See What I'm Saying
CJ Jones, comic
photo by Hopper Stone
CJ Jones, TL Forsberg, Bob Hiltermann, Robert DeMayo
photo by Chris Voelker
Robert DeMayo - photo by Chris Voelker
Bob Hiltermann - photo by Chris Voelker
TL Forsberg - photo by Chris Voelker
CJ Jones, TL Forsberg, Bob Hiltermann, Robert DeMayo
Hilari Scarl, director headshot
Hilari Scarl, director photo
photo by Chris Voelker
Robert DeMayo, TL Forsberg, Hilari Scarl, Bob Hiltermann, CJ Jones - Photo by Karen Ballard
This inspirational and heartfelt documentary follows four well-known entertainers in the deaf community: a comic, a drummer, an actor and a singer as they attempt to cross over to mainstream audiences. These uniquely talented deaf entertainers overcome great challenges on their way to personal triumphs and professional success.
Bob, a drummer in the world’s only deaf rock band, Beethoven’s Nightmare, produces the largest show in the band’s 30 year history; CJ, a hugely famous and internationally renowned comic in the Deaf world, but virtually unknown to hearing audiences, fights to cross over to the mainstream by producing the first international sign language theatre festival in Los Angeles; Robert, a brilliant actor who teaches at Juilliard, struggles to survive when he becomes homeless while living with HIV; and TL, a hard of hearing singer finds herself caught between the hearing and deaf communities when she attracts her first major producer to record her first CD “Not Deaf Enough.”
Chronicled with rare intimacy and candor, SEE WHAT I’M SAYING: THE DEAF ENTERTAINERS DOCUMENTARY is the first open captioned commercial film in American history. At the same time, it opens the door to deaf culture, allowing the sign language in the film to be accessible to all audiences.
With humor and emotion, director Hilari Scarl captures with insight and honesty the many obstacles these performers face daily.
*OPEN CAPTIONS – DEFINITION
The term “Open Captions” is used when text is burned-in on the picture, similar to subtitles for foreign films. Open captions includes audio descriptors and non-speech information that assist deaf audiences, such as [phone rings] or a musical note symbol to indicate music. Unlike closed captions that can be turned on and off (like you see on screens in bars, gyms and on most televisions), open captions are part of the film and can’t be turned off. See What I'm Saying is the first open captioned commercial film in American history, making the entire film accessible to deaf, hard of hearing and hearing audiences at every screening. Captions for See What I'm Saying were generously funded by Microsoft.
Deaf people can do anything but hear. But an all deaf rock band? An international deaf comic famous around the world but unknown to hearing people? A modern day Buster Keaton who teaches at Juilliard but is currently homeless? A hard of
Robert DeMayo, actor
The extraordinarily talented and optimistic Robert DeMayo is a brilliant actor and one of the leading experts on translating English into American Sign Language. He is also homeless. While teaching sign language translation to Broadway interpreters at Juilliard, lack of steady work leads him down a slippery slope of couch surfing and ultimately onto the Philadelphia city streets where he fights to survive.
Bob Hiltermann, drummer
Beethoven's Nightmare, the world's only deaf rock band, gears up for the most important gig of their lives: their first mainstream show. Bob Hiltermann, the band's drummer/producer decides to go for broke and produce the largest concert in the band's 30-year history.
CJ Jones, comic
CJ Jones is a superstar - a deaf icon recognized and celebrated around the world by the deaf community - yet he struggles to gain access in mainstream media. CJ strives to cross over to mainstream media, but plagued by what others view as a double whammy - being black and deaf, CJ's journey takes a unique turn when he decides to produce the first International Sign Language Theatre Festival in Los Angeles. Once in motion, CJ invites Robert DeMayo to perform.
TL Forsberg, singer
In your face rocker TL Forsberg straddles two worlds - the deaf and the hearing. As a hard of hearing singer, she struggles to be accepted by the deaf community since because she is not a native sign language user, and "passes" in the hearing world. Her passion leads her to a recording deal to produce her first CD entitled "Not Deaf Enough," but things take a surprising twist when she opens for Bob's deaf rock band, Beethoven's Nightmare.
SEE WHAT I'M SAYING - FACT SHEET
SEE WHAT I’M SAYING is the first commercial American film to be fully open captioned for the country’s 30 million deaf and hard of hearing. At the same time, it opens the door to deaf culture as it allows the sign language in the film to be accessible to all audiences.
