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Filmmaker Interview: Hilari Scarl, director and producer of See What I’m Saying

April 21st, 2010 by Jordan Bonitatis Content Operations

In her debut feature, Hilari Scarl explores the lives of four deaf entertainers, following their unique struggles and conquests that is said to be both emotional and inspiring to all audiences. We were able to set up a Q&A session with Hilari to ask her about her film-making experience. She also sent us four exclusive clips to give you a glimpse of the four artists that the documentary follows. Enjoy! — Jordan Bonitatis, Hulu’s Trailer Guy

What challenges do deaf entertainers face?
From my personal observation, the biggest challenge is getting producers, casting directors and writers to tap into the talent of deaf actors. The entertainment industry seems to only consider deaf actors for roles written for a deaf character. These roles are limited to about 5 per year in Broadway, television, and feature film combined, so it’s not a whole lot to choose from. After a deaf actor is hired, convincing producers to hire sign language interpreters is a challenge. Often these interpreters are seen as an additional burden rather than a helpful service.

Deaf actors are a group of extraordinary individuals that bring a lot of value to their projects. Perhaps I should keep this as a secret so I can continue working with some of the best actors in the business without having to compete for their time and talent.

What advantages might they have?
Since communication is highly valued, deaf actors are very honest, often times blunt. They seem to be able to tap into their emotions quicker and have a broader array of facial expressions to use. In turn, I feel great responsibility with this openness and trust. On the lighter side, many deaf people also have a killer sense of humor, which is usually under-appreciated. Lastly, many have what is commonly known as “deaf eyes” which means their power of observation is generally stronger than hearing people’s sight. I like to think of it as a hidden superpower. I will always want a deaf person on my set as a continuity check.

How does the uncommon perspective of a deaf artist allow them to make unique contributions to their medium?
I believe that deaf artists offer a unique perspective of the human condition. Even though I’ve been in the deaf community for 18 years and feel a strong affinity, I will never completely know what it is like to be deaf. Sign language is a visual language, and the contributions deaf artists have made to projects I have produced have been a vital part of the creative process.

What can hearing artists learn from the deaf?
Hearing artists can learn that they have a lot in common with deaf people; they have families and lives, hopes and dreams, creativity, and a desire for self-expression. And if they’re very nice, perhaps they could also learn some sign language, because, well, sign language is cool.

How did you become involved with deaf culture?

I have a background in theater. I was working in New York when I was first introduced to deaf theater. It blew my mind. Soon thereafter, I auditioned for the National Theater of the Deaf. I was cast as a voicing actress and toured with 17 deaf actors on a bus for a year. That pretty much did it. I made life-long friends with the ensemble, including Robert DeMayo, the lead subject of SEE WHAT I’M SAYING.

What was the hardest part about directing/producing this film?
There were the normal challenges that go into making a film – normal production, getting financial backing, convincing others of my vision and why it was relevant and important. It was very difficult to find an editor who was willing to commit a year to edit over 300 hours into a film in a second language. There were annoying obstacles of dealing with small-minded managers who were suspicious that I would take advantage of them. It was also heartbreaking to only focus on four main characters since I filmed over 50 talented deaf entertainers. It crushed me to cut most of their cameos since there are already so few opportunities for most of them. I was able to include them in the DVD extras, so look for them there. The most difficult challenge came when we thought the film was finished (complete with post production), and realizing that it wasn’t after running a few test screenings. We had to make the impossible decision to raise more money and go back to the editing room and re-cut the film for another 5 months (which also meant re-scoring, re-mixing and doing post production twice). It was not fun, but luckily my post team (supervising editor Tom Miller, sound designer Joe Milner, composer Kubilay Uner and color/post by Different by Design) is the most talented group of artists in the world and working with them a second time made the process almost painless. Almost. Everyone is unanimous that the film is much stronger in its finished form. And yes, it is finished. Really.

What’s next?

I am getting ready to open the film in New York on April 9th at the Village East Cinema before opening nationwide this spring. It feels crazy to say that, but the response has been overwhelming. I am continuing to book the film as well across the country at Universities, organizations and events. I am also in negotiations for a book, a television show and have a few scripts in development – hopefully something that involves less than 300 hours of footage. Please check out www.seewhatimsayingmovie.com for more information about the film.

Last comment: Mar 3rd 2012 2 Comments
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