I Am Sam
I Am Sam is the compelling story of Sam Dawson (Sean Penn), a mentally-challenged father raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) with the help of an extraordinary group of friends. As Lucy turns seven and begins to intellectually
surpass her father, their close bond is threatened when their situation comes under the scrutiny of a social worker who wants Lucy placed in foster care.
Faced with a seemingly unwinnable case, Sam vows to fight the legal system and forms an unlikely alliance with Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), a high- powered, self-absorbed attorney who initially takes his case pro bona as a challenge from her colleagues. On the surface the two couldn’t be further apart, but in reality they are subtly similar. Sam’s compulsive nature mirrors Rita’s more socially acceptable obsessive-compulsive nature. Her manic need for perfection and success alienates her from her own son and has been slowly destroying her self-worth.
Together they struggle to convince the system that Sam deserves to get his daughter back and, in the process, fuse a bond that results in a unique testament to the power of unconditional love.
New Line Cinema presents / Am Sam, directed by Jessie Nelson from a screenplay by Nelson and Kristine Johnson. Nelson also produces along with Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and Richard Solomon of the Bedford Falls Company. The executive producers are Claire Rudnick Po!stein, Michael De Luca and David Scott Rubin. The film stars Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Dakota Fanning, Richard Schiff, Loretta Devine and Laura Dern.
Rounding out the cast as Sam’s loyal group of friends are Doug Hutchison, Stanley DeSantis, Brad Allan Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg.
The film features a soundtrack of contemporary covers of classic Beatles songs, recorded by such acclaimed artists as Sheryl Crow, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Ben Folds, The Wallflowers, Sarah McLachlan and Aimee Mann & Michael Penn.
I Am Sam (rated PG-13 by the M.P.A.A. for “language”) will be released in Los Angeles and New York on December 28th, 2001 and wide on January 11th, 2002.
ABOUT THE STORY
I Am Sam is a powerful, emotional film about love, parenthood and the bonds of family. “I’m fascinated by what makes a family and how people create that in untraditional ways,” says director and co-screenwriter Jessie Nelson. “I think all parents at times feel confused and overwhelmed. It is a common bond between every parent on the planet, whether you’re disabled or not. Parents who are disabled provide a unique metaphor for how we’re all trying to get through an
incredibly challenging world and how we all ultimately need some type of support system.”
Raising a child is never easy, but like everybody, Sam Dawson (Academy Award nominee Sean Penn) has learned to adapt. Sam and his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) have gotten through the basics, though not always in the conventional way, with the help of Sam’s tightly-knit group of friends. Though Lucy’s life has never been what anyone would ever call “normal,” it has always been animated with humor and full of love.
“Lucy and her dad go to IHOP on Wednesday, video night on Thursday, karaoke night on Friday,” says Dakota Fanning, the 7-year old newcomer who plays Lucy Diamond. “They just have the best time together.”
But when Lucy turns seven, social workers step in. Sam is mentally-challenged, and it will be up to the courts to evaluate his ability to raise Lucy. “Having Sam as a father has worked well so far,” explains co-screenwriter Kristine Johnson, “but as Lucy starts school, she is forced to deal with people’s attitudes and judgments about Sam as well as her own changing relationship with him.”
Lucy has begun to downplay her own intellectual and emotional growth, careful not to surpass that of her father. “She does it because she loves her dad,” says Fanning. “She doesn’t want to be older. She wants to stay the same as he is.”
When Lucy is removed from her home by county authorities and placed with a foster mother, Sam devises a plan. “My friends and I go through the Yellow Pages,” explains Sean Penn. “Through television we assume that if a law firm has three or four names it’s likely to be a good one. And which one represents those kinds of cases takes a little bit of deliberation amongst the group. And so we lock in on Rita Harrison’s firm and I go up and ask her to represent the case.”
Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer plays Rita Harrison, a driven lawyer who initially resists taking on such a long-shot case. “Sam sees Rita as the hero that can get his daughter back for him,” says Penn. “She’s a big time lawyer.