- Deaf culture is unique. Out of the nearly 30 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans, only 10% have a parent who is deaf, making deaf culture one of the only heritages in the world that is rarely handed down from parents to children.
- Deaf culture is composed of a community of people who consider deafness to be a difference in human experience rather than a disability.
- When "Deaf" is capitalized in Deaf culture, it refers to those who use sign language, have a Deaf identity and are culturally Deaf vs. "deaf" people who have a hearing loss but do not identify with the Deaf community.
- There are deaf entertainers within the community who perform mostly for deaf audiences, many of whom are trying to cross over to the mainstream. This film is about four of those entertainers.
SEE WHAT I'M SAYING offers a powerful and unique look at a rarely understood culture. Focused on four gifted deaf entertainers, the film touches on more than the talents of these unsung heroes - it hits extremely relatable chords for audiences worldwide - that all of us want to feel included, accepted and share our personal gifts and humanity with our larger community. Though we each have different struggles and situations, our feelings, goals and desire remain the same. See What I’m Saying’s universal appeal transcends the four richly intertwined stories, and offers a unique peek inside deaf culture, giving audiences an opportunity to view this vibrant community in a fascinating new light.
"You have not seen a movie like 'See What I'm Saying.' Hilari Scarl's powerful and moving film about the unsung community of deaf entertainers does something few documentaries accomplish: It takes us into a world we know little or nothing about and not only enlightens, but entertains. Scarl has captured the humor, heartbreak and pathos of a world we once viewed only from the outside, if at all.” – Scott Bowles, USA Today
"Hilari Scarl's SEE WHAT I'M SAYING is funny, heartbreaking and inspiring. An eloquent testimonial to the human spirit." — Steven Banks, Nickelodeon
“…four deaf entertainers who, through their brilliance, have found an audience.” – Laura Flanders, Grit TV
“…showing the world what’s possible – it’s possible to be deaf and be an incredibly talented performer all at the same time. Documentary filmmaker Hilari Scarl introduces us to a talented and inspiring group of performers.” - Daryn Kagan, (former CNN anchor) featured on DarynKagan.com.
Philadelphia Film Festival
Winner - Best Feature Documentary
Newport Beach Film Festival
Winner - Outstanding achievement in documentary filmmaking
Worldeaf Cinema Festival
Winner - Best film about the deaf experience by a hearing filmmaker
D.C. ASL Film Festival
Winner - Grand Jury Award
D.C. ASL Film Festival
Winner - Audience Award
St. Louis International Film Festival
Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival
DMZ Korean International Documentary Film Festival
Focus Film Festival
Opening Night Film
Rochester Deaf Film Festival
The Other Film Festival (Melbourne)
Special Recognition and Opening Night Film
When hearing people ask me why I made this film, they usually assume it’s because I have a family member who is Deaf. When Deaf people ask me, it is to determine whether I have ulterior motives. Neither assumption is true.
My first introduction to Deaf culture was a performance at New York Deaf Theatre of “’Night, Mother” that changed my life. Having been in theatre my entire life and experiencing almost every form of theatre from Kabuki to Shakespeare, I had never seen anything like this visual and highly emotional art form. The performances came to life with a visceral impact that was visually and emotionally powerful, simultaneously translated by unseen voicing actors. I was hooked.
After taking a few sign language classes and living with a Deaf roommate in New York, I auditioned for the Tony-award winning National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) and was cast as a voicing actor. I toured for a year with some of the most extraordinarily talented performers I had, ever known.
The cast included Anthony Natale who was cast that year in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” Frank Dattolo who went on to become the artistic director of New York Deaf Theatre, and Robert DeMayo, who became one of the lead subjects of See What I’m Saying. My total immersion into Deaf culture wasn’t easy. I was a minority on a tour with 17 Deaf actors, who lived in a world with a unique bond I could not share.
MY HOPE - MY MESSAGE
My message is simple, and echoes I. King Jordan's famous words "Deaf people can do anything except hear." My advocacy is two-fold: to create more opportunities for Deaf performers everywhere based on their talent rather than their hearing loss. This involves hearing writers working with deaf writers to develop a more accurate depiction of the real people and scenarios of Deaf culture rather than the old cochlear implant controversy, and for casting directors and producers to hire more deaf actors in roles that aren't written as "deaf roles." My second mission is to create awareness for the need for quality captions for all media - film, television and on the internet. We take for granted the accessibility that captions provide, and the need is grossly underestimated.
