Filmmakers Neil Hilken and Thomas Ireton (Production – B.A. ’14), now alums, reflect on collaborating with four LMU senior engineering students as they embarked on a project to create an assistive stander for a young boy. We hope Jack’s story, portrayed in Hilken and Ireton’s film I Am Standing, will inspire within you the spirit of community and the power of giving during this holiday season.
Jack is an awesome kid. How did you discover his story? Since the time the two of us started collaborating, we knew we were interested in creating socially-conscious projects. Our first collaboration together was creating a short public service announcement for Participant Media called What If?, which focused on hunger in America. During that project was when we first worked with Senior Screenwriting Professor Marilyn Beker. Knowing our passion for telling meaningful stories, Professor Beker connected us with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Matthew Siniawski, Ph.D. in Seaver College of Science and Engineering later that year. He had a team of engineering students in his class who had chosen to build this assistive stander for Jack as their senior project. Thankfully, Dr. Siniawski thought it was a story that needed to be told and sought out a collaboration with the School of Film and Television. We are very honored that he entrusted us with the task of sharing this story with the world through film. This project brought so many amazing people together to create something meaningful and hopefully the film will inspire others to do the same.
Was the film developed in collaboration with LMU’s engineering students? Or were you more like a fly on the wall? The engineering students, Dr. Siniawski, and his mechanical engineering colleague, Professor Nader Saniei, Ph.D. were all involved in our creative meetings. We discussed the importance of telling Jack’s story and how we should approach the direction of the film. The engineering students felt it was very important to show how this assistive stander would truly make Jack’s life better, and we did our best to create a path for the film that reflects that. As film majors, there is little to no crossover between the engineering curriculum and film curriculum, so at first we were unsure how our lack of engineering knowledge would impact the film production process. However, as the project started moving along, we learned quite a bit and were quickly able to wrap our heads around what it takes to design and create a physical product. Our contrasting knowledge and skill sets with the engineering students helped us work as a team and since there was a constant exchange of dialogue between us, we were able to work effectively to make both the film and the stander a reality.
Did you find it discouraging that assisted standers were not covered under Jack’s health insurance? It was very discouraging. Well-designed devices like this are hard to come by and are very expensive. Without the help of insurance, many families like Jack’s will not be able to afford this assistive technology and will have to overcome their challenges in a different, potentially more difficult way. However, thanks to the generous support of schools like LMU, projects like this can be explored and developed much quicker at a cost-effective price that more people can afford. After the stander was completed, LMU went even further with their support and gave the stander to Jack and his family as a gift. We hope that through this documentary more projects like this can get off the ground inspiring others to give back to the community.
How will Jack’s overall quality of life change as a result of his having his very own customized assisted stander? Jack’s mother, Ivey, says that the assistive stander will change Jack’s life completely. Anywhere there is a solid table surface that the stander can attach to, Jack can go, stand, and strengthen his leg muscles and motor skills so that hopefully one day he can live assistive device free! The stander really opens up a whole new world for Jack to explore, because he doesn’t have to lug around a heavy, bulky stander on wheels like he was using before. It is exciting to see how positively Jack received the assistive stander. After months and months of patiently waiting, Jack was ecstatic when the engineering students presented the stander to him for the first time and allowed him to try it out. Now, six months after the stander was completed, Ivey tells us that the device is used everyday, Jack feels very comfortable in it, and their family wouldn’t know what to do without it.
Why are you proud of this film? We are incredibly proud of this film, not only because we were successful with the first collaboration between the School of Film and Television and the College of Science and Engineering, but also because we were able to embody our school’s mission statement of promoting justice and being men and women for others. How much better can it get than that? We want to challenge LMU to create more opportunities for collaboration between the different schools and colleges as well as figure out a way to make a project like this part of every student’s curriculum. We feel this hands-on collaboration between students of diversified skill-sets is invaluable and where the future of education lies. It allows real-world problems to be tackled in real-time, creating an environment for quicker learning and more fun for the students. The mechanical engineering department and students were great to work with and we really wish we had done more projects like this throughout college. We also feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Jack and his family. They were incredible to work with and are an inspiration to us as we continue to tell many more socially-conscious and meaningful stories through our future projects.
I Am Standing (2014, 9:29 mins)
DIR Thomas Ireton, Neil Hilken
PROD Thomas Ireton
CAM Neil Hilken
ED Kristen Valdez, Neil Hilken