×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Company Offers Autistic Adults Training for Jobs on Film Crews With Reel People Program

A few years ago, sound man Jimmy Lifton began a licensed training institute to help military veterans, including homeless vets, get jobs in below-the-line trades.

Last month his organization — the Lifton Institute for Media Arts & Sciences, or LIMS — expanded its scope with the addition of its Reel People program, designed to find jobs in film for a new group: high-functioning autistic adults.

Lifton, a producer and sound department veteran who has taken home two Daytime Emmys and five Golden Reels, has helped bring vets together with below-the-line workers he’s collaborated with through the years, many of whom are repeats to the program. When it came time to train the autistic adults — who, like the vets, are not charged for the training — he observed some of the same work ethic qualities: focus, determination, attention to detail and general stick-with-it-ness.

“I’ve found Reel People to be different from other special-needs work programs because it emphasizes socialized teamwork skills,” says producer Thresa Richardson, mother to one of the graduates, Jordan. “These adults on the autism spectrum aren’t just learning how to work in isolation — at a desk, on a computer, in a stockroom — as traditional training programs dictate. They learn to work as members of a moving, breathing organism that challenges their ability to multitask, swiftly change gears and be flexible — all outrageously difficult for the wiring of the autistic brain.”

Each session is fully hands-on, with trainees working on a professional SAG production with an extended schedule in order to allow for mistakes, fix them and walk away with confidence and the skills required to walk onto a film set and work on a real paid job.

“Because our aim is to ultimately get them into jobs without holding their hands, we have to create the successes that will move us in that direction,” says Lifton. He explains that they crew up only autistic adults on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum.

Across both programs, mostly the trainees are low-income and largely African American and Latino. Next up for Lifton are young adults coming out of the foster care system.

“These are forgotten groups of people,” he says, “but they don’t have to be. In this industry, there is now so much product being made. It’s not like it was in the beginning when you had to be union based and really someone had to die before you could actually get into the union, or even work on any show. It’s different now because there is so much being created. The opportunities are immense.”

Reel People offers training in camera, lighting, grip, hair/makeup, visual effects, sound, production management and other below-the-line functions. The program is selective about who it admits, interviewing candidates carefully to make sure they’re right for the entertainment industry and have a passion for it.

“It’s about actual job placement,” stresses Lifton.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

  • Frozen 2

    How the 'Frozen II' Artists Created Believable Emotion Through Animation

    “The more believable you can make the character [look], the more people believe how [it’s] feeling,” says Tony Smeed, who, with Becky Bresee, shared the challenge of heading animation on Disney’s highly anticipated “Frozen II.” “Emotion comes from inside and manifests itself into actions and facial expressions. Anything beyond that is movement for the sake [...]

  • Lucy in the Sky BTS

    'Lucy in the Sky' DP Shifts Frame to Show Inner Turmoil of Natalie Portman's Astronaut

    What drew cinematographer Polly Morgan to “Lucy in the Sky” was how Noah Hawley’s script so clearly illuminated the emotional breakdown of astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) in a way that felt very insular: The visual cues were on the page — and conveyed an unusual approach to charting the character’s journey. “When things fall [...]

  • NICKI LEDERMAN and JOAQUIN PHOENIX Joker

    How Makeup, Hair and Costume Team Gave 'Joker' a New Look for Origin Story

    “We’re not in the superhero world,” says Nicki Ledermann, makeup head on Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” which reimagines the iconic comic book villain’s origin in an acclaimed performance from Joaquin Phoenix. “This story is treated as real life, and that’s what made the project so interesting.” In this most recent take on Batman’s nemesis — a [...]

  • Exceptional Minds VFX Autism Training

    VES Honoree Susan Zwerman Trains People on the Autism Spectrum for Film, TV Jobs

    Most of those who have earned the honor of VES Fellow in the past decade have been recognized by the Visual Effects Society for on-screen innovation. But this year’s honoree, Susan Zwerman, is equally distinguished by her off-screen accomplishments. Zwerman is the studio executive producer for Exceptional Minds, a visual effects and animation school for [...]

  • Bullitt Rexford Metz Cinematographer

    Second-Unit DP Rexford Metz Took to the Sky and Water for Memorable Shots

    King of the second-unit cinematographers, Rexford Metz is second to none when it comes to getting shots on the ground, in water or high in the sky.  He operated the camera during the famed 10-minute chase sequence in “Bullitt” on the streets of San Francisco in 1968, and it was his coverage of muscle cars [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content