Lastly, I would like for the film to spread the message that being Deaf is not a handicap, and that Deaf culture is a vibrantly rich celebration filled with creative, intelligent and inspired human beings who share the same dreams and aspirations as anyone else. Enjoy the film!
Hilari Scarl, Director/Producer
Hilari is an award-winning director who was selected out of 12,000 filmmakers to appear on the Steven Spielberg television series ON THE LOT. She received outstanding reviews from judges Garry Marshall, Carrie Fisher, Jon Avnet and Brett Ratner on her short comedy DITTO and for her cinematic vision and overall strength in working with actors.
Hilari has produced TV shows for CBS, The History Channel, TLC and Court TV. She directed/produced over 12 short films in two years, including the short documentary PAVING THE WAY which was a finalist for International Documentary Challenge, played the film festival circuit and was acquired by Current TV. Her narrative short SNIPS & SNAILS is a horror spoof that she directed, co-wrote and co-produced with Gary Anthony Williams. The film has won awards and screened at film festivals around the world.
Hilari's interest in the deaf community began in 1992 when she started working in deaf theatre. She has spent the past 18 years working with the deaf community as a director, performer and educator with the Tony Award winning National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD), the Deaf Arts Council, New York Deaf Theatre and Deaf West. She brings her intimate knowledge of deaf culture, personal friendships within the deaf community and signing skills to this documentary.
Jeff Gatesman, Cinematographer
Originally from Chicago, Jeff received a degree in journalism at Triton College where he was introduced to world cinema and documentary filmmaking. He later received a degree in film production from Columbia College and studied photography at the prestigious Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.
In Chicago, Jeff worked on independent feature films while he was employed by television shows including THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and TRUE STORIES OF THE HIGHWAY PATROL. He relocated to Los Angeles where he first found employment as a gaffer, working alongside world-class cinematographers Dante Spinotti, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Dean Semmler.
Jeff's cinematography credits include feature length films, commercials and music videos as well as the television cooking show FEEDING THE FIRE. He produced, directed and filmed the award-winning feature documentary AMAZONAS: THE TEARS OF A FULL MOON, which is currently in distribution worldwide. His documentary cinematography credits include BEYOND BLACK ELK: THE ORAL HISTORY OF THE LAKOTA SIOUX; TURNING: THE WHIRLING DERVISHES OF TURKEY; IT'S AWRIGHT, a short doc on the aging Bluesmen of Phoenix, and the pilot episode for ODYSSEY'S AND OVATIONS, a travel program dedicated to uncovering the art of different cultures around the world. Narrative cinematography credits include THE LAWN RANGERS and TALKING MOVIE, SILENT LIFE about writer Chris Harmon, a deaf blind man with no motor skills or ability to breathe on his own.
Marcus Taylor, Editor
Marcus has edited at DreamWorks Studios on big budget feature films including FLUSHED AWAY, MADAGASCAR, SHARK TALE, SINBAD, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST. A native of the U.K., Marcus first started working on television documentaries and dramas in Manchester. After working on a number of BBC, Granada TV and independent programs, he moved to Cosgrove Hall productions to work on various award-winning TV animation series such as DANGERMOUSE, COUNT DUCKULA and THE RELUCTANT DRAGON, which won the BAFTA for Best Children's award. Marcus' association with Steven Spielberg's Amblimation company and DreamWorks has lasted over 17 years. During his time in London, he moved into features and saw the change from film to AVID-based editing. Embracing this new direction, Marcus was involved in the AVID USERS GROUP in London and wrote articles for their trade publication. His latest credits include SHREK: THE HALLS (a Xmas TV special), Jerry Seinfeld's BEE MOVIE and the short film FIRST FLIGHT. He was lead editor on FIRST FLIGHT (produced by DreamWorks Animation), which won the Montgomery Prize - Certificate of Excellence at Chicago's International Children's Film Festival and was nominated for first prize at the Montreal World Film Festival. He also has worked with Simon Wells, the director of THE TIME MACHINE, on creating storyboard animatics for that movie. Marcus edited DUCK, the live action feature film starring Philip Baker Hall (ZODIAC/BRUCE ALMIGHTY/MAGNOLIA) which opened in August 2007. DUCK won at the Denver International Film Festival, Cinequest and European Independent Film festival and has been shown in numerous festivals around the world.
Kubilay Üner, Composer
Munich-born, Los Angeles-based composer Kubilay "Kubi" Üner has bounced around the planet and through every musical genre, which explains a thing or two about his individual approach to music. With numerous feature film scores, TV pilots and concert music works to his credit, Kubi is as comfortable in the concert hall as he is on the dubbing stage. "Whether the music is part of a film or stands on its own, my goal is to deliver an intense experience, one that completely immerses and transforms the listener. I believe a good piece of music should take you on a journey."
