TV movie not exactly an easy sell

It was not exactly an easy sell: a TV movie about a woman who has autism, and, oh by the way, she designs slaughterhouses.

Bringing the story of “Temple Grandin” to the screen was a 10-year journey for exec producers that included Emily Gerson Saines and Anthony Edwards. The effort culminated Sunday night with seven Emmy wins, including telepic, longform acting kudos for Claire Danes, Julia Ormond and David Strathairn and longform helming for Mick Jackson.

The real-life Grandin was on hand at the Nokia for the triumph, as was her mother, Eustacia Grandin.

“I hope this movie is going to educate a lot of people about autism,” Grandin, decked out in colorful ranch-style duds, told reporters backstage.

The pic was a very personal quest for Gerson Saines. After her son was diagnosed with autism, her mother gave her a book by Grandin that opened her eyes to the aspects of the disorder that has “reached epidemic proportions in this country,” as Gerson Saines said in her acceptance speech.

After reading Grandin’s “Thinking in Pictures,” Gerson Saines reached out to Grandin, who was receptive to working with her on a biopic. Gerson Saines, a talent manager who heads Brookside Artists Management, did not have a lot of producing credits under her belt at the time. Her background was as an agent for WMA; she was a co-founder of Autism Coalition for Research and Education, which is now part of Autism Speaks.

Grandin’s story touched Gerson Saines because she overcame such adversity, growing up on a farm in Arizona in the 1950s and ’60s, when very little was known about autism. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic, but with the the help of her mother she was able to channel her sensory and impulse problems into working with animals in ways that would later prove pioneering in the realm of animal science.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder on a performance. It was epic in its scope,” Danes said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as inspired by any character that I’ve played. I was deeply moved by Temple’s courage and her resourcefulness.”

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