Ask Michael Bledstein to name a favorite movie and he reels off his top-10 picks — in alphabetical order.
“I just love every decade and genre in cinema,” said the 27-year-old Burbank resident.
It is an uncanny ability that has served Bledstein, who has Asperger’s syndrome, well as he pursues his dream of becoming a film editor at Video Symphony, a Burbank-based production school that prepares students for careers in media and entertainment.
And it is one that he might not have shared with a stranger even just 18 months ago, before a collaborative effort by members of his support cadre to provide him with the structure and tools needed to thrive in an academic and professional setting.
“He has really blossomed here,” said Keri Giddens, a coordinator with Tierra Del Sol, a Sunland-based organization that serves special-needs clients. “Many parents of children with autism come in and they think there is nothing in this world for [their] child, or it has to be special to autism. Here, Michael has come into a place that is for the general public and he is doing wonderful.”
Bledstein’s early weeks at Video Symphony were filled with social land mines — he struggled to communicate directly with the school’s staff, relying instead on Giddens to speak on his behalf. Further, he hesitated to interact with fellow students, spending the lunch hour by himself.
Spurred by his interest in the curriculum, Bledstein stretched himself, working to improve social skills required in his chosen field. He even subjected himself to a mini-make-over, letting Giddens taking him shopping for clothes appropriate for a hip film editor, including a pair of Converse tennis shoes.
Months later, he looks as comfortable as any of the other 20-something artistic types moving through the halls of Video Symphony.
“Because he had the motivation of something he has a passion for, he has made all this positive change in his life,” Giddens said. “He will go up and talk to people, he works on social skills outside of the school. He is really phenomenal.”
Not the least of his recent accomplishments are his editing skills – last month Bledstein beat out a dozen fellow classmates to win the top prize in a video editing contest sponsored by Video Symphony and Road Angeles, a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating drunk driving.
“I changed my mind about where I wanted it to go nearly everyday, even the day before it was due I threw in an introduction at the last minute,” Bledstein said.
The win was well deserved, his teachers said.
“What I noticed that is different about his cut as opposed to the other cuts is he tells more of a story, which in editing is everything,” said Kurt Mason, a Video Symphony staff member who developed the contest. “He dug into the footage a little deeper.”
Bledstein is moving closer to a completely independent lifestyle – he already has own apartment in downtown Burbank. And now he has his sights set on editing film professionally, a job suited for someone with his personality and skill set, members of his support system said.
It has been a joy to watch her son take his passion for film and transform it into a marketable skills, his mother Linda Fried said.
“I am just really glad that Michael has come a long way and that he is doing so well, it makes me really happy,” Fried said.