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130: Challenging Stereotypes: The Power of Inclusion Supporting Children's Passions- Dan W.



Jey (00:21.672)

Hello, hello, hello. Welcome everyone. Whether you're on the floor with a changing pad, changing some diapers, outside grilling, or even mowing the lawn, welcome to the Young Dad podcast. I'm your host Jay, and today we have an incredible guest with us. Dan. Dan is a documentary filmmaker and a recent Emmy nominee. Dan, how are we doing today?


dan watt (00:44.739)

I'm doing great. I'm doing good. So thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.


Jey (00:49.192)

Of course, I'm so excited for the conversation we're going to have today. But before we get into that, just right here at the top of the show is where I take care of all the boring business stuff. If you haven't heard me talk about them, if you haven't seen me wearing these brands, if you don't keep up with me on Instagram, then you're probably missing out on Forefathers. What Forefathers is, Forefathers Apparel, they set out to create dad clothing that is above and beyond so that it could keep up with dads who go above and beyond.


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with the code YoungDad, you save 20 % on your entire purchase and you massively help out the podcast tremendously. And you can find that down in the description of this episode and on all social media with that little link in my bio kind of thing as the kids say. So a little about Dan. Like I said at the top, he's a documentary filmmaker and a recent Emmy nominee. After five years in film development at Columbia Pictures and five years working at Syco, S -Y -C -O,


Simon Cowell's production company, Dan decided to focus on stories exploring the human experience, humanity, spirituality, and social issues. He is the producer and director of the award -winning documentary, Everybody Dance, currently on iTunes, Apple TV, and free on Amazon Prime. So if you have one of those, and I guarantee you probably do, you can check it out for free on Amazon Prime. 99 % of us have Amazon Prime.


Dan, he was also the producer of the award -winning film, The Center. Gibbons and Guardians featuring Jane Goodall. You're currently in production of a docu -serie titled Women of Dance, an untitled documentary with Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner producer, Daryl Roth. So, Dan, welcome to the show. Please tell us a little bit more about Everybody Dance, why it's a must watch, why we should watch it. I know why I watched it, but...


Jey (03:12.744)

Tell us a little bit more about it, the story behind it, and just kind of how it all came to life.


dan watt (03:19.523)

Okay, well, everybody dance. I follow five kids with different disabilities and their families on their journey through life and towards their dance recital. It was a 10 month journey. I don't want the audience to get afraid. It is not a dance movie. The dance studio is the common bond of all these kids and it brought them together.


but it's a story of determination, dedication, confidence, and a community where they feel, they all feel they fit in. Where in, like one of the kids in the story, in the movie says, he didn't feel he felt he fit in at school.


And he actually told his mom that story. So that's a touching moment. And at the studio, because they're surrounded with like -minded people and everybody's, everybody is there to study dance. They all, it's just one big happy family. So it's just how, how the arts are great equalizer and wipes away everything.


And we're all we're all equal when we walk in whenever in the movie, it's a dance. It's a dance studio, but it can be acting. It can be singing. It can be public speaking. You know, there's all the we all walk in with a little bit of nervousness and, you know, and we get better and better as we go. And that's what this journey shows. It shows how they they've taken the the discipline and the repetitiveness of.


dance and doing the same warm up over and over and how they took all those tools that they were taught and how they could apply them in everyday life. So it the parents were so welcoming to me and and willing to share their stories on how they were able to adjust. But I think it's good. You know, you saw it. It's good. I think any parent can learn from this if you learn with repetition and, you know, yeah.


dan watt (05:30.307)

one of the kids might have autism. So it might take four weeks longer than somebody else, but so what? It's just do, it's repeating the same patterns and same activities to get them to learn something, which to me is just a general observation in life, you know, in general.


Jey (05:52.584)

I love that. I love that. And it's so good for portraying that. But within this, how did it even get started? Where did you pick up on the story? Where did you hear about the story? What was your first interaction? Like what's kind of the... For some reason, I want to say ethos, but what's like, that's not the right word, but what's like the story behind the story? How did you come across these group of individuals?


and have this idea to create this docu - documentary about this topic. Like what drove, what was the drivers behind that?


dan watt (06:29.507)

Well, I did not know what my, what the specific movie was going to be when I started out on this journey. I wanted to tell a story kind of recapping what I just said, how if you studied the arts, did your mom, when you were younger, make you take piano lessons and you didn't become a pianist, but how did that help you now as an adult? If you were in drama class, did that help you now you're running for city council so you know how to.


speak in front of people. So that was my generic, my big view of how the arts can help everyone and how important they are in arts matter. So that was my initial goal. And then what happened was, well, first I used to be a dancer, so we'll start there. And then I went from dancing in two dance companies to then teaching and then choreographing.


shows and then producing shows on Broadway. So when I was a teacher, I taught two girls that had autism, but I haven't thought about them. That was, you know, 18 years ago. And I had a dream about Fran and her two daughters. And I thought, wow, why am I dreaming about Fran? You know, where did that come from? And I didn't give it any more thought. And then I had the dream a couple of weeks later. And I believe


that there is a higher power out there. And I believe if we're open to it, message, we are told and given clues like this. And I thought, this is my God poking me saying, this is your movie. I am telling you how to get in to your movie. It's exactly what you wanna say, how the arts can be applied in everyday life, but you're gonna go through this. And I thought, well.


