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A Screenwriter’s Story – Living With Autism

living with autism

I first met Reed Smith early in 2017. It was an informational interview – Reed was graduating from college and was beginning to think about a life in the world of film. He told me about his life-long passion for the medium, and then wanted to know about my career as a documentary filmmaker. “Why are you not as famous as Errol Morris?” he asked. Reed is an inquisitive soul, and his directness is refreshing. Although I didn’t come up with a satisfying response, I was immediately charmed, and thought that I’d like to get to know him better. I asked him to be a production intern for the summer.

I was further charmed when he told me about his screenplay, Hollywood’s Aspergian Mind, about a young screenwriter who tangles with not-so-trusting Hollywood producer types. Like Reed, the main character in the screenplay, Ryan, lives with autism.

“I always had this concept of a guy who gets his screenplay stolen, which first came from the movie Big Fat Liar. I hoped to create my own type of movie with that concept and make more of a Hollywood satire out of it.”

One big difference is that Reed’s main character – a fully developed character with hopes, dreams, problems and relationships – would have autism.

“I think a lot of (writers) put a little bit of themselves into their works. I do think that having autism is an interesting part of who I am. So I am hoping this will gain some kind of a deeper awareness . . . it is showing an autistic character who is very different from other autistic characters.” 

Reed’s journey with autism may, in fact, be a plus for life as a screenwriter. He works hard, on a daily basis, to understand someone’s intentions, an insight that perhaps is good for character development.

“I feel like that is an area where my autism has helped me, since I think in some ways I think I try harder than people who don’t have autism . . . and that always gives me a vivid sense of how I can develop my own characters.” 

I was impressed with Reed’s detailed knowledge of every film or television show that features characters who may be autistic. However, I found his vision for Hollywood films that include lead characters with autism or Asperger’s to be even more compelling. Reed would love to see a dramatic feature that explores a wide range of experiences of characters who live with autism – not just supporting characters who are a device in the film for main characters to respond to – but fully developed main characters with interesting journeys to explore.

“I would like to see what they call a “hyperlink film,” one that tells multiple different stories, which is a film style that Robert Altman first invented with Nashville, where you would get a sense of these multiple different kinds of autistic characters.” 

For Reed, Hollywood’s Aspergian Mind is a dream that is, perhaps, a long way off from being realized. However, OC87 Recovery Diaries invited a group of talented actors in for a table read of scenes from the screenplay and wove some of those scenes into this accompanying video. I hope you enjoy meeting Reed as much as I have.

REED SUMMERS SMITH’S FAVORITE TOP TEN FILMS

1. Adaptation
2. The Spectacular Now
3. Being There
4. Punch Drunk Love
5. Rain Man
6. The Dark Knight
7. Spider Man 2
8. 13th
9. Life Itself
10. My Neighbor Totoro

 

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

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Glenn Holsten

Glenn is an award-winning director who loves to create compelling documentary story experiences of all lengths for screens of all sizes. He is an avid reader, studied literature in college, and his passion for stories with strong characters and interesting narratives stems from those years. His career as a visual storyteller began at WHYY (the public television station in Philadelphia) where he worked for 15 years before becoming an independent filmmaker. In addition to his PBS documentaries about arts and culture, he has directed films about justice and human rights, and now, mental health. He was emboldened to undertake his current documentary project, Hollywood Beauty Salon, a colorful feature-length documentary about surviving mental illness and finding the courage for recovery, after his transformative experience directing OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, along with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston.

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