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“I HAVE SEEN HOW DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT MAY BE THE MOST MEANINGFUL FORM OF DIVERSITY THAT OUR SOCIETY NEEDS TO RECOGNIZE AND FOSTER AND INCLUDE.” tion whose minds are wired and think differently, and who have meaningful contributions to make to society and to our industry.” Once the school was up and running, it became clear that it wasn’t enough for these young adults simply to learn skills and occupy themselves. A job, and the attendant sense of responsibility and accomplishment, had to be the next step for Exceptional Minds. Bennett convinced her best friend, Susan Zwerman, to leave her successful career in VFX and help set up the studio. For Zwerman, it was a no-brainer. She had watched Noah grow up and felt committed to giving him and others like him a chance. Zwerman accepted the challenge and took on the task of producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. “For me, personally,” she says, “this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.” Zwerman used her industry connections to get the studios to come and see the work that was being done at Exceptional Minds. Fox was the first to sign up, followed by Marvel Studios. Today the program has become so popular that they now have three potential students vying for every

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF EXCEPTIONAL MINDS

Hollywood companies such as Marvel Studios. Tony Saturno, a 2017 graduate of Exceptional Minds, has worked on The Good Doctor, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. He says he became interested in learning about visual effects after watching the first Iron Man. “I came from Maryland just to attend Exceptional Minds,” he shares. “Just that has given me a great deal of independence.” Exceptional Minds was born out of a sense of necessity. A group of parents with kids on the autism spectrum wanted to see their children grow up to be independent and active members of society. But as they looked around for their children’s futures, the stats were abysmal: 90% of adults with autism were and are unemployed or under-employed and an estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults and lose school-based autism services each year. Yudi Bennett was one of those parents. She was a successful assistant director having to face raising her son Noah, who is on the autism spectrum, alone after her husband passed away. Thinking back on how well Noah had done in an after-school digital program, Bennett started to conceive of what a school that would teach animation and special effects to young people on the autism spectrum would look like. Exceptional Minds was launched in 2011 with nine students, software donated by Adobe and a fierce belief that as a society we can do better to create opportunity for others who are different. “I have seen how diversity of thought may be the most meaningful form of diversity that our society needs to recognize and foster and include,” notes PGA East Chair William Horberg, whose own child is on the autism spectrum. “There is a growing popula-

Produced By June | July 2018  

The Official Magazine of the Producers Guild of America

Produced By June | July 2018  

The Official Magazine of the Producers Guild of America