Shining a Light on the Struggles for Adults with Autism: Q&A with Screenwriter Lisa Savy and Producer Jeremy Settles
Lisa Savy is an award-winning screenwriter/producer. Her first feature Defying Gravity appeared in 11 film festivals, winning awards for Best Story/Writing, Director’s Choice, and Best Narrative Feature. She also wrote and produced five short films. In 2016, her feature thriller Dead Redux was released along with her feature Dreams I Never Had, starring Malcolm McDowell and Robin Givens, that she wrote and associate produced. She segued into producing as a means to see her stories on the screen. But with Space Captain and Callista she returns to what she loves—writing.
Like Lisa, Jeremy Settles with Got Films has worn many hats in the film industry including producer, director, DP, and more. As executive producer on Space Captain and Callista, he was looking for an original idea written for a smart budget and found it in Lisa’s script. Currently in post-production, the film will have a limited theatrical release in 2020 after making the festival circuit.
InkTip: What is the story of Space Captain and Callista?
Lisa: A young man with Asperger's Syndrome, under the shadow of his overprotective mother, wants to live independently. A tough-as-nails teen girl has a troubled, chaotic home life. Their unlikely friendship is tainted by outsiders' suspicions and accusations.
Jeremy: That is my buddy who has Asperger’s, and he is my best production guy.
InkTip: Jeremy, what about Lisa’s script made you decide this was your next project?
Jeremy: I just loved the idea. [It was] very original.
InkTip: Lisa, how did the story come to you?
Lisa: There have been many recent films and TV series about people on the spectrum. I wanted to tell the parents’ side of the story as well. Their lives are forever impacted. I know this perspective very well as I have an adult daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome. I am very proud of how far she has come, but I worry every day about how she will persevere when I am gone.
Another important theme is that people with any kind of mental disability are often the first to be blamed, accused, or suspected when a crime is committed (or supposedly committed). People just don’t trust those who are different, and it’s easy to accuse someone who is not capable of defending themselves. I guess there is a reason To Kill a Mockingbird is required reading in many high schools.
InkTip: There have been some films about autistic children, but rarely do films focus on the struggles autistic adults have. Beyond your own love for your daughter, what compelled you to shine light on this subject?
Lisa: At the risk of sounding glib, autistic children are way more cute and cuddly than autistic adults. They are inherently more sympathetic. There is the underlying hope that an adult can somehow “save” or change their life in some incredible way.
Autistic adults on the other hand—no one wants to deal with them. The fact that they can recite tables of useless data is no longer endearing; it’s annoying. And this is true of all disabled adults sadly—no one wants to look them in the eye.
InkTip: Jeremy, what are you hoping audiences take away from this story regarding living as an adult with autism?
Jeremy: That anyone can do anything they want to with the right help. They can be successful in their own way.
InkTip: The film looks to be a good balance between comedy and heavy subject matter. Lisa, do you find one (comedy or drama) comes more naturally to you than another?
Lisa: No, I think I am drawn to both equally. Sometimes I start out writing something dramatic and the comedy creeps in. And vice-versa. Like life, you can’t really compartmentalize the two.
InkTip: Many of your scripts have been about marginalized groups in society. Not in My Backyard was about a Middle-Eastern high school teacher facing prejudice. Dreams I Never Had centered on a young Mexican immigrant. How do you relate to your characters’ struggles?
Lisa: To me, it seems like the most human thing in the world is to empathize with people whose situation is worse than yours. It is very disturbing that in the past three years, people in the U.S. don’t even try to pretend to be empathetic. There is a frightening movement toward intolerance, suspicion, and hatred. I still sustain the “give peace a chance” attitude of the 60s. We need more stories that break through barriers of intolerance, find and touch the humanity inside the viewer. That’s the least I can do as a storyteller.
InkTip: You have worked in the industry as a screenwriter, producer, casting director, and more. What is your favorite job on a film and why?
Lisa: Definitely screenwriter. I became a producer because I wanted to see my stories on the big screen. Plus screenwriting, as a long game, is definitely less expensive!
InkTip: How do you decide when your script is worth pursuing or when to go back to the drawing board?
Lisa: If you, the screenwriter, feel passionate and connected to the story, then you need to finish it. If you want something guaranteed to sell, then write a slasher film and call it a day.
InkTip: Speaking of marketing, you’ve been using InkTip for a while. How did you first hear about us, and how has your experience with InkTip been?
Lisa: I’ve known about InkTip a long time, probably as far back as 2000. Jerrol has been committed to screenwriters for a long time. I think the website interface is great, and I know the entire InkTip team works constantly to maintain and expand their list of industry contacts.
InkTip: What are your favorite films, and how have they influenced your writing?
Lisa: Harold & Maude. Bless the Beasts and the Children. Raising Arizona. I guess irreverent humor from the first and third. The second one is probably completely unknown to most people, but at the time (70s), it perfectly captured the theme of outcast adolescents who rally to achieve a beautiful mission. Kind of a non sci-fi precursor to Stranger Things. Oh yes, Jaws. Superbly crafted in every way. I’m not sure how it has influenced my writing, but I have not gone into the ocean since 1976.
InkTip: What other projects are you working on?
Lisa: A high-concept female lead comedy called Guns & Blades. It’s about a quartet of women who go on a tourist attraction in Las Vegas which bills itself [as a "shoot a machine gun out of a helicopter" experience]. This is a real thing. In my story, the women accidentally shoot up a drug deal going down in the middle of the desert because they think it’s part of the “experience.” Chaos ensues.
I also have two really good (if I say so myself) completed scripts. One of them, Amulet of Destiny, is an action adventure best described as Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code. The other Crash 'n Burn is a comedy about a mild-mannered band teacher who is finagled into posing as an 80s rock star because the real guy is in jail.
Jeremy: [I’m working on] a short film I produced with Pauly Shore, turning it into a feature film called Sin City Psycho.
InkTip: What’s one thing you wish you knew earlier in your career
Jeremy: The business of film to make money back for investors.
Lisa: If you’re going to be in a relationship with someone, make sure they support rather than resent your writing time.
Lisa is currently looking for representation.