Joey Travolta has a little brother, John, with connections in show business. With his heart and head for seeing beyond what most people dismiss as students not suitable for ever having a dream, much less a career, in making films, this Travolta doesn’t have to lean on those family connections or name dropping. Where others see a barrier to building a profession, Joey sees young people with such passion that no obstacle can keep them from attaining their dream, and he developed a place for them to pursue that purpose and flourish more than anyone could imagine, as he shared with “Today” in a September 1 feature.
“I always had a soft spot for special needs kids,” Travolta admits, but it was never sympathy that motivated him to begin his initiative of short film camps in 2006. As a former Special Education teacher, he found ability over disability. It was his complete confidence that autistic youth and adults could learn the film industry inside and out, as well as anyone else, and he knew also that “filmmakers, we’re an odd bunch,” and the acceptance of those who are “different” within the artistic community allowed success for the first time for the majority of his enrollees. “We have to change the way people think about people with disabilities. These kids can work, and make a difference, and make a living,” the founder insists. He has the success stories to prove his point.
“How can he make it, he didn’t even go to school,” are words from doubters that Elliott Schneider recalls. He attended the film school in 2009, and the full metamorphosis to filmmaker began. “My confidence improved, my skills improved, my whole life improved,” the rising student affirms. “It changed my whole life– it made me know ‘I can do this.’” Elliott now as a video editor for Futures Explored Productions, and teaches film classes. Another student, Hyak Gaalstyen, was hired as a production assistant on the ABC series, “Neighbors,” for its two-season run. The proud alumnus also produced a documentary, “Through the Heart of Tango.” “He shows up, and knocks it out of the park . Every time,” praises. “If these kids are given the opportunity, they shine,” the instructor reiterates.
Students learn literally from the ground up, learning “art department” and building sets, to camera, to editing, then writing, producing, and acting. It’s no wonder that such immersion education leaves a lifelong impact. “I’m a person, I’m not a person with a disability, I’m a person, like anyone else,” asserts Schneider. Joey Travolta will be releasing a documentary later this fall, “Lights, Camera, Independence,” which follows the crew of six individuals through the education process, and working toward their life-fulfilling mission. Brother, John, is getting attention for sushi dinners more than his next screen project at present, but the Travolta film legacy is alive and thriving is some very personal, lasting ways.