“My Dad Matthew” Directed by John Schaffer

By Mikel Fair / a few months ago
John Schaffer My Dad Matthew and Elijah WP

Director John Schaffer Goes Beyond Disabilities with the film "My Dad Matthew"

My Dad Matthew, directed by John Schaffer is a 2018 Oregon Documentary Film Festival Official Selection. Above all, this film received a nomination for the Most Inspirational Film Award. Synopsis "This short is a glimpse into the life of Matthew, a man with a significant disability. Voiced by his insightful and articulate son, Elijah. Using a wheelchair, a pointer and a letter board, Matthew shows us he's a college professor. As well as, an honorary coach for the football team, an advocate and a dad."

John Schaffer My Dad Matthew Screenshot WP

Director's Biography: John Schaffer

John Schaffer is a filmmaker that specializes in movies about people with disabilities. His first movie, "Vectors of Autism: a documentary about Laura Nagle." This film has won numerous awards and has played in film festivals across North America. Schaffer brings a unique perspective to his movies. Developed over years of working with people with disabilities and being a friend and advocate. Not only does Schaffer make movies with compelling stories, he makes movies with the message of acceptance and appreciation. Other movies Schaffer has directed are:

  1. "The Shadow Listener: A Voice For Autism" (2016)
  2. "My Hiccups Are Gone" (2016) Feature Length
  3. "My Dad Matthew" (2017)
John Schaffer My Dad Matthew Headshot WP

Director John Schaffer

John Schaffer Director's Statement

I have known Matthew for several years and we had talked about someday making a documentary about his story. When I read that the nonprofit, One Revolution, was looking to fund projects that would "shift disability upside down", I knew it was the time to make our film. Matthew and I both being disability studies professors are very aware of the common media portrayals of people with disabilities so before we even starting rolling we had ideas about what we wanted to show but more importantly what we didn't want to show.

"Our movie neither portrays disability as a tragedy nor sensationalizes it like so many 'inspirational porn' movies."

 Rather, we portray disability, specifically Matthew's life, as simply normal. Having said that, I am very proud that our movies does inspire people, both by giving people with significant disabilities a positive role model, but also by showing people without disabilities that we can be part of the change that opens up doors for everyone. As Elijah, Matthew's son, states in the movie that our perception of disability "comes from our culture... so that means we can change it. We can see people in a different ways."

My Dad Matthew: Inside Look With John Schaffer

  1. Why did you think that the Oregon Documentary Film Festival was a good place to submit and screen your film?  "We knew that there is a strong progressive, curious audience in Portland and we thought our film might resonant with people there."
  2. What is the title of your film and is there any special meaning to the title?  "The title of my movie is "My Dad Matthew". We chose that for 2 reasons. First, the story of Matthew is largely told by his son, Elijah. Second, we wanted to normalize Matthew as just a regular dad, even though he has a significant disability."
  3. Why did you choose to tell this particular story?  "I have made several disability advocacy films and Matthew and I have been colleagues for a long time and we felt his story could shift people's perspective on what people with significant disabilities can accomplish in life."
  4. Did you discover certain story elements during the production of this film that you never expected to find in the planning stages of this project?  "When the NAU football team all greeted Matthew and many of them said they appreciated him, we realized we should emphasize the point that we need to move beyond just acceptance to appreciation of people with disabilities."
  5. What camera(s) did you use to during the production of this film? Discuss any advantages or limitations that you may have run into, from an equipment perspective. "We shot with a Panasonic DVX 200 and a Panasonic GH4. The DVX allowed us ease with recording sound and the GH4 made it easy for monopod and slider shots."

My Dad Matthew: John Schaffer Interview Part 2

  1. Did anything happen during the production of this film that was very interesting, but never made it on camera?  "Not during production but during another film festival the VIP party which they specifically asked if Matthew would be attending so they could find an accessible spot, was not accessible so we had to carry Matthew up 21 stairs to get to the party. We addressed this situation the next day during our Q&A and talked about how physical barriers are bad but can sometimes be easier to overcome than societal barriers like discrimination against people with disabilities."
  2. How did you fund this film? Did you use crowd funding? Do you have pressure to recoup the production costs somehow? "We received a small grant from One Revolution to produce the film."
  3. What kind of audience reaction are you getting to this film? Discuss any Positives or Negatives that you feel comfortable talking about. "The movie has been getting a lot of very positive reactions from the audience and has won 3 awards. We present a different view of disability than people expect. The movie is also so short that we don't bore the audience. People often tell me they are impressed that we packed so much content into 6 minutes."
  4. Do you have plans for a sequel or future film that you are working on?  "Matthew and I would like to make a feature length film where we use his life to show the history of the disability rights movement and where it is today and where we would like to see it go in the future."
  5. You have completed a documentary film, which is a huge achievement. Do you have any advice for a future filmmaker that is about to start a documentary project? Advice that you wish you had been given before you started yours?  "I have learned so much with all my projects (1 feature, 4 shorts) that I can go on and on about the process. The main thing I would say to someone just starting off, make sure you really like the subject you want to highlight and also make sure you have a good idea about how to tell the story. A lot of the actual storytelling with documentaries happen in the editing room, but don't assume if you shot a lot of footage that you will be able to create a great story out of it. Have a plan... but be flexible! Also, constantly seek out opinions in every phase of production. Just because you think an idea is great, doesn't mean an audience will."
About the author

Mikel Fair

My name is Mikel Fair. I am the Director of Film Festival Circuit Inc. First of all, we are a company that manages film festival events in Texas and Oregon. Furthermore, we like to have fun and celebrate independent film. I worked for 15 years in the television and film production as a location sound mixer and production manager. I have also worked in post production as an editor, post sound mixer and composer. Above all, watching independent films and reading creative screenplays is my passion.


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