Filmmaker 5 with Alexander Freeman: My Own Normal

Documentary film My Own Normal, directed by Alexander Freeman, shares his personal story as he navigates fatherhood, relationship, family conflict, and working as a filmmaker while living with cerebral palsy. This autobiographical film take us inside the familiar life of any new father, from the struggles of self doubt to the joy of father-daughter playtime. And it offers an insiders’ view into the life of a person living with a disability who requires assistance with day-to-day living. Most of all it’s a love story, brilliantly told.

Our interview with My Own Normal filmmaker Alexander Freeman follows.

Filmmaker 5.1:  My Own Normal is your personal story and a family story. What was the process like for you to tell your story while also enlisting your family in collaborating on the film?

Filmmaker Alexander Freeman

Creating My Own Normal was an incredibly personal and transformative journey for me. As someone living with cerebral palsy, I’ve always believed that sharing my story could inspire and empower others. The process of telling my story in this documentary was both challenging and rewarding, requiring deep introspection and a willingness to be vulnerable.

One of the most significant aspects of making this film was involving my family. Initially, they were hesitant about being on camera. They felt that certain aspects of our lives should remain private and were concerned about the potential invasion of our family’s personal space. However, they also understood the importance of the film and my passion for this project. They recognized how hard I work and how crucial it was for me to share my journey, not just for myself but for others who might find strength and hope in my story. Despite their reservations, my family rallied behind me. They participated in the filming process, capturing many intimate and candid moments that make the documentary authentic and heartfelt. Their willingness to be filmed and to film parts of the documentary themselves added a layer of sincerity and depth that would have been impossible to achieve otherwise.

Filmmaker 5.2:  You’ve worked with Ryan Egan on prior film projects. How would you describe your collaboration and how important was it for you to bring her into this film, which tells your own story?

Collaborating with Ryan Egan on this documentary has been an incredible journey that has significantly shaped both the film and our friendship. Ryan and I have been working together for years, and over time, we have developed a deep understanding of each other’s creative processes. Her expertise in editing has been invaluable to this project.

Originally, the film we were working on was quite different from My Own Normal. It began as a more issue-driven documentary, focusing on other people with disabilities and was initially titled “Castable,” then later “Indomitable.” The aim was to create an educational film that followed the stories of six different individuals, interweaving their experiences with various facts about disabilities. Ryan dedicated countless hours to going through the footage and crafting these narratives. She would spend weekends meticulously editing, shaping the story bit by bit. Throughout this process, we would frequently review the progress together, discussing changes and refining the content. Despite her incredible efforts, we struggled to find the core story that we wanted to tell. There was a sense that something was missing, and it became clear that we needed to take a different approach.

Eventually, I realized that I wanted the film to not just be my personal story, but also to encompass multiple themes that would resonate with a wider audience. I wanted it to be more than just about disability; I wanted it to be a human story that could touch anyone. This broader vision required a different editorial approach, and Ryan, with her limited availability, couldn’t commit the time needed to fully realize this new direction. At this moment, Kevin S. Bright, one of the executive producers, strongly encouraged me to bring on a new editor who could dedicate the necessary time and achieve this expanded vision. His valuable guidance led me to make the difficult decision to seek additional help. Thanks to my consulting producer, Ariana Garfinkel, and her contacts, I found an incredible editor named Michaelle McGaraghan. Michaelle not only understood my vision but completely rewrote and re-edited the entire film in a few months. We would meet every week on Google Meet to review the most recent cut and discuss changes. This consistent back-and-forth provided the kind of time and collaborative process I needed. Michaelle also challenged me to dig deeper, consider how scenes would come across to the audience, and think more creatively about the narrative. Through this intensive time, Michaelle discovered the theme of water, which gave the story a new dimension and richness. She also found the title My Own Normal as we drilled into the details of my life, capturing the essence of my journey in a way that felt authentic and resonant. Michaelle’s skills, however, were not within our budget. Fortunately, producer Brandon Golden worked to negotiate with Michaelle, ultimately securing her invaluable talent at a reduced rate. Brandon’s efforts were essential in making this collaboration possible and ensuring that the film reached its full potential. 

Filmmaker 5.3:  The film features archival as well as present day footage and photography. What was your creative process in deciding what to keep, what to toss, and what was missing and needed to be added in?

One of the most critical aspects of our collaboration was deciding what to cut out and what to keep from the extensive archive footage and photography we had. Michaelle and I chose to focus on individual moments of togetherness, family, and love. We believed it was essential to show that intimacy, highlighting the genuine, humble aspects of daily life that make my story universally relatable. By concentrating on these intimate moments, we were able to sift through the daily life footage and select the best parts that conveyed the essence of our story.

Filmmaker 5.4:  When your daughter Maya is older and sees this film, what is your wish for her experience?

I think about my daughter Maya and what I want her to understand when she gets older and watches My Own Normal. I faced a lot of resistance from my parents regarding the pregnancy, but Orina and I always wanted Maya and have always tried to do the best for her. My parents acted out of fear to protect me, and I want Maya to understand that. When you love someone, you do whatever you can for them and put them first before yourself. Being a parent means doing the best for your child, even if it means acting out of fear—because that fear stems from love. I also want Maya to grasp that the most important thing in life is to make a statement and help others. I want her to understand that there is no such thing as normal. We have to make our own normal and find our own way in life, regardless of what others say. 

Filmmaker 5.5:  You named your production company Outcast Productions. What does this name mean to you and how does it reflect your creative vision as a writer and producer?

I named my production company Outcast Productions because, throughout my life, I have often been overlooked by people and made to feel like I didn’t matter. This name reflects those experiences and calls attention to the feelings of exclusion that many people face. The purpose of Outcast Productions is to tell the stories of those who are ignored and to foster greater understanding and empathy. Outcast Productions is dedicated to highlighting the lives and experiences of people who are often marginalized. By sharing these stories, I hope to encourage moral lessons and inspire others to see the value in every individual, regardless of their circumstances. It’s about giving a voice to the voiceless and ensuring that everyone feels seen and heard. Through our work, we aim to promote a deeper understanding of diverse human experiences and challenge the preconceived notions that lead to exclusion. Outcast Productions is not just a name; it’s a mission to create a more inclusive and compassionate world, one story at a time.

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Watch the My Own Normal trailer

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