“Learning to Drive,” a short film about a young boy with Down syndrome and his desire to drive a car, makes its world premiere at the Loft Cinema on Sunday, Oct. 9.
We spoke to the film’s writer and director, Sierra Vista resident Roderick E. Stevens II, about the movie.
The story: “ ‘Learning to Drive’ is a short film inspired by the true story of a feisty young man with Down syndrome determined to convince his scatterbrained brother to teach him how to drive,” says Stevens.
The lead character is Michael, played by Connor Long, an actor with Downs. “It was a real challenge making sure the story stuck with Michael’s point of view,” says Stevens. “So often when we see movies that center on developmental disabilities, they’re heart-string tugging, depressing dramas. I love a good drama, but there’s enough sadness in the world and the fact is, living with people with disabilities can be just as full of laughter and fun, so I was determined to include humor in the story.”
The inspiration: Stevens’ younger brother, Andy, has Down syndrome and often asked his big brother to teach him to drive. “I resisted because I assumed his developmental disability automatically precluded him from acquiring a driver’s license, so I didn’t see the point,” says Stevens. “When a friend of ours pointed out the flaw in my understanding and that technically it actually was possible for him to drive legally, I felt a fool. I promptly gave him some driving lessons as well as worked on other aspects of my relationship with him.”
Andy’s take on the film: When Stevens showed the film to his brother last month, Andy’s impulse was to give him some advice. “(He) proceeded to explain to me that Michael, the main character based on him, should be more hurt by something his brother said. He offered to coach Connor on a better performance. Overall he loves it, though, and I know he’s going to love all the attention” at the premiere.
The movie’s evolution: Stevens’ first screenplay for the film was in 1998, but he tinkered with it until 2013. “That’s when I decided to develop a short film version and spent the next three years putting it together,” he says.
Casting: “One of my top priorities was casting, especially for the roles of the two brothers,” says Stevens. “We found our Red in Kevin Coubal out of New York. … I met Connor Long in Denver, after seeing his award-winning work in the short film ‘Menschen’ and was immediately struck by his quick wit and affability. When I wrote the script, I fully expected to have to work with my lead actor line reading one line at a time, but Connor had the entire script memorized, could shoot entire scenes through and took direction with grace. He was amazing and gave us the freedom to even further develop the character.”
The end result: Stevens knows exactly what he wants audiences to take away with them. “Laughter and a warm, fuzzy feeling more than anything,” he says. “While I hope people are enlightened and see life in a different light after watching the film, I hope that comes on the heels of having been charmed.”