I'm going to trust my instincts and I'm going to trust that dream because I don't dream that much. And I thought, let's look into it. And I just started researching places all across America, conservatories, colleges, small studios. And then I just happened to find Bonnie and her studio is called Ballet for All Kids. And it just happens to be in the valley north of me in Los Angeles.


dan watt (08:44.803)

And I tried to avoid Hollywood. I thought there's going to be nothing like this in Hollywood. Everyone in Hollywood is going to be taking dance to get in the next, you know, the next video. You know, they want to be with, you know, what I'm dating myself. They want to be dancing with Britney Spears or Janet Jackson or, you know, right. Exactly. So. Right. And they're going to be so focused on that, that I would never find anything like this. And after all that research, I found out, here it is.


Jey (09:01.448)

Yeah, they want to be in the next like step -up movie or the next big dance movie kind of thing.


dan watt (09:14.339)

just, you know, two hours away from me. So I reached out to her and it took a while. We had some conversations and I wanted to make sure that I did it right. And because I'm I'm neurotypical, so I don't have autism or I don't have cerebral palsy or anything in any of those fields. So I but I wanted to make sure that the story was told right. So.


I'm hoping that as you watched it, you saw this is, these are these kids and these parents telling their stories in their words. So as a filmmaker, I wanted to, I wanted to be a fly on the wall. And I think the director, Morgan Spurlock, a renowned documentary filmmaker who just died a couple of weeks ago was my mentor. And he said, Dan,


This that no one else can tell this movie. You have done everything you have taught dance. You have put on recitals. You have so you know every aspect of this film. This is meant for you. He said, go for it. So. I did, you know, and I think my. My past. Everything lined up and came together.


And I think one thing that I, when I speak at colleges and stuff like that, sometimes they, I get called to do talks like that or on podcasts and stuff more like positive affirmation and stuff. I always want people to believe and trust that every job you get, especially in like me in the entertainment world, my career has gone everywhere. That trust the job that you have now, you are going to learn something from it. And it is a stepping stone to your, to your next job.


And then that is the stepping stone to your next job. You might not realize it now, but it is leading you somewhere and just accept that. And life is kind of easier that way. If you just go, okay, this is where I'm supposed to be right now. And I tend to live my life that way. So yeah, that's what happened. And I got, I met with the parents a few times and told them how I wanted to film it, that they, it,


dan watt (11:35.875)

I wanted to learn from them. I wanted them to teach me something and then hopefully through the movie, other people will also learn. It's an insight into a world that most of us don't get to see.


Jey (11:49.96)

Absolutely. And there are a couple of things I want to recap and hit on there. The first is the spiritual aspect of it. When you're intentional about certain things in your life, whatever it may be, whether it's about finding purpose, finding direction, finding love, finding the next job, finding your next opportunity, finding...


your next whatever it might be, finding the right deal, finding the right apartment, finding them right, all the things, right? Those things come in their due time, but they come in the timing that they're supposed to come and the ways that they come. And so if you're being intentional and you're paying attention, because it's not just going to be like a whole clear picture kind of thing, it's going to be a breadcrumb trail to get you there. And you have to kind of just follow the breadcrumbs until it leads you to where you're supposed to keep going.


asking more questions, talking to people, giving those thoughts that can't leave your head. Okay. Exploring those thoughts, thinking about them deeper, thinking, okay, why did this happen? Why can't I stop thinking about it? Why can't I give it up? Why can't I move on kind of thing? Cause those things that you get fixated on that get stuck in your head, it's not a coincidence.


At least I don't believe that it's a coincidence that these things happen in the direction and the order that they happen in. It's like breadcrumb trails, being close to buildings. Like, let's say you're at a certain spot and you could be looking for a job. And then you look over at that building and you ask your buddy or your friend who you're with, you're like, Hey, what is that place over there? It's like, it's so and so it's this building. I didn't even know that exists. Yeah, that's new kind of thing. And you're like, huh.


That's interesting because that's the field I'm looking for a job. That's a place they're new. They're probably looking kind of thing. And then bada boom, bada bing, it's a match made in heaven kind of thing. So it's really cool how that, you know, there's that aspect to all this. But the other part I wanted to hit on here is how important it is to not just have those stories told of parents who have special needs children, but fully letting them.


Jey (14:05.864)

tell the story, fully letting them be in control of the story because no one can tell it better than the parent of the children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, the struggles that they go through every single day because that's a hard task in itself. Having neurotypical children, we'll never understand what that's like kind of thing. We'll never, I'll never know, or at least I hope and pray,


that I'll never know like what that's like, how difficult that could be, what that commitment, what that time and effort takes. I see friends who are going through that, not going through it, but are blessed enough beyond what I am to how I like to see it is, and they're blessed with those special children because they're special people and they're blessed with them. But just the struggles that they go through on a daily basis, where I saw a video of a friend of mine, she posted,


that, video of her and her husband crying and hugging because they finally got accepted onto state insurance for the autistic son kind of thing. There's a big moment, lots of doors open when you're on the state insurance. which is a weird political thing in itself, which we don't have to get into cause that's just, it's absolutely wrong that, you know, yeah, that's a different one. I would, I'll, I'll talk on that one. Cause there's some issues there.


dan watt (15:23.299)

Exactly. Yeah. That's a different documentary.


