A Film About Autism: Signals by Louis Bennies

An Interview With Filmmaker Louis Bennies

Looking for an accurate film about autism? Well, then you’re in luck because today we’re talking about Signals, a genuine-feeling film about autism. Recently, autistic filmmaker Louis Bennies reached out to me to share the story of his film. Louis initially released Signals as a short film. It was successful enough that Louis was inspired to turn it into a feature-length film. To help make it happen, Louis is fundraising support for the project, which is how we got connected. I’m so glad he did because obviously, I love supporting other neurodivergent creatives. Especially in this case because I can honestly say I loved Signals.

Signals has been endorsed by three autism organizations in Germany: Autism Germany, Autism Foundation Tübingen, and Herbert Feuchte Foundation. Hopefully, spreading the word about Signals here on Neurospicy Nonsense helps bring it to an American audience. Signals is an accurate film about autism that’s worthy of your support. You can support the film by donating through the film’s GoFundMe page.

Head over to YouTube to watch this fantastic film about autism and watch the short version of Signals. Please help support Louis’ work by sharing with your neurospicy circle!

Signals Gets Autistic Representation Right

The film is about an autistic 18-year-old named Lucas who falls in love with a classmate. To pursue that love, Lucas has to learn lessons in self-acceptance and overcome his social difficulties.

Louis let me see both the original short version of Signals and a rough cut of the feature-length version. This made for an interesting viewing experience! It gave me insight into the creative process and decisions that went into the film. I was so pleased to see both versions get so much right when it comes to autistic representation.

Louis himself is autistic and included multiple other autistic people in making the film. That inclusion truly shines through in the film with how accurately it represents the autistic experience. There were so many moments in it that I related to. I know other autistic people will feel as seen as I did. Friends and family of autistic people will also find the film relatable so don’t forget to share with them, too! When so many films get autism so wrong, it was exciting to see one that got it so very, very right.

Interviewing Louis Bennies on His Film About Autism

To see everything that Signals gets right, you’ll have to watch the film. It is full of details, sometimes minor, that contribute to its genuineness. One example is the relationship the main character, Lucas, has with his brother. So often, an autistic sibling is portrayed as self-centered. They’re seen as demanding all of their parents’ attention, to the detriment of their siblings. In Signals, Lucas has a sweet bond with his brother, with mutually nurturing moments between Lucas and his younger brother. It’s such a small but meaningful detail to see portrayed on film in opposition to more sterotypical autistic-sibling dynamics.

There were so many details and decisions that clearly went into making this film. Of course, I had to satiate my endless curiosity so decided to interview Louis Bennies and I’m so excited to share the interview here! I hope it encourages you to contribute towards the making of the feature-length version. If you’ve ever wanted to be included in movie credits, now’s your chance because every contributor gets included in the credits! Read on to learn more about this amazing film about autism.

I did the math and it seems you were about 12 when you were diagnosed. That’s quite a bit later than the average diagnosis age for boys. I know that late diagnosis is less common in men than women so I think you have a unique perspective, even within the autistic community. Do you think your late diagnosis had an impact on how you wanted to portray the autistic experience?

To be honest, I don’t know! I always suspected I was autistic, but it wasn’t diagnosed for a long time. I portrayed some of the struggles that I had growing up in school.

Is this your first time turning a short film into a feature-length and did that bring any unexpected challenges with it (beyond finding ways to fund it)?

Yes. It was the first time and it really was challenging getting so many people together for a longer period. Also, it was quite challenging to make the film in such a short time (15 days over 2 months). I’ve already worked on some feature films, but I wasn’t aware of the scale of making one.

You mentioned that you were very intentional about working with other autistic people to ensure an accurate portrayal. How many other autistic people worked on the film? Did that bring about any unique challenges or benefits throughout the filmmaking process?

We had 3 consultants on set. One is Sandra Brangs, an autistic woman, who brought her autistic son along on every filming day. She helped us with the script, which is why we made some dialogue changes, and she also gave me a lot of ideas in terms of directing. Also, the main actress’ boyfriend is autistic, so she has a lot of experience dealing with the subject matter. A lot of the actors in the film (e.g. the parents) have autistic friends and family. On set, I felt that this influenced a lot.

I was lucky enough that you sent me a rough cut of the feature-length version you’re working on. I noticed that in the short film, the main character states that he has Asperger’s but in the feature film he says he has autism. What went into the decision to make that change? It also made me curious if people in Germany are talking about Asperger’s being absorbed into the autism spectrum as much as the autistic community in the US has been so I’d love to hear any comments you have on that discussion.

