Tom is a graduate of Edmonds College with an Associate of Technical Arts degree in Visual Arts. He lives in Seattle and is currently studying as a voice-over actor at the Seattle Voice Academy. He enjoys gaming, video editing, Photoshop, animation, and graphic design. This week he shared his experience working as the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) on The Sound of Violet.
When did you first identify/understand you are Autistic? Was your diagnosis explained as something positive, negative, or neutral?
I was first diagnosed when I was 17 years old. But well before I was officially diagnosed, there were some behaviors from me that were very difficult to explain, because we hadn’t gotten an official diagnosis. My mom was so happy to find out it was just autism as she was then able to get the help I needed to understand how my brain worked, so in a way it was a positive thing. I’m still learning what things I can and can’t do, especially with my family. I know for sure I struggled in elementary school and even high school and was accused of things that I was forced to lie about in elementary school. Elementary school was the most difficult as I went through a lot and my mom couldn’t explain it until I got to high school where she was able to put me in Special Ed so that I could learn differently, even though I hated almost every second of my time there. The same applied to the college I went to before I transferred to the one I graduated from last year, which had a program for individuals on the spectrum.
Discuss your role in this project. How did you become involved and what were/are you responsible for?
For The Sound of Violet, I was the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician), which is the person who receives cartridges of film shot for a scene and then copies them onto the main hard drive and the backup drive. I had a blast doing it, but it was a huge responsibility. It involved very early hours, which is normal for shooting a film, no matter how big or small, but I remember working with another DIT on set, who taught me everything there was to know about being a DIT, and after about a day, I completely took over the role. They gave one of the most important jobs on this film to a 22-year-old autistic man. Not only was I in charge of the film’s data, but I was also in charge of receiving files from the photographers on set who were shooting the behind-the-scenes footage and pictures from the set. There was a lot of pressure in the role, but I was able to pull it off. My mom helped me find this role. She knew that one of my lifelong dreams was to work on a film, no matter how big or small. She searched for feature films being made within the Seattle area and stumbled across a Meet Up group called “Let’s Make a Feature Film!” I immediately jumped at the opportunity. We read the script, and it had a lot of important messages in it, including representing autism which I had only been diagnosed with 5 years prior.
What makes this film unique, important, or relevant?
The Sound of Violet is a romantic comedy about a man who thinks he has found his soulmate, but his autism and trusting nature keep him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute. The film in unique because it has a lead character who is autistic and also the romantic lead and hero of the story.
What makes the story of this film such an important and unique one is that it touches on two very important things that are uniquely still a part of society today – trafficking and autism. The movie depicts autism in a very effective way. Cason Thomas portrayed the autistic lead character. He worked with me to study my mannerisms during the roughly two-week production period of the film to see how I behaved as an autistic individual. It’s important for an actor like him to find the best way to portray an individual on the autism spectrum like Shawn. Studying me allowed him to do exactly that.
I saw another example of this with a Netflix Original I watched called Atypical, about a young man with autism played by a man without it. It is a very challenging kind of role to portray, and it really helps to have someone on set who can be studied to portray it accurately. I feel like this film teaches our audience the importance of autism and how it affects individuals like me who were born with it and how they go about the world. I’m still understanding how autism affects me, and I think Cason did an excellent job playing someone with autism. His mannerisms, and the way his eyes move, are similar to how I act, but because it’s a spectrum, we’re all different.
And for the trafficking element of the film, that too was important. I signed up to be involved in one of my dream jobs, but of course, the concept of portraying trafficking is powerful in this film. I commend my good friend Cora Cleary, who played Violet in the film for giving an incredible performance. I feel like she portrays Violet really well. I know how difficult it must have been for her to do a role like that, but she was incredible, and I think it was such an important part of the film.
What did you enjoy most about working on this film?
I enjoyed seeing everything come together and engaging to the best of my ability with those on set, such as the two leads. As any autistic person, I had my struggles. But one of the most important aspects of working on this film is that it opened up a door that I never thought would open.
I enjoyed seeing the raw footage be edited together into the final film. Allen was a wonderful director. During the premiere of the movie, Cason mentioned me to the audience during the Q&A, and I felt nervous and flattered.
Discuss authentic representation in the film industry (both on screen and behind the scenes). What is going well in the industry now and where is improvement needed?
I think representation is super important in the film industry, whether it be in a TV show or a film, regardless if it’s on screen or behind the camera. I can agree with some people that representation isn’t necessary everywhere. I think if the studio executives think it’s necessary and a change needs to be made to how a character is depicted, then that’s great. The recently reinstated CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger, stated that Disney will never stop showing representation in the stories they tell because of that they know they will never make everyone happy with the decisions they make, which is very true. I think one corner of representation that the industry should touch on more that it barely touches on until, of course, this film, is autism. This is the first film where autism is one of the primary focuses, at least to my knowledge. We need more of that in our film world. A rather poor example of this is a show I’m currently watching on Prime Video called Eureka, and one of the subplots involves the son of one of the characters who is on the spectrum, and they’re hoping to cure autism, which in my mind is an incredibly pointless and stupid story idea because that’s not how autism works. Although the story is fiction, it’s a very poor example of depicting autism.
What’s next in the new year? Any other projects on the horizon?
I’ve recently gotten involved with Exceptional Minds which is a non-profit organization that teaches individuals on the autism spectrum skills they need for future careers. They teach skills like drawing, animation, editing, visual effects, green screen, and have even worked on some big MCU films such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I hope to further my skills in the editing department. I hope I can continue to improve my voice-over work, get even better at acting, get an agent, and everything else I need to launch a professional voice-over career. That is one of my biggest goals. I also want to travel more.