Jey (15:35.4)

limiting access and things like that. But that's the cool thing about this because I was in theater in middle school and throughout high school while also doing sports, while also doing leadership and other extra, I did so many extracurriculars in high school. It was crazy. same in college, I did improv and things like that. And you know, those skills that I've taken from those things have really helped me down into my career.


to be able to have that repetition or to be able to think on my feet or to be able to memorize like a set of like lines or script or something I was supposed to say and then regurgitate it in a certain way with a certain manner and to add emotion into things or to take emotion away from things or to express things a certain way through words and body language and things like that that I can see on other people kind of subconsciously. I work in mental health now, so it's become more and more subconscious.


being able to see or not see those things. So it's really, it's interesting and it's so important, especially for children who have special needs and are on the different spectrums and have the different disorders and things like that, that they have these foundational skills. And it's not something that you can just teach. It has to be learned in a controlled environment where they feel comfortable learning it.


dan watt (16:55.075)

Yeah, I agree. And I think that that the the parents being around these kids every weekend for 10 months taught me so much and it taught me.


And I think the parents would agree is that it is you learn so much about yourself also so that you do see the blessings, you see the similarities, you learn from, you'll learn different. Every child will teach us something no matter what. If you have a kid, I now have a, you know,


an 11th month old grandson who, you know, every week I go over there, you know, you're learning something new. You're learning how, you know, how to react, you know, catch him when he, you know, watch what he's going to do next and all that kind of stuff and his smile and stuff. So I think they're time management is just different for it, for everybody. And you just kind of have to adjust.


to whatever your child is giving you. And that doesn't mean that it has to do with autism or not, is that parents that just need to learn or just how to adjust to what's in front of them. And we all do. And I think that's the one thing that I can take away, I took away from this movie is that we all have obstacles that are in front of us at the moment. It's called life. And we just have to learn how to maneuver.


and steer through that life and everybody's experience and everybody's walls that are put up, everything is gonna be different that's put up in front of us. And we just have to learn to maneuver around it and make it work. And that's just what we do. And I think...


dan watt (19:02.499)

There was a huge turning point for me while I was filming and it was about month four. I was at Target and it was in December and it was before Christmas and I had been filming for like four months and I had some last minute Christmas shopping to do, stocking stuffers and stuff and I walked down one of the aisles and there was a little girl having a tantrum on the floor and as I walked by I thought, I wonder if she's on the spectrum and I just kept shopping and I didn't give it another thought.


And when I got in my car...


I started to cry and I thought, my gosh, that switch in my brain had flipped. I didn't go, what a rotten kid. What a horrible parent. Why aren't they handling this? Why aren't they stopping this? Why aren't they, you know, getting the situation under hand? I don't know what their, what their story is, but my first thought was, I wonder if she's on the spectrum. And I just kept going.


So I'm hoping that the movie can do that for others. When you're exposed and you get to see the similarities and the differences, you think different. And my entire outlook and perspective changed from that point on. And I'm glad because then when I went back to film, we were doing more of the intimate scenes with the parents at home and stuff like that. So it gave me some more insight to, you know,


And that's when, like when the little boy says he doesn't feel comfortable at regular school, but he does at ballet class, I was able to sit back and ask him a few questions. And, you know, we had been there for two hours and he finally got comfortable and started talking. But then to be able to just step back and let him talk. And he shared this brilliant moment that he didn't even share with his parents. And we just happened to be there.


dan watt (21:03.427)

You know, and I think if we just as adults and his parents just and grandparents look at that and just observe, we can learn so much from each other. Like listening to your podcast, which is why I'm here, because I listen to it.


Jey (21:04.52)

Mm -hmm.


Jey (21:20.808)

shucks, no, you beat me. You must've been like on the same neuro path, translating thing that I was on. Cause the next place I wanted to go where what were some of those things that you learned throughout this process. And I think that's a very important one. That moment in target. That's, you know, you losing your bias, losing your pre that's losing your bias, losing your preconceived judgment.


losing the stereotypes and gaining empathy rather than just having sympathy like, man, I know kids are terrible. Kids are the worst, right? Versus like, I wonder if there's something actually wrong with her. No. Well, okay, that sounded wrong. I wonder if there's like something more going on that I just don't know kind of thing.


dan watt (22:07.779)

Yeah, we don't know. We don't know did you know, did the girl pinch her her finger in the cart? We don't you know, we don't know the entire story that led to that that three seconds that I happened to walk by. You know, there's there's so much that that led up to it. And I think when you said stereotypes, that's a that's a key word, I think. And I think that society labels people in.


Jey (22:16.808)

Mm -hmm.


Jey (22:21.)

Exactly.


dan watt (22:34.243)