Learning to Drive

Willcox, Arizona | Film Short

Comedy, Drama

Green Light

This campaign raised $8,716 for production phase 2. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

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Michael, a feisty young man with Down syndrome hits the road with his scatterbrained brother Red to deliver their mother's ashes to the Grand Canyon. A mysterious event sidetracks Red into a new trajectory while Michael struggles to convince him to teach him how to drive. A road movie like no other!

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About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
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  • The Team
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The Story

     To get straight to the point my brother Andy, 8 years my junior is a homie with an extra chromie, aka he has Down syndrome.

     When our mother found herself on the wrong end of a cancer diagnosis and moved on to more peaceful environs, Andy moved in with my small, young family. Among his other untiring demands my then teenage brother repeatedly begged me to teach him how to drive. I would generally respond with some noncommittal mumbling that implied agreement, but behind which was zero intent. I was so consumed with my own fears for his future that I failed to see the purpose of teaching him how to drive when I was sure driving would not be a part of his daily life. Further, I assumed that there were laws in place automatically excluding him from that group of citizens privileged with the honor of a driver’s license. Maybe I thought part of the MVD application read - “Check here [] if the applicant has Down syndrome: do not proceed to the counter as you are not allowed to have a driver’s license.”

     When one of Andy’s advocates pointed out to me that no such absurd law existed, I suddenly realized that the only one keeping him from enjoying the freedom of automotive navigation was me! I felt like an actual tool. With a friend videotaping the event, we piled into our family minivan (this was the 90’s you know) to a sparsely traveled byway and proceeded to educate him in the ways of P-R-N and D. To be honest, he did pretty darn well and we have proof! The reality is, Andy’s coordination, reading and decision-making skills aren’t quite up to the level of making routine, licensed driving a reality for him, but at least he’s gotten to experience the thrill of getting behind the wheel and maneuvering down the road like most of the rest of us.


     Following is a video we edited together back in the 90's to introduce Andy to new residential support staff that came to work with him. This includes said aforementioned 'driving lessons'! :-D


     When my mistaken beliefs were laid bare, I thought “Surely I’m not alone in my ignorance!”, and a screenplay began to blossom. In 1998 I copyrighted my first draft of a feature-length script called Learning to Drive. Over the next decade and a half I wrote 15 more versions as I sought to capture two challenging principles.

     First I was ever determined that this would be Andy’s story and not my own. I’ve long observed that even when a movie includes a character with a developmental disability, they are often a supporting character. It is at best difficult and at worst near impossible to grasp the experience of someone with Down syndrome. I know what it’s like to be me; I don’t know what it’s like to be Andy, so how do I write from his POV?  This was my biggest challenge and I believe the primary aspect of our project that makes it so unique compared to any other film.


     Secondly, I feel that the circumstances have drama built into them, so I always sought the humor in the story. There is enough sadness in the world and I prefer to embrace joy where I can. These two cornerstones of the film in my head made getting it out of there and onto paper (or laptop) quite the test.

     In August of 2013, I was suddenly struck by the answer to my point of view challenge and new life was breathed into the project. I decided then that I wanted to produce a short film version to help find an audience and show Hollywood what could be possible in a feature length film. Fortunately for us, the script won accolades from two screenplay competitions, we were awarded fiscal sponsorship through the 501(c)3 From the Heart Foundation and an incredibly humbling amount of support came from equipment vendors, restaurant donations and a volunteer crew of seasoned film-industry professionals. The role of Michael, the cinematic incarnation of Andy was enthusiastically portrayed by the award winning actor Connor Long, who also coincidentally has Down syndrome.

     Beyond my desire to tell a fun and engaging story, my hope is that we will connect with an audience that comes to better understand not only the capabilities of those with developmental disabilities, but also - and just as importantly - their desires. Many people don't realize that someone like my brother has many of the same dreams and wishes for independence and accomplishment as the rest of us. Additionally, I would love to think that those with disabilities will find themselves inspired and empowered by our film and will push to make their voices heard.

