Phil Lord and Chris Miller Support the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge

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Chris Miller (left) and Phil Lord

“Once you work with somebody, you’re going to continue to work with them — the problem is that most people with disabilities haven’t gotten the first chance to be a part of that dance,” says Nic Novicki about why he created the challenge.

Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Ryan O'Connell all came out to the Sony lot Thursday night to present at the award ceremony for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Created six years ago, this challenge tasks directors with creating a film in just 48 hours that features at least one disabled person either in front of or behind the camera.

Created by little person actor Nic Novicki, who has dozens of credits on shows ranging from Boardwalk Empire to Loudermilk, the program is designed to give disabled actors and crew experience on film sets, as well as serves as a springboard for them to have professional careers.

Novicki told The Hollywood Reporter that part of the purpose of the challenge was to give people with disabilities a chance to take charge of their own careers instead of waiting for an opportunity.

“It’s all about just going. Not waiting. Just saying, 'now's the chance where I can really be in charge of my career. Now’s the chance where I’m going to include somebody with a disability.’ Once you work with somebody, you’re going to continue to work with them. But the problem is that most people with disabilities haven’t gotten the first chance to be a part of that dance.”

The evening began with a cocktail reception outside the Kim Novak theater, where guests dined on beef sliders, vegetable skewers and fried chicken and waffle bites. There was also an open bar and a dessert station featuring cookies and Rice Krispy treats.

The best director award was presented by Lord and Miller who will also serve as mentors to the winner. Speaking to the audience, Lord referred to their movie Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse as a metaphor for disabled actors and crew trying to break into Hollywood.

“The big thing about that movie is that anyone could wear the mask. We all have the ability to be superheroes in our own way and we all deserve to play that role or any role that we want no matter who we are. We all have a voice.”

In addition to receiving their trophy, the winners had their film screened during the ceremony. This year’s theme was sci-fi and the films combined people with disabilities with ideas touching on time travel, dystopian futures and artificial intelligence.

Special creator and star Ryan O'Connell, who has cerebral palsy, was another presenter for the evening and he spoke with THR about the importance of disabled people being able to tell their own stories.

“Shows about disabled people should be made but they need to be made by us because that gives us power and that gives us agency and also, duh, it just makes for a better story when it's authentic and it comes from the person who’s lived it.... I think that’s hopefully going to be the new standard that Hollywood is going to be held to.”

The winners of this year’s challenge were Amy Hopper for best film for Parents Inc., Carl Hansen for best director for I/O, Nicole Evans for best actor for Human Helper and Rachel Handler for best awareness campaign for The Vanished.