La Cañada resident Katherine Beattie knows firsthand how hard it is to build a successful career in the film and TV industry. As a script coordinator for the Showtime hit "Californication," the 26-year-old writer has had many jobs that require long days on the set, make grueling demands and require a lot of running back and forth.
But the fact that Beattie lives with cerebral palsy, a condition affecting balance and motor skills, means she's had to work twice as hard as most people to get where she is today. She understands how hard it is for actors who live with disabilities to break into the Hollywood scene.
"Hollywood has made some strides in the past couple years," Beattie said of the industry's attitude toward hiring and casting people with disabilities. "But it's still way behind the curve, and far behind where we'd like to see it."
Tired of waiting for a multibillion-dollar ship to change its course, Beattie, with a group of actors, directors and would-be producers who all are either living with disabilities or supporting someone who does, decided to take matters into their own hands.
Under the direction of Executive Producer Tiffany Giddes, the group created an action film titled "Collision." They hope it will not only entertain audiences, but go down in history as the first film to portray two female lead characters in wheelchairs.
"What we're doing with our no-holds-barred stunts, I think it's really going to open people's eyes," said Giddes, who was in a car accident that damaged her spinal cord exactly 10 years ago this Friday.
As an actor, Giddes knows directors are reluctant to cast people with disabilities in roles written for able-bodied characters. The misconception that they are fragile or cannot take the pressure of a full day's work means actors like her remain relegated to minor roles.
"I got tired of being the girl in the background or the girl who sits behind a desk," Giddes said. "If they're not going to come to me, I'm going to make the kind of movie I want to make."
"Collision" portrays an ambitious young woman, Jessica, whose life is changed forever by a drunk driver. While in rehab, Jessica meets Charlie, an assassin who takes her under her wing as she prepares to reap vengeance on the man who left her to die.
Although the topic of disability will be a thread throughout the film, "Collision" is about vengeance, friendships and growth and is meant to entertain, Beattie said.
"My goal as a writer was to just make an awesome film everyone could relate to and show characters people would want to be," added Beattie, who is also a producer on the film. "It's not to have people talk about this and say, 'Oh look, these actresses in wheelchairs are so great.' They are great, but because they're great actors, not because they're in wheelchairs."
Both Beattie and Giddes, who portrays Jessica, emphasize that the lead characters aren't anyone's pity case — they are a pair of tough chicks with a take-no-prisoners attitude. They have to be.
"Anyone who's lived with a spinal cord injury is tough," Giddes declared. "To live not being able to walk, that makes you a bad ass."
With cast members now in place, the group hopes to begin shooting in July and have final editing done sometime in August. Alexis Ostrander will direct the film, and actress Teal Sherer will portray Charlie.
"Collision" will be taken around the film festival circuit, where the production team hopes audience interest in a fresh take on action-packed vengeance films, like the Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" series, will help turn the film into a feature-length movie or TV series.
The group is seeking donations to raise funds for the project through the website kickstart.com, where people can support the movie with donations in exchange for Facebook shout outs, on-screen credits, lunch with the cast and invitations to the premier.
So far, the response has been encouraging. Giddes said she recently received an email from the mother of a 7-year-old girl paralyzed by a hit-and-run driver. The woman thanked the group for creating powerful female role models who not only were living with disabilities, but were thriving.
Despite the good feedback so far, "Collision" still needs the patronage of people who believe in the cause if it is to take off, Giddes said. The pitch?
"This is the first time in history a film like this has ever been made," she said. "If you want to be a history-maker and a rule-breaker, if you want to be a bad ass—this is your time to shine."
For more information on "Collision" or to donate to the project, visit www.facebook.com/collisionthemovie or email email@example.com.