January 8, 2010 — HBO Films’ “Temple Grandin”, starring Golden Globe winner Claire Danes in the title role, brings to the screen the story of the best-selling author, animal scientist and autism advocate. Debuting Saturday, February 6, 2010 (8-10 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO, the film co-stars Catherine with Julia Ormond and Academy Award® and Golden Globe nominee David Strathairn. Directed by three-time DGA winner Mick Jackson from a screenplay by Christopher Monger and WGA Award winner William Merritt Johnson, “Temple Grandin” is based upon the books Emergence by Temple Grandin and Margaret Scariano, and Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin.
Other HBO playdates are February 6 (11:45 p.m.), 7 (5:45 p.m.), 10 (11:30 a.m., 8 p.m.), 14 (10:30 a.m., 12:30 a.m.), 18 (9:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m.), 20 (2 p.m.), 22 (3 p.m., 10:30 p.m.) and 27 (noon). HBO2 playdates are February 11 (8 p.m., 5 a.m.), 21 (10 a.m., 9 p.m.) and 24 (9 a.m., 6 p.m.)
“Temple Grandin” paints a picture of a young woman’s perseverance and determination while struggling with the isolating challenges of autism at a time when it was still quite unknown. The film chronicles Temple’s early diagnosis; her turbulent growth and development during her school years; the enduring support she received from her mother, her aunt and her science teacher; and her emergence as a woman with an innate sensitivity and understanding of animal behavior.
Undaunted by educational, social and professional roadblocks, Grandin turned her unique talent into a behavioral tool that revolutionized the cattle industry and laid the groundwork for her successful career as an author, lecturer and pioneering advocate for autism and autism spectrum disorder education.
This visually inventive film offers a stunning insight into Temple Grandin’s world, taking the audience literally inside her mind with a series of snapshot images that trace her self-perceptions and journey from childhood through young adulthood to the beginning of her career.
Jackson pointed out the challenge of bringing Grandin’s vision to the world.
“Before Temple, nobody had said, ‘This is how it feels. This is what day to day, moment to moment, second to second, an autistic person goes through.’ And yet through her writings and lectures Temple had done that, and I thought this would be a wonderful and unique opportunity,” Jackson said. “We could use all the techniques of cinema to try and bring this very different perception of the world to light for other people.”
“Temple Grandin” is truly a labor of love for executive producer Emily Gerson Saines, whose younger child was diagnosed with autism when he was nearly three. She was given Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures by her own mother, which helped Gerson Saines maneuver through very difficult early years and eventually became her inspiration for the film.
“When I read Temple’s book it became my singular source of hope,” she said. “It allowed me to believe that my son could one day contribute something to society.”
Hoping to bring her moving story to life, Gerson Saines reached out to Grandin, whose familiarity with the executive producer’s work co-founding the Autism Coalition was the ticket to their collaboration.
“Temple’s story was that of a woman who didn’t overcome her autism, but who used her autism to great effect,” said Gerson Saines. “Temple was incredibly lucky with her support structure, and we tried to celebrate the fact that she had these incredible mentors throughout her life, particularly her mother and Dr. Carlock.”
For Jackson, only Claire Danes could play Temple Grandin. Danes attests to the pressure “to represent her as honestly and lovingly as possible.” Her experience in becoming Temple was both a visual and auditory exercise. Danes studied Temple’s language and way of speaking, as well as her body movements, and watched a lot of her interviews.
“Her mind works in a surprisingly wonderful way,” said Danes. “Temple describes herself as a visual thinker and that language is basically secondary for her. I tried to see like that, to render that. Sometimes I would attempt to think the way that she does, and I would find myself making sort of visual puns when I was in that mode.”
Danes’ transformation into Temple Grandin was a result of weeks of reading literature on autism, observing at autistic schools, meeting with a number of autistic teenage girls, working with coaches to reproduce her speech and body movements and repeatedly viewing her subject in videotapes Grandin sent to the actress. When the two met, Danes recorded some of their conversations, which her vocal coach then broke down into segments for her to download onto her iPod. Through a series of daily drills, Danes quickly adopted Grandin’s cadence and speech patterns.
Gerson Saines, who calls Danes “a revelation,” recalls, “I showed Temple some dailies in my room. As soon as she saw Claire and as soon as Claire opened her mouth, she said excitedly, ‘That’s me, 35 years ago, that’s me!’
Today, Temple Grandin is a success story. She has a PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois and over half the cattle in North America are handled in humane systems she has designed.
“One important factor in my success was the way I used my visual thinking to design and build projects that other people wanted and appreciated,” said Grandin. “People in the livestock industry started respecting me when they saw the quality of my work. When I showed them my detailed drawings, I got respect.”
A full professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, Grandin speaks around the world on both autism and cattle handling. She is also the author or co-author of an array of books.
Editor’s note: In the September 2007 issue of Horse & Rider, the article “What’s He Thinking?” shares Grandin’s theories. Call 877-717-8928 to order the back issue. Plus, read Horses in Translation for additional snippets from Grandin.