See What I'm Saying Movie


My favorite performer - trick question

As I finally sit down to review the 3,000+ photos of Chris Voelker’s photo shoot, I find it impossible to narrow it down. I think on the question that I am often asked: Who is my favorite? My response is usually “That is like asking me to choose whom my favorite child is. Very Sophie’s Choice.” All four are equally important to this documentary, like four table legs that are needed to support a table. If any of the legs are missing, the table goes lopsided. I actually think I have a better answer below. There are favorite moments of each that I enjoy the most:

I think I like interviewing TL the most – I just turn on the camera and she can talk for an hour, opening up, crying, laughing, spilling her guts – all unprompted, candid and honest.

I like filming CJ’s shows the most – watching the audiences laugh so hard that they cry. I love when I film him discovering something on stage that is a comedic accident, making the audience laugh all over again.

I like catching Bob when he isn’t aware that he is being filmed. He is so proud of his show, his work, and filming his delight in telling anyone who will listen is just a joy.

And I like following Robert the best – walking through every day life as a prankster. I think I probably burned the most tape on Robert because when he was around I learned early not to turn the camera off since he is constantly jesting, impulsively joking around. Early on I missed some of the best moments while waiting for a meeting to begin or walking down the street and by the time I was rolling the moment was over. Luckily for me there were still months left to go and hundreds of moments of Robert pretending to walk into poles, scaring people, hiding in public spaces while he played cops and robbers and countless other hijinks. I don’t think I could ever get tired of filming Robert.

There were dozens of other entertainers I filmed, not knowing at the beginning who would fit into the film the best or have performances planned for this year. I was seriously torn that some of the best interviews didn't make it into the final film because there wasn't enough hours to show everything. Luckily we will have a great DVD extras section where I can show many of these highlights of some of my favorite performers:

Shoshannah Stern - one of the greatest interviews and most inspirational entertainers ever. Not only does she seem to have everything going for her, but I was surprised by how NICE she is. Sho is extremely genuine and down to earth. She is a trailblazer and a star in my book, and I would be lucky to cast her in future films.

Michelle Banks - she made me cry during her interview. Michelle is so passionate, and cares so deeply about motivating others - especially kids - to be their personal best. Michelle could be the next Oprah - or anything else this powerhouse actress wishes to become.

Evelyn Glennie - Evelyn was so generous to allow a full interview and for us to film her performance at UCLA. She is not only a brilliantly gifted musician, but charming and insightful.

Bernard Bragg - the father of Deaf theater. Bernard kicked to door open for just about every performer out there by being one of the co-founders of the National Theater of the Deaf, and blazing paths after studying with Marcel Marceau. To film such a legend was an honor. His friends know all of BB's famous stories which he regales in telling, but now they are recorded for generations to come.

John Maucere - John was so generous to allow me to film him during one of the busiest times of his life as the first cruise director aboard the Deaf Freedom Cruise. He not only entertained 4,000 deaf passengers for a week, but juggled dozens of shows while directing an ensemble of 16 deaf performers as part of his Deafywood production. Through it all he remained calm, humble and maintained a sense of humor. Did I mention his impression of Jay Leno as his deaf brother John Leno is pretty spectacular?

Alan "SPO" Schwartz - I love SPO's story about his nickname, an acronym for "Signed Performace Only." SPO was one of the first to share his honest convictions without censoring himself. Knowing that he was sharing some potential controversial topics, his point of view and opinions are a unique insight. I have so much gratitude for SPO taking the risk to open up on camera and trusting me with his stories.

Max "Max-i-mime" Fomitchev - a good deal of Max's interview made it into the final film. He is not only an extraordinarily talented performer, but has an incredible personal story. Being raised in Russia, Max lives in Canada and was a performer with Beethoven's Nightmare. My only risk is that Max has a way of stealing the show - a risk I am very happy to take to share his talents with the world.

Thoughts of highlights and challenges of filming

This is hard. I always knew producing this feature film would be difficult. But the driving motivation to tell my subjects' stories outweighed all of the challenges along the way. There were many highlights and challenges along the way. Here are just a few:

The highlights so far:

  • Discovering filming our entertainers through windows –starting with Bob’s house the first night Ed arrived. The lighting looked beautiful – and matched with photographer Chris Voelker’s window frame idea for the publicity shots. [Note: this idea was dropped in the final film, but a few hundred teaser postcards were handed out with this original concept.]

  • Beethoven’s Nightmare – watching an audience member's face in sheer glee flicker in the stage lights, then realizing he was deaf blind. I saw how much he enjoyed TL's performance and pulled her over after her set. TL's hair for the show was crazy wild - with pipes, feathers, tubes and dreds tied in all over her head. She allowed the audience member to touch her hair, and he gave me one of the most memorable interviews of the evening.

  • Watching several hundred people from Kansas sign up on my mailing list after one motivated interpreter found the promo on YouTube, becoming a Team Leader and sending out the email to bunches of people.


OK, it hasn't been easy. Things you can't even begin the prepare for pop up to make an already difficult job even more challenging. Here were some of my more difficult moments:

  • My grant writer quitting because it was "too hard," my camera being stepped on and breaking requiring a frantic drive to get it repaired two hours away and my second cameraman spraining his ankle on someone else’s set and having to cancel the next day's shoot. All of this is challenging, but the fact that it all happened within 24 hours of the largest shoot of the production the day before Beethoven Nightmare was filmed performing at the El Rey.

