Before becoming a speech-language pathologist, I attempted to be a full-time screenwriter. (Hey, I’m from Los Angeles, it’s a birthright). After some early success, near misses, and heartbreak, I decided to find a more stable career—and a source of income—I felt equally passionate about. I discovered speech-language pathology and the rest is history.
I’ve worked as an SLP for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 10 years, and love my job. However, the writing bug still gnawed at me. By day, I’m a mild-mannered SLP, and by night, I feed my coffee habit and my literary dreams.
My work with children with special needs opened up a new world to me and, consequently, added depth to my writing. I engage with children of all kinds of challenges—from intellectual disabilities to specific learning disabilities to hearing loss. I experience it all and value the daily opportunities to work with them.
These experiences inspired me to write another screenplay. “Soul to Keep” features a lead character with hearing loss in a full-length horror film. My friend and director David Allensworth worked with me on the script and directed the movie.
I made sure our main female protagonist’s character did not focus on her hearing loss. I highlight her as a part of a group of lifelong friends who treat her simply as just one of the gang. To top it off, they all communicate using American Sign Language (ASL).
“Soul to Keep” is a mainstream horror film emphasizing the friendships among principal characters and highlighting inclusion. I hope our portrayal of a person with hearing loss is as natural as it is in real life—and as Hollywood should portray all people with disabilities.
I wrote “Soul to Keep” in 2016 and New York City-based Shady Tree Films acquired it the same year. We cast Sandra Mae Frank, a Deaf actor from Broadway’s”Spring Awakening,” as our lead. The rest of the talented actors all learned to sign.
We hired an ASL interpreter on set to facilitate communication between Sandra and the director, as well as an ASL teacher who worked with the hearing actors on making their communication using ASL authentic. Additionally, one of our actors, Craig Fogel, also works as a sign language interpreter and helped make the signing among our group of friends accurate and natural.
After a long post-production process—typical for independent filmmaking—the movie premiered in Los Angeles last October at Shriekfest, a horror film festival. After a successful and award-winning festival run, our film acquired nationwide distribution.
“Soul to Keep” released on April 2 and now we’re trying to get through the most difficult part of independent filmmaking … spreading the word. We received positive reviews touting the naturalness of the friends’ relationships in the film. Frank, our lead actor, also won Best Featured Female Actor at the Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival.
These accolades satisfy me that we did our job as filmmakers to portray real human beings and relationships without focusing on a disability. I hope we added to the diversity and creative power films can have when they break stereotypes and embrace inclusion. We want to inspire audiences, both deaf and hearing, to participate in the arts and motivate more filmmakers to include actors and characters of all types in the next great horror movie.
You can watch “Soul to Keep” on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Redbox, Vudu, and through several on-demand cable and satellite platforms.
Eric Bram, MS, CCC-SLP, works for the Los Angeles Unified School District. firstname.lastname@example.org.