Rock Center   |  May 24, 2013

‘Friends’ producer helps blind filmmakers find vision

Rock Center’s Harry Smith goes inside the classroom of Kevin Bright, a television executive producer-turned-teacher who’s teaching blind students how to make movies. Under Bright’s tutelage, the students show that though they may not have sight, they do have vision.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in the midst of a digital revolution , obviously, technology has benjamin mizen nina mized and democratized. most people can record their own moving images and on any given day, those images could be viewed around the globe. and the digital tall rrevolution has taken on remarkable meaning. harry smith reports. movies open up a whole new world, from a man who knows how powerful moving images can be.

>> reporter: this is the kind of whatever happened to story? but not about the cast of "friends." it's about one of the show's executive producers , kevin bright . we saw his name every week, he shared the helm of one of the most successful shows in the history of television . bright produced a spinoff. joey failed to find an audience and kevin decided he wanted to find a new life.

>> the experience of doing "joey" made me feel like i need a rest. time for a change in my life. what die really want to do now?

>> reporter: bright left hollywood and moved to boston, where he accepted a teaching job at his alma mater , emerson college and brought his lifetime of experience in show business into the classroom. the change did him good, but bright's life was about to change in ways he never imagined. he was at a boston celtics game one night when a chorus from the perkins school from the blind sang the national anthem . by the dawn's early light

>> reporter: bright was impressed, and he sent a donation. a week later, accepted an invitation and accepted. do you feel like you were led here in some way?

>> this isn't just a normal coincidence that i got here.

>> reporter: perkins , the very same place that helen keller studied more than a century ago. kevin hoped key help out in some small way. the school had a better idea. why not teach the students how to join the youtube generation. he was asked to start a film class.

>> wow. i thought i was volunteering to do a good thing here and i've been presented with the challenge of my life. you understand i'm not trained to teach the disabled. i felt like what have i gotten into here? this is going to be a advertise aster.

>> turn on the lens to yourself, make sure it's lined up with your face.

>> reporter: you would think the ability to see would be the most important first requirement to make a movie. a visit to kevin 's film class at perkins puts that assumption to the test.

>> look into the camera, say hey.

>> hey.

>> i'm making movies .

>> i'm making movies .

>> reporter: all the students are legally blind . some have multiple, severe disabilities.

>> push the button and roll.

>> he has taught the class for three years.

>> in the sighted world, we have all sorts of preconceived notions about the blind and most of them are pretty limited.

>> man, what are you holding up the floor for? come on, buddy. these are people without sight, but certainly without vision.

>> reporter: laurie , you can see at all?

>> laurie and michelle , who can see a tiny bit, both have taken the class. when somebody comes on campus and says we're going to offer a film class, laurie , what did you think?

>> i said to myself, give me the camera, show me how to use it, let me know when it is and where it is, and i'll be there.

>> reporter: simple as that. michelle , what was your reaction?

>> the producer of "friends" is coming to perkins ? is he lost?

>> reporter: the perkins kids were media savvy. flip cams make different sounds for on, off, recording. learning to operation one was a cinch. bright showed the students how to use the hearing to find their subjects and canes to line up shots.

>> the cane on the right shoulder. lisa, you're on angle to me.

>> reporter: when they put the camera next to the cane, it's point and shoot.

>> is the shot perfectly flamed to begin with? no. is that the point? no. the point is they are doing it by themselves they don't need help. that's the power.

>> reporter: all over the campus these days, students are making movies . travis shot a tour of the school. ronan videotaped himself cooking a hot dog and monique wanted to show how blind students learned math.

>> everybody get 0/0?

>> yep.

>> reporter: some films don't go as planned, like this one laurie shot in the middle of the night .

>> what was the one thing you didn't do?

>> reporter: m

>> me?

>> yeah.

>> turn the lights on!

>> reporter: when you got more comfortable, what did it feel like?

>> it felt like we had taken part in this part of the sighted world that wasn't really open to us before.

>> reporter: because before they started making movies , the perkins students felt defined by how others viewed them, now they could express how they saw themselves and share it with others.

>> people are going to get so dizzy because the camera is moving.

>> reporter: laurie and michelle made a movie called "seeing through the lens."

>> my favorite thing about making movies is the experience of reliving things.

>> reporter: their movie won an award at a film festival .

>> if anybody who has a disability wants to either film things, tap dance , scuba dive, i don't care. if you put your mind to it, you can definitely do it, and it feels great afterward.

>> okay. let's roll.

>> how about hosting your own talk show . correspondin and in corinne and ronan have one called "on the bench."

>> welcome to "on the bench."

>> because we're on the bench.

>> our guest today is harry smith .

>> i'm really happy to be on the bench.

>> how did you get started in television?

>> reporter: well, i used to have a radio show that was on in the middle of the night .

>> reporter: turns out, perkin kids loves telling their story, which often includes a wicked sense of humor.

>> i love coffee, but i like it more if the spoon didn't keep hitting me in the eye.

>> reporter: is humor your best assault against being blind?

>> it is our best assault against people who want to either make fun of us for being blind, which they don't really have ammunition, because we make fun of ourselves, or people who treat it like an elephant in the room .

>> reporter: they hope their movies show that they are approachable so sighted people might stop and say hello.

>> we won't hit with you our cane, only if you deserve it.

>> reporter: after three years, bright is heading back to l.a., but the film programs he started will go on. and his connection to perkins will continue. what's the most important thing you have learned in the years that you taught this class?

>> humility. i am humbled by all of these amazing students here. they are the teachers. i'm the student. and they gave me life lessons i could not have gotten anyplace else.

>> what a great story from harry smith reporting from watertown, mass, just outside boston. next