they haven't been released for our region. A big reason for the regions, from what we can make out, is to be able to sell DVDs to a few countries (such as Australia) at exorbitant prices. When the 'Net first got busy, Aussies started buying CDs & DVDs from the US & Canada, much cheaper. A new release CD generally costs us A$25; a new-release DVD can cost A$40, although usually it's about $25 - $30. With the Aussie dollar so close behind the US, I gather that's a fair bit more than you guys would have to pay.

    But locking the US & Canada away from us pushes our prices up. We're in the same region as Japan, so we get a lot of animé.

    We can buy multi-region DVD players, but they aren't allowed to be advertised as multi-region. You just have to buy a DVD player and hope. Surprisingly, the cheaper DVD players tend to be multi-region.

    The film has had a good plug here, we'll see how it goes after its public release here on Thursday.

    The amazing thing - the only autistic actors in it, were our kids in the "Afloat!" segment. The bloke playing Charlie, Luke Ford, is Oscar material in my opinion. He and the actor playing Thomas, Rhys Wakefield, actually went out in public, in character, to see how people reacted. Both were somewhat horrified at the public response. Luke said that at one point when he was "Charlie" out in public, some young blokes tried to make him angry, to try to set him off in a rage. Listening to him saying this in the interview made me realise just how hard it has been for difficult child 3 trying to cope with the local bullies. People are sneaky, they will wait until they think they won't get caught. The film shows this, shows the cruel humour people (especially some kids) try to get out of baiting people like Charlie and his classmates. The film doesn't hold back from showing the violence that can result when things are badly handled. This is raw at times, but very truthful. There is enough fun and humour, though, as well as a lot of love, to make the film enjoyable and VERY worthwhile.

    While filming, we got the chance to meet Elissa's mother and brother, on whom the film is based. Lovely people. The day before the "Afloat!" scene was filmed was Elissa's brother's birthday, he was there for the filming that day and also in the audience (and therefore in the film) for the "Afloat!" sequence. He is non-verbal but signs. They used the same signing system through the film. Interestingly, Luke, playing Charlie, looks a lot like Elissa's brother.
    On Monday night Elissa told us her brother had now seen the film four times already!

    Interestingly, when difficult child 3 came with me to my chess class at the school yesterday, he wore his special necklace that Elissa & Claire gave all the "Afloat!" actors. He was quickly surrounded by kids (including a number of kids who I know are in the pack of bullies who taunt him) and they were all asking about the film. "You were in a film? Who was in it? TONI COLLETTE? You're kidding! WOW!"

    Hopefully the bullies are maybe going to find another target? I can hope...