“Parenthood” Shoot – Team Braverman
This guest post is by Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. Peter and his wife, Liz, reside in New Jersey with their three children. Their eldest son, Tyler, has autism.
On April 15, when most people were scrambling to file their tax returns, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will hopefully make a profound difference for Autism Speaks and the autism community.
As many people know, the new NBC hit series “Parenthood” has a story line that involves a family coming to grips with their son’s recent diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. For any family that has gone through the experience of having a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, you quickly realize just how easy it is to relate to the Braverman family. The show has beautifully captured the range of emotions our families go through during this difficult time.
So, when the producers of “Parenthood” approached Autism Speaks recently and asked if we would be interested in helping to film a future episode that would include an Autism Speaks Walk, the answer was without reservation “yes, of course!” To add icing on the cake, they also invited us to provide a real person to play the role of the Autism Speaks representative on the stage of the walk – that’s when this became a personal journey for me.
With just a few days notice, I was off to Los Angeles. Lucky for me, my body was still on East Coast time for the 7 a.m. call time. After signing all the necessary paperwork (I think I’m now a member of SAG), I was taken to the make-up trailer. There were about five chairs with make-up artists doing their magic on various actors. My second stroke of luck came when they seated me next to Monica Potter who plays Kristina Braverman, mother of Max.
I was told by some other “autism moms” at Autism Speaks to tell Monica how much they love her performance as the take-no-prisoners mom of Max. I faithfully shared this sentiment as they were removing the curlers from her hair and another make-up person was dabbing my face with something that felt cakey. It was sort of a surreal moment for me but I think she realized that this was the highest form of a compliment one can get, besides an Emmy, of course.
After a quick change into my wardrobe (special walk t-shirt, khaki pants and my own running shoes), it was time to report to the set. The walk venue was set in a community park not far from Century City. Since the series takes place in Berkeley, California, they had to be careful not to have any palm trees in the background. They transported us from the trailers to the set in a van and this is where I met Max Burkholder, the incredible child actor who plays Max Braverman, the young boy with Asperger’s. Naturally he was with his real mom and we enjoyed a nice conversation about his role and how he gets into character. Although his character is only eight years old on the show, he is actually 12 years old.
Once we arrived on the set, I had a chance to meet Peter Krause who plays Adam Braverman, Max’s dad. Fortunately, we connected on many levels. In addition to sharing our common name, we are both dads. Although Peter K does not have a child with autism, it was obvious that he takes great pride in having an eight-year-old son. We talked a lot about autism, what is known scientifically (and not), what’s behind the large increase, how families cope, etc. He was genuinely interested in learning everything he could about the condition and what families go through. I complimented him on his ability to capture the feelings that many dads go through when their sons are first diagnosed. Peter K was remarkably kind and fun to be with for the rest of the day.
Next – rehearsal. Since they were recreating a walk, which often attracts thousands of participants, they brought in more than 200 extras to create the feeling of a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. I was really impressed that they were able to replicate the look and feel of our walks – then again this is Hollywood. After a few run-throughs it was time to “roll film.” Our scene was only about a minute long but we ended up doing it about 15-20 times. They needed to film it from several angles. Each time was a little different which allowed for some creative interpretations in how we delivered our lines. Which take they will use in the final cut is anybody’s guess but the amiable director, Lawrence Trilling, seemed pleased.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this experience was how wonderfully kind the cast and crew were. Each person was truly amazing. They were upbeat, deeply interested in autism, compassionate and energetic. Executive Producer/Writer Jason Katims, who has a teenage son with Asperger Syndrome, was on set for much of the day and really is the creative juice behind the Braverman family’s autism story line. He confers with autism experts who are always on hand to make sure everything is as authentic as possible.
The episode is expected to air in mid-May and is the 12th of 13 episodes this season. The show has not been renewed for the fall yet, so please be sure to watch and tell all your friends and family to tune in. Autism Speaks will provide more information as the air date nears.
As for this dad, I’m back on the East Coast living my own wonderful version of “Parenthood.” I’m thankful that the world is learning more and more about autism spectrum disorders and the joys and challenges it can bring to an entire family via this groundbreaking series.