Crazy Legs Productions gives autistic youth chance to break into film

Scott Thigpen, COO/Director, Crazy Legs Productions
Scott Thigpen, COO/Director, Crazy Legs Productions

For talented creatives with autism, doors are starting to open in the city’s highly competitive film industry.

In a nod to neurodiversity, Atlanta-based Crazy Legs Productions will give a spot in its highly-coveted internship program to a student on the autism spectrum.

The company is partnering with Georgia State University’s IDEAL (Inclusive Digital Express and Literacy) Program and will include one of its graduates as an intern this fall.

IDEAL is a two-year, post-secondary study for students with mild intellectual disabilities interested in communications, theater and the arts.

“These students are artists, writers, actors,” said Spenser Norris, IDEAL employment coordinator. “They all have strong interests in creative fields, and this (internship) allows them to explore that.”

Norris said the film industry has been challenging for her students to break into.

Landing a role on a film set has always been a long shot, even for the most polished talent. Interviews have to be spot-on, and that can be difficult, said director Scott Thigpen, Crazy Legs chief operating officer.

Thigpen recalls an interview with a talented young adult who wanted one of the limited intern slots. The exchange was a bit awkward, and Thigpen suspected that the applicant was on the autism spectrum. He has a child on the spectrum and is familiar with some of the common characteristics.

“Honestly, it broke my heart because I know this person probably just had this disability. All I could think about was my child is going to be sitting across a desk like that someday and will be limited in opportunities, and I wanted to do something about that,” Thigpen said.

IDEAL helps neurodivergent students get opportunities in the arts that they might otherwise not have.

These students take GSU classes accompanied by a peer mentor and are involved in campus activities and internships, all with the goal of getting a job.

The program also helps students develop independence skills so they can have a meaningful life based on their choosing, Norris said.

Nadia Osbey, 23, of Atlanta, a 2020 IDEAL graduate in music production, enjoys writing music and has always wanted to produce and act. She got interested in music while involved in the chorus at Cedar Grove High School, graduating in 2016.

“IDEAL helped me a lot. They got me into the classes that I needed,” she said.

Osbey, whose dream is to own a recording and dance studio, is seeking an internship in music writing.

Norris helps students obtain employment, including internships that can lead to full-time jobs. She’ll even go into companies and train staff on neurodiversity.

“We encourage people to accept folks with disabilities and see their values and strengths,” Norris said.

She said the first step is to get employers to admit they have reservations then help them work through their fears. “It’s usually the fear of the unknown. We help them to have a different view of the community in general,” she said.

Thigpen said, breaking into the film and entertainment industry, usually starts with an internship.

“It’s really, really hard to get your foot in the door and get started in this industry other than the ground up. The best way to do that is through internships,” he said.

IDEAL will provide staff training for Crazy Legs and a peer mentor to accompany the intern during the fall term. Thigpen said he wants this internship to become a normal opportunity for neurodivergent students, and for his staff to become accustomed to the arrangement.

“I would love to present this as a case study to other production companies in Atlanta and beyond,” he said. “Here’s what this partnership has done for us as a company, and here’s what it’s done for these students, and here’s how we did it, and you can do the same.”

WHAT INSPIRES YOU ABOUT IDEAL?

Scott Thigpen, director and chief operating officer of Crazy Legs Productions, on the partnership with IDEAL:

“I just want everyone to be at the same starting line. These students are not even at the same starting line because of their disability. …We need to do this … 1 out of 65 children are on the autism spectrum. In 15 to 20 years that’s a sizable amount of adults who need to be integrated into the workforce and need to be as independent as possible. How are we going to do that if we don’t have the intention to try.”

Nadia Osbey, GSU IDEAL class of 2020:

“The IDEAL program is a good program for students who people say can’t go to college. But, really, they can go to college. IDEAL lets you take classes in whatever you want to learn.”

Spenser Norris, GSU IDEAL employment coordinator:

“All of our students work internships, either on or off campus. We have actors; we have students writing for the school newspaper; they work in museums. We learn from doing our job, and hands-on experience is really important.”