I promoted the short film a lot and the term Asperger’s was criticized a lot. Since I wasn’t very akin with the reason as to why that is, I included that in the short film back then. But now, knowing the history behind it, I don’t feel like using it anymore.

In the film, Lucas falls in love with a classmate and needs to learn how to be vulnerable if he wants to pursue things with her. I think that’s a concept that’s relatable to many people, regardless of whether you’re neurodivergent or neurotypical. So much of the media based on autistic people hinges on their love interests accepting their quirks and resolving communication issues. What made you choose to focus on self-acceptance and vulnerability?

It’s something that I relate to a lot. I always felt different, especially because I am so much into films and kind of struggle with talking to others.

It felt incredibly genuine to my own life experiences when Lucas falls in love and begins looking at his own family a bit differently and questioning some of their family dynamics. What inspired you to look at the family dynamics and not just focus on the love story?

When you fall in love and get loved purely, you look at things differently. And I think a lot of autistic people struggle with their family. One of my friends (who is autistic) did, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to highlight it a lot.

(Right after my Neurospicy heart because this exactly what happened to me -Arielle)

I really appreciated the way you looked at the complexities of acceptance within the family unit. There are many parents who claim to accept their child’s autism but the overarching message autistic children receive is that we’re difficult, not interested in the right things, and are too much for others to handle. Was it a conscious choice to cast a light on those issues or did they just naturally come out as you were writing the script?

It was completely conscious. I think this is something we should look out for more.

As a former competitive volleyball player, it drives me crazy to see so many portrayals of autistic people as computer-loving nerds with no coordination so I was admittedly really excited to see Lucas have athletic interests by regularly going to a boxing gym. Did that portrayal come from personal experience or did you write it that way in an attempt to further battle stereotypes?

A lot of young people nowadays use sport as a motivation and a way to improve their mental and, of course, their physical condition. I go to the gym a lot, so I wanted to put that in. Also, Rocky is one of my favorite movies, which is why I put many montages in the film.

Since we’re talking about stereotypes, I have to ask about Lucas’ postage stamp special interest. So much of the film seems to intentionally yet subtly battle many of the stereotypes surrounding autism and yet you gave Lucas one of the most stereotypical autistic hobbies! This leaves me wondering…who in production collects postage stamps lol Was there a discussion around what special interest(s) Lucas should have?

To be honest, normally I would feel the same way about it. But the thing is, I write about what I know, which is my favorite interest film, and then there is this other hobby that I once had…postage stamps. I really wanted to feature it, since it was part of my life.

There’s a common discussion within the autistic community about how to portray autistic meltdowns. In many film portrayals, the autistic person is shown as erratically rocking, screaming, breaking things, or hurting themselves. While these can and do occur for some people on the autism spectrum, Signals did a fantastic job of showing that autistic meltdowns are not confined to that behavior and that they often look the same as any other angry teenager’s outburst. Was there any decision-making or discussion revolving around whether to include and how to portray a meltdown?

This type of meltdown is something that I’ve had a lot of times in my life. I think it’s totally justified in the context of the story and what’s happening on screen, so viewers can relate to it without thinking it’s exaggerated. Also, I listen to music A LOT when I am outside as well, so that’s why Lucas wears headphones a lot to be for himself.

To end things on a light and funny note, I saw on your website that you’ve been interested in film since you were a young child. What’s a funny story you have about something a special interest has made you do?

I’ve been collecting films since the age of 10, and I’ve been buying a lot of films for ridiculous prices.

Was the actor who played Lucas autistic? So many neurotypicals playing an autistic person get so cringe with it but Lucas felt so genuine to me that it made me want to ask.

The actor who played Lucas, Björn Möller, was not autistic. He portrayed him quite well in the short film, which is why we want him to play the role again in the feature film.

Ways You Can Support Signals

I hope you enjoy Signals as much as I do. You can help Louis turn it into a feature film by donating via GoFundMe and spreading the word. Tell your friends and family who you think would appreciate it or could benefit to learn more about autism and neurodivergence. You can also spread the word on social media. Go like and follow the Neurospicy Nonsense Instagram account and share our post about Signals: a Film About Autism!

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One Comment

  1. temp mail

    I was just as enthralled by your work as you were. The visual presentation is refined, and the written content is sophisticated. However, you seem anxious about the possibility of presenting something that could be perceived as questionable. I believe you’ll be able to rectify this matter in a timely manner.

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