Music Within marks Steve Sawalichs directoral debut as a feature filmmaker. He
produced the project, along with partner Brett Donowho, who once served
as an interpreter for the deaf. The two met four years ago in Dallas.
Here, Sawalich talks about how he got the idea for the film, and stuck
with it for the many years it took to bring it to fruition:
I met Richard eight years ago at a conference where he was doing a story
about disability in the workplace. He took the audience on a roller coaster
of emotions. One moment they were laughing hysterically, the next they
were crying. Richard has always lived his life by finding the humor in
every bad situation he was dealtfor every cry you get a laughwhich
helped him get through it. He was so captivating that I could picture
the story in my head. So I introduced myself to him and said, Id
like to make your story into a film.
He was very reserved and didnt think it was a good enough story.
But I said, theres a reason you talk on this subject, and its
something people dont know about. So we parted ways for a couple
of years, but periodically I talked with him about making a film. Then
we reconnected about four years ago. We sat down and started fleshing
out a story with Brett. It was quite an undertaking. We went out to investors
who came together because of the idea. It touched a lot of people. The
budget was less than $5 million.
My background is in the hearing-aid community. I grew up in that arena,
and met Richard through my stepfather, Bill Austin, who founded the hearing-aid
company, Starkey Laboratories. Its based in Minnesota with 36 factories
worldwide. Ive worked with our Starkey
Hearing Foundation for the past 10 years. Were mostly
focused on giving the gift of hearing to people whove never heard
a sound. One of our main innovations is to put a smaller hearing aid in
the ear canal, which looks better and allows the ear to work as an amplifier
as well. For some children, the first thing they hear is their mother
saying she loves them. To see that smile come across the face is instant
gratification. Hearing reconnects people throughout the world.
In the past eight years, I have gone on 40 missions in over 25 countries,
fitting children with hearing aids in Vietnam, South Africa and the majority
of the Latin American countries. Some of the families walk seven hours,
take a bus for two days and then sleep the night before on the steps of
the building where were doing the fittings. Each year we donate
thousands of free hearing aids to people who need them.
We partner with schools for the deaf and government foundationsbasically
getting to people anyway we can, to make sure they get the proper care
before and after. We dont want the child to go home, have the hearing
aid break a day later, and then they have no place to go. We make sure
they get follow up once were gone. We put an infrastructure in place.
A childs ear continues to grow until theyre about 13 years
old, so we make sure the mold stays current during the growing years.
After theyre fitted, we find that most kids do better in school
and in life.
Before Music Within, the only other film I made was a short when I was
just out of college. Back then, I was still trying to learn the ropes
of filmmaking. I went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
I had thought I wanted to be an actor. But I discovered that I was not
in love with acting, and you have to love it. So I started toying around
with directing, and found my true passion. Though they had an excellent
TV production program, Pepperdine didnt have a film program, so
I got together with some film professors and started studying film on
my own during my last year there.
In Music Within, Leslie Nielsen plays my stepfather. He did a good job.
Hes been a good friend of the foundation for quite a few years.
Though hes known mostly for his role in comedies, he started out
in drama and has a strong background in that. My stepfathers role
was more behind the scenes. He gave us an audiogram that showed Richards
hearing loss by frequency, so we could use the mix board to give the films
audience a sense of what Richard was actually hearing with the ringing
in his ears. It was like a bucket over the head. The tinnitus we simulate
in the film isnt as loud as what Richard actually hears. One day
in the editing room, we had it up as loud as Richard hears it, and it
made me ill.
Though Richards hearing was muffled before my stepfather fitted
him with the hearing aids, his friend, Art Honeyman, spoke with a low,
gutteral timber that Richard could hear remarkably well. My main impetus
in telling Richards story was to show how giving something such
as a hearing aid to one person may help that person change the world..... continued in ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Ron Livingston issue
include AutismA Fathers Story; Green Up!9 Things You Can Do;
Humor Therapy; Yo God, Down Here; Allen RuckerStuck at the Starting
Line; Disability Legal Rights Center; Fighting Cancer Discrimination;
Senator LetterHillary Rodham Clinton; Assistive Technology20 Years of the ATA; Amputee CampFun Without Limits; Extremity SportsHave Prosthetic, Will Rock!; Wheelchair GamesAt 83, They Kick Butt; Horse TherapyGallop Your Way to Good Health; Paralympics 2008Countdown
to Beijing; George CovingtonTo Lawyer or Not to Lawyer?;
ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe
from the Ron Livingston issue:
from the Ron Livingston issue:
Livingston Music Within
Hire & Hire
the Scenes Music Within
Humor Therapy Yo God, Down Here
Allen Rucker: Stuck at the Starting Line
DRLC Fighting Cancer Discrimination
A Father's Story Adopting a Boy with Autism
Horse Therapy Gallop Your Way to Good Health
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