If you want the truth, here it is. I’m really not an inspiration. I’m just an average guy from the Midwest, trying to make his dream a reality. What some call tenacity is really my stubborn Polish nature – a gift from my father that has ensured that my drive to succeed has not waivered. Sure, I’ve faced challenges, but who hasn’t? Mine just happen to be of a physical nature.
My name is Dominick Evans. I’m 32 years old and I’m a filmmaker currently living in Dayton, Ohio. I also happen to be a senior in the award-winning Motion Pictures Production program at Wright State University. The WSU program is not as well known as other programs around the country, but in the industry, it has a good reputation. Our claim to fame, right now, is that we’ve been endorsed by Tom Hanks, and our instructors Steve Bognar and Julia Reichart are Academy-Award nominated, Emmy winning filmmakers.
This program is the hardest program at Wright State. It’s physically exhausting, demanding and truthfully, most people quit. I remember our first Motion Pictures class – MP 131, had at least 100 people. As a senior, I’m one of eight. Not only do people quit, by the end of freshman and sophomore years, the faculty hold interview meetings where they view and discuss your work and your career goals. After the meetings, they cut a certain amount of students. By junior year, if you’re in the program, the only way out is to quit, of your own accord, but junior year is, by far, the hardest year.
By senior year, you’ve been through the rigors of making a film, and can call yourself a bona fide filmmaker. I set out to make something that mattered from the moment I entered the program. You see, I also happen to be in a wheelchair. I have a physical disability known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. SMA is a degenerative muscle disease that progresses to where the muscles, particularly in my legs, arms and hands, have trouble functioning. I walked until I was 16 and I generally have help with all my ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), such as getting dressed and showering.
I knew, when I entered the program that I would have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. That’s the truth of living with a disability in today’s society. People assume you are incompetent, incapable, child-like or even non-functioning. I fought hard to get through the WSU program, because I had always dreamed of being involved in film. While the faculty was supportive, I had little to no support from my peers. I don’t blame them. Most of them were kids when we started, freshman year. A few were just 18 and I doubt they even knew anyone in a wheelchair.
It is commonplace to dismiss anyone with a physical disability, in general, and here I was demanding to be a part of this highly competitive film program. With film being such a collaborative effort, it was lonely at times, feeling left out. When people don’t see what value you have, being left out of helping them since they have no idea how you can help, they really don’t seek out the opportunity to help you, either. So, I got through my first year, on my own. Well, except for Ashtyn.
Ashtyn is my girlfriend. We’re practically an old married couple. We’re about to hit 11 years of being together next month. We’re also best friends and business partners. Ashtyn is a writer. She writes the scripts and I bring them to life. Since I’m physically incapable of holding a camera or lifting an ARRI lighting kit, Ashtyn spent most of my first three years being my hands and arms. I also caught the attention of three upper class students who found me interesting. Brock, Kyle and Megan helped me through my sophomore year, by physically helping to shoot my vision and light my projects.
My tenacity to get through the program was largely due to the fact that this was my second attempt to finish college. The first time ended poorly. Just a year before I received a degree in Theatre (I spent 20 years acting, so I thought I wanted to be in front of a camera – who knew I’d make a better director?) I fell out of my shower chair and fractured my tibia. Being in a wheelchair already, I was told I had two options. I could stay in bed and let it heal or have surgery and be stuck in bed for possibly even longer. I chose the first option, which meant I had to quit school and move to Michigan, to a house Ashtyn shared with her mother.
I had no idea that my muscles would revolt at being stuck in bed. I was in so much pain I ended up in bed on and off for five years. Finally, one day, I was tired of being stuck at home all the time. I was getting older and wanted to actually have a life I enjoyed. After months of physical therapy and a lot of pain medication, I got myself out of bed, down to Dayton, Ohio and entered the film program. I was a man on a mission.
Every day I had to take medication to get up, but every day, I did just that. I still struggle with pain regularly, but I refuse to let it dictate my life any more. I have so much more to share, and I plan to share it through film. Last year, I had to have routine surgery in June and my doctor screwed up. He left a blood vessel open and I ended up bleeding out. By the time it was discovered, I was hemorrhaging and had to have surgery to patch it up. I would have died had they not gotten me into the hospital when they did. I ended up needing three other surgeries to fix the problem and another issue they discovered while I was in the hospital. By August, I made sure I was back in school.
In October of 2012, I had surgery on a Saturday and went to class on the following Monday. I am determined to not let anything stop me! Luckily, in spite of these setbacks, I am relatively healthy and would never do anything to jeopardize my health, but I also have never been one to sit back and wallow in self-pity. The truth is, we all have challenges. Mine just appear to be more visible because they take on physical characteristics. I honestly feel very lucky to have had the amazing opportunities I’ve had, and the most amazing to date, has been filming ‘Trip’.
