“And the winner is…”
This was it. I was shaking in my chair, sitting in front of my computer wearing my nicest button shirt. I was in the Zoom waiting room. Whoever won Best Film for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge would be brought on live to get their reaction and say a few words.
It wouldn’t be me, would it? I didn’t even know how I had gotten this far. Out of 87 amazing films, I had become a finalist and a contender for Best Film in the whole competition!
The announcer paused, and then I heard the words but could barely believe them. “And the winner is…The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains!” Suddenly I was live on camera with hundreds of people watching me from their living rooms.
I cried. I couldn’t believe this was real life. My staff aide that works with me every evening hugged me. She was so proud. I said my thank you’s and accepted my award although I barely remember anything I said. Then it was over…for the moment.
My documentary film was part of an annual competition called the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. This was 2020, and they had switched to a home edition format because of Covid-19. The genre was documentary. This was my first year entering the competition, and I knew they had amazing films every year and that I would have to really bring my A-game.
So I thought a lot about the theme and story. I knew I didn’t have the best equipment or anyone to really help me shoot it, but I could tell a good story. I had been working on my storytelling skills lately and also writing a lot of songs during the quarantine. Songs are just mini stories. Wouldn’t it be great if I incorporated some of my original music into my film?
So I listened through my library of original songs. That’s when my new song The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains came to the forefront.
I had written that song for fun, and didn’t seem to notice how much meaning was actually packed in it. I mean, one day months beforehand I was out fishing on a nearby lake, and it started to sprinkle. The person I was with wanted to leave so she didn’t get wet. And that’s when I blurted out to her “The fish don’t care that it’s raining…they’re already wet!”
We laughed and then packed up our things and went home. But that line stuck with me. I wrote it down in my notebook. Months later, I found inspiration from that line and wrote the song. It goes like this:
I’m standing in the rain
Your hold on me has changed
Though you were tough, I’m stronger now
So let it pour on me
Though the water weighs me down
Keep it coming, I won’t drown
I’m protected from the lightning
And the thunder won’t hurt me now
Oh the fish don’t care when it rains
They’re already wet
It’s just another day for them in paradise
If paradise is what they’ve always known
And I can’t change where I’ve been
I’m already hurt
It’s just another day for me in paradise
If paradise was knowing not to cry
Oh why, oh why
If my eyes reflect my heart
My used and broken parts
Can’t you see I’m pre-disastered
And protected by my scars
See if my skin’s already thick
You can’t bite through all of it
Just let go and just let God
Heal my torn and broken heart
Although the song title is kind of funny, the actual song is about a serious topic. I have been through a lot of pain and struggle in the name of “treatment” for my autism. Those are things I can’t go back and change, but since I have gone through them, I am stronger. And it is harder to hurt me now because I’m already wet…I’m already hurt. And when people ask me what it’s like to be autistic, I can tell them that, since I’ve always been autistic, I don’t know anything else…just like fish, they don’t know what it’s like not to be wet, so they don’t mind the rain!
All of this was the perfect theme for my documentary story. And I wrote my narration script quickly once I was inspired by my song lyrics. The result was a film that had humor and heart. What it lacked in flashiness it made up for with story. And that is something people love, a good story. That will stick with them.
Winning that competition has brought me many opportunities and prizes. I had been on several panels and Q&A’s and been screened in other festivals, was played on C-Span, featured in Variety Magazine, and I also just had an awesome meeting with NBC Universal where they screened our films and we did a Q&A with executives!
You never know where inspiration is going to come from. It could be a song, a dream, or even something you overhear a stranger say at a restaurant. If you would like to be a writer of songs, books or films- observe the world with fresh eyes. Try not to look at things the way you always have, but try to see things from another perspective. Like a fish’s!
The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge is getting ready to take place again this march. I don’t know how I will do, but I will just do my best and have fun with the process. It is an incredible and inclusive event where everyone that enters gets an opportunity to be heard.