The Employables:How Four Winds Creative Met Jeff
“Wait, you guys were on a reality TV show?” This question has come up frequently since The Employables first aired on A&E in May 2019. First of all, we thought that we would be part of a documentary for a TV show on A&E, The Employables, which is an adaptation of a BBC show called Employable Me. Second, after the production team from New York arrived and told us we were supposed to wear mics for 2 full workdays and “act natural”, we quickly realized that it was in essence, a reality show.
Honestly, our part as Four Winds Creative was pretty minor. The main star was Jeff, a man with autistic spectrum disorder seeking employment in San Jose. The production team actively helped each job seeker on The Employables look for job opportunities, which is why they reached out to us. After finding out that Jeff had a passion in writing and illustration, we decided to see if he could be a good fit as a freelance storyboard artist and writer. SPOILER ALERT: We were blown away by his ability to take direction and create a storyboard for us overnight. For more information about his journey on the show, you can check out the People.com article here.
We’ve had quite a few people reach out to us after the show aired, exclaiming how inspirational we were for giving Jeff a chance. But honestly, we were the ones grateful for the opportunity to have our own narrowed views widened by this experience. Because of Jeff, we learned that people with disabilities can really bring more to the table, and they have so much to offer when given a chance. We wanted to share Jeff’s authentic point of view from his experience on the show and with us as well, so what follows below is an abridged version of an “interview” with Jeff, accompanied by pieces of his artwork. We hope you enjoy hearing more from Jeff about his journey to become a freelance storyboard artist at Four Winds Creative.
How were your first approached to be part of the reality TV show The Employables? Tell us the story… how did you feel about the whole thing?
JEFF: I was going to this unique school where people with differing abilities could learn the craft of practically any art form there is. I was naturally inclined to gain more experience with filmmaking. I really had no idea how any of this would help with employment. I just knew that it would.
At the same time, I had been living in a group home for almost a year. Being involved with this agency called SAN ANDREAS REGIONAL CENTER (SARC), I had a representative, Karla, that helped me find a room there. The agent came by the group home and we’d have an evaluation of goals and what-not. Knowing about my interest in film, my wonderful agent found out about this potential opportunity with this show that was to be called Employable Me. Just the idea thrilled me, and I jumped right in.
What was involved in the interview process to become part of the show? Do you know how you were selected?
JEFF: The interview process to be selected was a bit confusing. I found out about it all in early December 2017. We had a Skype interview about a week before Christmas, and they said they’d get back to me in a couple of weeks. Although the feedback seemed positive, I hadn’t heard anything for a while. It wasn’t until March, that I did hear back. I learned that they were still in the interview process for the show. But by early April everything was sealed. I was filling out the paperwork for the production company the show would use.
What made you want to be part of the show?
JEFF: It was an opportunity to get my foot in the door, even if it was an episode gig, so I contacted Karla myself. When I found out it was an opportunity to help find people employment with what they love doing, and that the production company was looking for contestants, I shook in nervousness. It seemed like too big of an opportunity. But knowing it would never come along again, I had to jump on it.
I went to Connecticut for an interview with a psychologist. That helped with my confidence because it gave me greater clarity with how I process things.
What was your experience working with the video crew and all of the different potential employers?
JEFF: There were two main interviews that stick out. One was with a comic book shop. It seemed like the perfect fit, but it was too quick. I wanted work so bad, that I was cutting corners to start working. It just didn’t feel right. There was no high risk, so the payoff felt more like I was settling.
The other was with Four Winds Creative. That was definitely a bit more nervewrecking. Using quick sketches to get storyboards done is not effective. Concentrating on them really helped sell those storyboards. I was also pretty nervous about bringing up my variation on the tale the storyboards would tell. But that nervousness helped keep me sharp and focused, because it was really where I wanted to be. There was a bigger emotional risk and the payoff of getting my foot in really helped.
How did you prepare for the interviews with the different employers?
JEFF: One of the important things along the way I have learned is that I should be open about my autism. With that in mind, sharing with my interviewers about that helped with a better understanding of my quirks that seem rude or passive, when it’s really more of a tick I’m not fully aware of. Asking for questions ahead of time also helps with clarifying the thoughts in my head. That helps with adequacy in explaining myself.
Looking back now, I would also explain that when it comes to my drawings and writings, I do my best work when I can take my time to be more precise. That in turn gives you the best product for your money.
Besides being nervous, what were you feeling when you went through the different interviews?
JEFF: There were so many emotions involved. There was nervousness, of course. But, just as much excitement and hope. There was a definite dichotomy of feelings. Not knowing what to expect. On top of that, I just had no idea where to go otherwise. I wasn’t sure of anything. Most of the places I was looking at weren’t hiring.
Of all the possible jobs you were exposed to during the taping of the show, what one did you want the most?
JEFF: The job I wanted the most was doing freelance working with Four Winds Creative. It’s connected to the industry I’ve always wanted to take part in ever since I was a child. And, it’s doing what I love doing; drawing and writing. Those are the two things I do best. I’m very grateful to be doing freelance work with them.
What one “behind the scenes” thing stands out to you the most from the whole experience?
JEFF: The biggest thing that stuck out to me from behind-the-scenes was this one part of shooting where I was walking with my parents during the Connecticut scenes. My father was at my left and my mother was to my right. We were walking through a pathway on a lawn. But the next shot was on the sidewalk. With the street on my right, my parents wanted to switch sides, but I got on their case because it would be a continuity error. I guess it sticks out because we still laugh about to this day.
Would you do it all again?
JEFF: If I had had a chance to do it all over again, I would. It was just amazing.
What would you tell others to inspire them to take the plunge?
JEFF: If you have an opportunity like that, take it. Learn from who you’re working with, because they know what they’re talking about.
What are you working on now? Are you writing or drawing or both on a project now?
JEFF: Currently, in-between projects with FWC, as a side project I’m drawing portraits for people. It’s a nice little set-up. Somebody comes to me with a photo and I draw for them. It’s definitely good practice to keep up my drawing skills. My work with Four winds Creative helped with my confidence in my ability to so. And, that is something I’m extremely grateful for.
As we wrapped up the interview questions with Jeff, we realized that he was different from when we first met him. He took huge and courageous steps to be on the show and became an example and role model to others. He’s more outgoing and more confident. In his own words he’s more “open about my autism” and that, in turn, impacts those around him.”
We’ve come to understand the wisdom behind what must have been baked into the original “Pitch” for Employable Me and now The Employables, and that is, education for everyone, leads to understanding how to use the incredible talent on tap from people with all abilities. The outcome really is “Win/Win” for all involved.
To watch the episode, catch the show on-line at https://www.aetv.com/shows/theemployables/season-1/episode-1