‘Trip’ is my Junior Thesis project. I hate to call it a student film, because I have always tried to look beyond being a student to just be a filmmaker. I set out to film ‘Trip’ like any other person would film a short film. Ashtyn and I discussed the concept. I wrote the outline, she wrote the script. We went through months of critiques. In junior year, that’s what we do. At the end, three scripts were chosen and mine was one of them. Not only that, but the entire class agreed to let me film it on my own. While technically no film is done on one’s own, what I mean is typically junior films allow a few students to collaborate. They share the cost of making it and the glory. To my knowledge, I am the first to not have to make their project with other juniors. I was able to choose my entire crew. My cinematographer was Kyle Wilkinson, a WSU grad, and my crew was made up of a mix of grads and current students of the program.
Ashtyn produced ‘Trip’ with my friend, Kasey Beggs. Kasey should have been the first person with a physical disability to graduate with a production BFA degree from WSU. Instead, she graduated with a BA in theory. Like me, her peers were not big on collaborating with her. She didn’t have an Ashtyn and had no choice but to quit, right before junior year. Instead, this year, it will be me. The first person in a wheelchair to get their BFA, I graduate for all the others who came before me, who didn’t have the support I did to make it through. I graduate with the hope film programs will open their doors and hearts to filmmakers with disabilities. We ARE just as capable and will work our butts off to prove it!
‘Trip’ is a hedonistic relationship drama about a teen mother, Casey (Sarah Jordan) who must choose between a life of pleasure, sex and drugs, with her boyfriend, Gavin (Jay Taylor), or moving on to a better life with her three year old son, Jack (Channing Sebetich). Casey displays her sexuality openly and freely. She is unashamed of her desire to want and have sex, but when her relationship is interfering with her ability to provide a better life for her son, she has a difficult decision to make.
Ashtyn, Kyle and I are going to New York for professional color correction and audio editing. Once that is done we will submit ‘Trip’ to festivals. My cast and crew have worked so hard to bring our vision to life. It’s a beautiful project I am so pleased to have help created. I couldn’t have asked for a better “first” film and I believe others will agree it is as good as I believe it is. Unfortunately, film is so expensive. We need your help to cover the costs of color correction and editing. Our Kickstarter is ending soon, so if you have a little bit to give, it would mean the world to me. You can check the video out below. If you like what you see, please consider donating and pass the link on to others! With your help our dreams for ‘Trip’ will become a reality!
I have made it my life’s mission to represent marginalized populations through the films I direct and the advocacy work I’ve done. From teen mothers to lesbians in the 1960s (the topic of my senior thesis film) the films in my repertoire explore topics not generally discussed in most mainstream films. I tell the stories of those whose story might not be told otherwise. I know how that is, first hand. When I was growing up there were no actors or directors in wheelchairs, so if my story of directing films can convince one kid in a wheelchair to follow their dreams then my life is a success.
No, I am not an inspiration. I am a filmmaker. As long as you know and believe I am just as capable as everyone else, most of us in wheelchairs are, then that is all I ask. So, maybe things take a little longer for me to accomplish. It doesn’t matter when you start the race, as long as you finish it. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to making films, my race has just begun!
Dominick Evans started out his career as an actor and singer. He studied acting at the Toledo Franciscan Life Center, Bowling Green State University, Wright State University and the University of Michigan (Flint campus). He has been training vocally since 1990, with a variety of teachers including Lola Smith, Lance Ashmore, Rick Church, and Lee Merrill Hapner. Dominick has performed on the radio, television, with the Toledo Opera Youth and in a variety of shows including ‘Joseph and the Amazing Techncolor Dreamcoat’ as the Narrator, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, and ‘The Normal Heart’ as Dr. Brookner. He also was the ‘Makeup Artist’ in the mockumentary, ‘The Making Of…’ directed by Behn Fannin. In 2010, Dominick started film school in the award-winning Wright State film program. He navigated through the competitive program, and was selected as 1 of 3 to make their junior thesis projects into a short film. The result of that project is ‘Trip’. Dominick has made a series of short shorts including a film about homophobia, ‘Forbidden Fate’, a dark comedy exploring a day in the life of a person with a physical disability, ‘A Day in the Life’, a family’s struggle to accept their transgender son in ‘Coming Home’ and ‘The Boxer’, an audio documentary about his grandfather, Willis Ryan’s amateur boxing career. Dominick is currently in pre-production on his senior thesis film, ‘Inamorata’, a 1960s drama about a lesbian couple that must endure love, loss and betrayal. Dominick’s desire is to make existential dramas and fantasy films that explore the lives and desires of marginalized populations. He lives in Centerville, OH with his longtime girlfriend, Ashtyn, their teenage son, and their shih-tzu, Molly Mae. You can learn more about Trip at Tripshortfilm.com.