  • The disappointment of canceled performances and rejection, although many of the performers' heartbreaking moments that comes with being in the competitive entertainment business was captured in the documentary.

  • Everyone we filmed was so incredibly cooperative and supportive. Everyone except for a few hearing people, which makes me happy to be submerged into Deaf culture at the moment. Here are a few of my Michael Moore moments when I was almost shut down:

-Philadelphia subway - they threatened to take our cameras away;

-NYC subway - they threatened to take our tapes;

-A less than thrilled individual who was filmed picking a fight with one of our subjects;

-Attempts of being kicked out of one event before the show by an unhappy stage manager (luckily my subjects fought to keep me there. Even luckier, every other event was happy to have us there.)

The list of both of the highlights and challenges is even longer - much of which will be discussed in upcoming Q&A sessions after screenings.

Meeting Robert

I have been so deliriously busy with post ON THE LOT fallout and pre Deaf Entertainers documentary preparation that I miss my flight to Philadelphia. I miss my flight by 12 hours because I misread my flight as 9PM instead of 9AM. Luckily I get on the 10:30 PM on standby. One of my main subjects of the documentary and friend Robert DeMayo has been sleeping at the airport in Philadelphia waiting for me because he is currently homeless. He played the comedic lead during our yearlong tour together in the National Theatre of the Deaf’s production of “An Italian Straw Hat.” Robert is one of the funniest, most talented actors I have ever seen and one of the countries top translators of English to ASL. He will be teaching at Juilliard next week, training Broadway interpreters how to better translate theatre into sign language. The irony of his situation brought me here with a borrowed camera. Robert recently played the character of a homeless man in a movie before there was a communication meltdown with his former landlord in his real life when his building was sold. Money is not the issue: his paperwork somehow states that he was evicted, and the lack of a good referral has been preventing him from getting a new apartment.

Robert texts me back after learning of my delay and asks me to steal an airplane pillow for him. I choke back emotion upon reading this. On board we sit on the tarmac for 20 minutes. The pilot explains that we have a technical difficulty but we are receiving top care to fix it since we are a lifesaving flight. I wondered how they knew I was headed out to film Robert to try to help him. The pilot explains that we are carrying an organ on board for a transplant back in Philadelphia and time is of the essence. I choke back more emotion.

I land and Robert looks tired but good. Somehow he is wearing clean clothes and looks no worse for the wear than my fellow red-eyed passengers. To my surprise, he has borrowed a car for my arrival – part of the Philly Car Share program where you can rent a car by the hour.

Our first stop is storage – one of Robert’s daily rituals. He goes to change clothes and grab necessities. He is getting a larger storage locker today and I alternate between filming him move all of his belongings down vacant aisles and helping. It is a dirty, sweaty job and Robert’s hip is bothering him since he had a hip replacement a few years ago. But somehow he manages to joke around, leaping from corners to startle me and racing the storage cart. We hurry to his next stop where he prepares for his weekly workshop. Robert teaches an AIDS awareness workshop once a week to deaf men for the CCPS in the back room of a local gay bar. Robert’s personality is such as to have fun even in the direst of situations.

We race back to drop the car off so that he isn’t charged an extra hour for being late. Robert turns this manic drive back into a video game. My past experience with deaf drivers is that no matter how they drive they are 100 times safer than hearing drivers because of their bionic vision and reflexes. We are 15 minutes late and Robert crosses his fingers that he isn’t penalized.

Local filmmaker Chad Jenkins arrives to help me film the evening. I hesitantly ask the men in the workshop if they mind being filmed for the documentary, fully expecting for them to say no. They surprise me and are not only open to being filmed but enthusiastic that I share their experiences with others. So a lively back room game of “Taboo” is played out in sign language. My cameraman could barely contain himself along with participants’ hearty laughter as they acted out various vocabulary words. After the games they went through the list of words discussing safe sex and current medical information.

The workshop ended and we moved into the Karaoke section of the bar. Robert once again became the star of the evening as he got up to sing 3 songs –following along in perfect rhythm to the monitor’s bouncing ball. I have an odd fondness for Robert’s singing. During the last song he puts the microphone away, grabs three of his deaf friends to be his backup dancers and energetically signs the song while his buddies followed the pounding rhythm. For a moment there was nothing but Robert and the swirling disco lights. No hard park benches, no cops hitting his legs while gesturing for him to move on and no legal battles with landlords. Just Robert being Robert. When I ask him what he will do tomorrow, he licks his finger and sticks it into the air – a simple sign for “whatever the wind blows my way.”

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About Me

Hilari Scarl

Hilari Scarl
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Hilari Scarl is the director/producer of the feature film "See What I'm Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary." This blog is a journey of thoughts about the film.
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An award-winning documentary that follows four well-known entertainers in the deaf community: a comic, a drummer, an actor and a singer as they overcome personal obstacles and celebrate professional landmarks.

Running time: 90 minutes
Rated PG-13

Directed and produced by
Hilari Scarl
© 2010

Available for bookings.
The DVD is now on sale!