This idea was at the core of FILM2MUSIC, an international competition where Kubi invited filmmakers the world over to create a film to a track from his CD, CINEMATIC. Ninety-four films were submitted, and the winners and highlights were screened at the 2007 Sundance Film festival.
In addition to writing for concert, theatre and film, Kubi has acted as a record producer and arranger for a multitude of artists, from soul legend Bobby Womack to Mexican-American chanteuse Perla Batalla.
Active in the Los Angeles contemporary music scene, he has run a series of composer salons since 2001, with presenters including Randy Newman to Mort Subotnick, Chris Young, Anne LeBaron and William Kraft among many others. These stylistically diverse salons are yet another expression of Kubi's conviction that "good music can only happen when you mix things up."
Kubi studied composition with Johannes Fritsch and Klarenz Barlow at the State Academy of Music in Cologne, Germany; with Luigi Nono at the Centre Acanthes workshops in France; and with Mort Subotnick, Fredric Rzewski and James Newton at CalArts. He earned his master's degree in 1991, and now works as a freelance composer and producer in Los Angeles.
Production Notes by Director/Producer Hilari Scarl
In 2007, I was chosen by Steven Spielberg out of 12,000 filmmakers to be on his television show and had my 15 minutes of fame ON THE LOT. After making it to the top 21, I asked everyone who was going to vote for me 20 times to send me $20 to make this documentary. I managed to raise $8,000 over a single summer to begin filming. Luckily, several supportive investors came on board during production and post production, as well as a grant from the Arnold Glassman Fund and sponsorship from Microsoft. Since I knew I wanted the film to be as verité as possible with a strong story, I checked in with a dozen of my friends and colleagues to see who had events planned for the year. I had met CJ Jones when I first arrived in Los Angeles and we became close friends. I knew he was planning some large events that would be unique to follow. To know CJ is to love him, and it was time for the rest of the world to know him as well. CJ introduced me to TL during a performance and I was instantly intrigued by her story. And when Bob told me he was planning the largest Beethoven's Nightmare show in 30 years, I knew I had a great arc to follow. [SPOILER ALERT.] I found out that Robert was homeless, sleeping on park benches in Philadelphia days before he was scheduled to leave for New York to teach at Juilliard, and I immediately grabbed a camera and flew on a kind friend's frequent flyer miles out to Philadelphia to find out what was going on. Robert's story blew me away and I knew I had to film it.
I never had a casting session or a pre-set number of documentary subjects in mind. On any given year I could have chosen other entertainers, and I hope the film brings home the point that there are dozens of other extremely talented unsung deaf entertainers. I followed a few other extraordinary entertainers during our filming including Kathy Buckley, Shoshannah Stern, Tyrone Giordano, Michelle Banks and Anthony Natale whom I hope to feature in our DVD extras.
Filming was extremely challenging. As we followed our busy entertainers, we ended up filming over 50 deaf entertainers in over 12 cities throughout the United States and overseas. Invitations to perform, auditions and life-altering situations kept arising, keeping us scrambling and booking two and sometimes three different crews at a time. But the perks of filming in sign language were unique as well. I could hold interviews in noisy places and dump my audio (which happened at least twice) since the film is captioned. People didn't ask us to move along since they couldn't figure out what we were doing. The best perk was being able to interject questions in sign language without blowing a sound bite.
Our post production was unique since to our knowledge nothing like this had ever been done before. Three different interpreters rotated in and out of the editing bay laying down temporary audio voice over for my hearing editor as I transcribed over 700 pages of 300 hours of footage. It took six months of working nearly 80 hours a week to produce four complete storylines of each of our major subjects, and another three months to weave the stories together. Our temp interpreter audio track was replaced by subtitles that took weeks to fine tune by ASL Master James Foster during the formal translation process.
The score and the sound design were incredibly fun, as my longtime composer Kubilay Uner wrote a beautifully inspired score. Our post production sound supervisor, Joe Milner, quizzed Robert meticulously to accurately depict how things sound from his point of view. I would like to point out that it was Robert DeMayo who came up with the signed translation for "See What I'm Saying" that was seconded by CJ Jones. The literal translation in sign language is "understand what I'm saying" and the play on the word "see" (get what I'm saying and to visually see the language) is meant to be a double entendre only in English.