GREAT FALLS — There is a movement underway to shed light on the lack of disabled people working in the movie and television industry. A study by the Ruderman Family Foundation shows people with disabilities make up about 20-percent of the U.S. population. But only two-percent of primetime tv characters have disabilities, with only five-percent of those authentically cast with disabled actors.
A pair of legally blind Great Falls filmmakers have a vision to help change that perception. Chandra Scheschy and Jenniffer Robinson aren’t letting their disability keep them from setting their sights on success.
“You’d be surprised, a person with a visual impairment absolutely loving films, but I do,” said Chandra. “Because I can still see some of the stuff and what I see, I love the storytelling and some of the visual effects.”
The legally blind pair is taking part in the Easter Seals Disability Film Challenge, a contest designed to showcase the talent of disabled filmmakers.
“It is completely possible for people of visual impairedness or blindness to have roles in the industry of some type or the other,” said Jenniffer.
In just five days, teams produce a five-minute original film. With the help of their four-legged companions Ben and Garfield, Chandra and Jennifer produced “Service.. A Dog-umentary" highlighting the challenges service animals, and their owners face during quarantine.
“It’s really meant to be kind of a light-hearted take, fictional take, to bring awareness to a real problem that’s been affecting real service animals,” said Chandra.
“We’ve heard a lot of stories about people who lost their service animals because they can’t work like they’re supposed to or they’re not even getting their service animals,” said Jenniffer.
Characters in the comedic tribute include Al Pet-Chino, a soft drink sounding vet named Dr. Pepper, and an eccentric cat lady who wonders why she can’t marry her cat.
The team is sponsored by the Access Acting Academy (AAA), an actor training studio for blind, low vison and visually impaired people. The AAA was founded by actress Merilee Talkington whose credits include roles on NCIS and Apple TV+’s SEE. The academy teamed them up with five other team members from around the world.
Now it's up to the general public to go online and view, like and share their film. “It’s an amazing way to bring out awareness to the public about disabilities in general,” said Chandra.
The duo is hoping to win the Best Awareness Award in the challenge - but they need the public’s help. They're asking people to watch and share the film. It's available for viewing on the Easter Seals Disability Film Challenge Youtube channel and Facebook page.
Chandra and Jenniffer hope this is just the beginning of an exciting career. They’ve started their own production company called Kryodragon Productions and hope to create an extended cut of their entry for the challenge. "A lot of my really good stunts had to be cut out,” said Jenniffer.