     To say the production has been life-changing for many of us is no exaggeration, but that is yet another yarn. There is still much to do on the project, but without a doubt, one of the highlights of my life has been watching Andy call “Action” and “Cut” on set with both his film reflection and a young fella with DS named Caleb who played “Young Michael” for the flashback scenes. I can only hope that when it’s finally finished, the film makes him proud of his brother.

     The final film is estimated to run about 30 minutes and everything we have edited together thus far comes to 23 minutes, so we're 80% THERE!!! So close! We just have two scenes left to shoot, plus some inserts, pickups and background plates during our 2nd Unit schedule in January. Clairmont Camera has offered us the same incredible camera package for free that they gave us last year and most of our crew has already signed up to descend on the desert again!

     We just need your help to cover the costs of those items we can't get donated, like production insurance, fuel, lodging, expendables, etc.

     Check out our fantastic and unique assortment of incentives! And be sure to toss us your suggestions for new incentives if you think of something you'd like to see. And remember SHARE the campaign with everyone you've ever known who has a pulse!




Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0


Costs $1,500

A lot of people are traveling quite the distances to work for free on our project, but asking them to sleep in their cars is a bit much. :-o


Costs $1,500

Asking a cast & crew of professionals to help out is one thing; asking them to pay for it as well is just not an option. :-P


Costs $1,600

We long for the days of solar powered equipment trucks, RV's and generators. Until then . . .

Production Insurance

Costs $1,400

Vendors are giving us insane amounts of equipment for FREEEEEEEE!!!! Oddly enough, they'd like it covered against loss or damage! Sheesh!


Costs $1,200

We've requested that all cast & crew go on a diet - New Year's Resolution and all that! Not sure how long they'll hold out, though.

RV Rental

Costs $350

Something about bathrooms on location and whatnot?

Truck Rental

Costs $350

Poor Bruce (one of the stars of our film) aint runnin so good any more and needs help getting towed around to locations.

Art Department

Costs $350

It aint much, but we've got a few items to fabricate and acquire for this 2nd Unit shoot, including some quirky highway signs!


Costs $350

You know, stamps and copies and toilet paper and whatnot.


Costs $250

We aint makin a nekkid movie here ya know!

Camera Prep

Costs $150

Clairmont is hookin us up with a serious camera package for FREE, but there are still some costs for expendables, prep, etc.

About This Team

Following is a bit of info as well as links for some of our key production personnel.

Producer/Director – Roderick E. Stevens II

I spent over a decade lensing more than 25 feature films and countless music videos, commercials and promotional films as a cinematographer before turning my attention to fine art in 2004. During this hiatus the nature of cinematography has changed dramatically with the explosive advances in digital technology, to that end I was excited to turn the photography duties over to my long-time Gaffer so I could focus on Directing this project that is so close to my heart.

Director of Photography – Daniel Gonzalez       

Daniel worked as my Gaffer on numerous productions before stepping up to D.P. In the last three years he has lensed over 20 short films and the last decade has seen him work as Gaffer and/or Lighting Technician on over 60 feature films and television shows including Fast & Furious 7, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Gone Girl, The Muppets, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thor, Star Trek, Mad Men, and more.

Gaffer – Cass Rasmussen       

Cass also served as my Gaffer on numerous occasions during my work as a cinematographer and joyfully stepped in to Gaff for Danny. His electrical department credits are extensive, including all seven seasons of the long running television series, Sons of Anarchy.

Key Grip – Tony Whitman       

I can only say that Tony’s involvement was an incredible bit of fortune for Learning to Drive. Tony has been gripping since before I was even in grade school and has been the Key Grip on such long running shows as Scrubs, Weeds, Medium, Pretty Little Liars and CSI as well as numerous feature films like Die Hard With a Vengeance. I was thrilled when Tony reached out to me having heard through the grapevine about our project and our search for a Key Grip.

Sound Recordist – Greg Cosh

Greg has been my go-to sound recordist since some of my first projects as a cinematographer. Over the years I’ve not yet found as courteous, professional and competent a production mixer as Greg listing over 100 credits to his name including Argo, CSI, Underworld: Awakening, Law & Order, Bad Teacher, The Unit and The Salon.

Current Team