And she talks fast. That seems important.”
But Rita ultimately takes the challenge on a dare to prove to her co-workers that she will work a pro bona case. Says Pfeiffer, “Rita goes into it for all the wrong reasons, and I think once you enter the enormous heart of these people and their lives, you can’t help but be touched and become invested. And that’s what happens to her.”
Through her work with Sam, Rita begins to explore his role as Lucy’s parent, and comes to understand how even someone like her, who is considered normal by societal standards, can be daunted by the challenges of parenthood. “She has gotten so trapped by her trappings,” says Pfeiffer. “She has too many machines, too many gizmos, too many appointments and this overwhelming obsession to be perfect. She is so cut off from her heart in the beginning, one of these people who has to keep moving because if they stay in one place for too long, God forbid, somebody should make them feel something.”
“Rita needs to be tough and well put together, but below the surface she is fragile and vulnerable,” says producer Richard Solomon. “This film is about the journey that she takes and what a profound and lasting impact Sam has on her life.”
Sam is aided in his quest by his neighbor Annie, an agoraphobic pianist played by Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest, who has helped him throughout Lucy’s childhood. “Everyone has their own entrapments and their own imprisonments,” states producer Marshall Herskovitz. “Annie represents that in some way because she lives in her own imprisonment of anxiety and terror and in some ways that prison is worse than Sam’s.”
Sam’s devoted group of friends is comprised of Ifty, Robert, Brad and Joe, who stand by him in his hour of need. They not only join him in the weekly rituals of IHOP, karaoke and video nights, but support him emotionally, and even financially, at every turn as he tries to raise Lucy.
Doug Hutchison plays Sam’s best friend lfty, a man with severe Attention Deficit Disorder. “His personality is a marriage between mania and having a certain centeredness and stillness within the chaos,” says Hutchison.
Stanley DeSantis takes on the role of Robert, the overprotective and overtly paranoid caretaker of Sam’s group of disabled friends. “I think Robert considers himself to be the parent of the group,” explains DeSantis. “He is every parent that
yelled at you, ‘Don’t run with scissors,’ Don’t cross your eyes or they will stay like that.’ Every mantra that we were all brought up with, Robert takes upon himself, and feels that it’s his duty to pass it on to his friends. He is a chronic worrier, but the bottom line is he really cares about Sam.”
The cast also includes two actors with disabilities — Joseph Rosenberg and Brad Allan Silverman (who was previously the inspirational subject of the ABC television special “The Kid Who Wouldn’t Quit”), who plays the self-professed
ladies man of Sam’s group. “I really like the story and think that Sam is a great father. He has a wonderful loving heart which allows him to really communicate with his daughter Lucy,” states Silverman. “I know that Sam does have a
disability, but I don’t look at him that way. I look at Sam as a regular, normal human being.”
On the other side of Sam’s plight is Turner, the razor-sharp public attorney who opposes Rita in court. “This is a beautiful story that really tugs at the heart,” says Richard Schiff (The West Wing), who plays Turner. “While most people will
perceive Turner as the bad guy, the fact is that he’s really just doing his job and making decisions based on years of experience.”
Laura Dern portrays Lucy’s conflicted foster mother, Randy, who forms a close bond with her. “Randy is a wonderful option for this child, but Lucy also has such a bond with Sam that it’s heartbreaking to imagine her with anybody else,” says Dern. “It creates a complexity for her to figure out how to strip it all down and figure out what’s best for the child. It feeds this world of what really is proper parenting, and who can judge where love comes from, and what feels best for a child? There really isn’t a definitive answer.”
Rounding out the cast is Loretta Devine as Margaret, the social worker who removes Lucy from Sam’s home. “Margaret is overworked and over-pressured,” says Devine. “She has probably seen some cases where the child was harmed
and now she always recommends what she hopes is best for the child. Of course once she makes a decision, she doesn’t ever second-guess herself. She doesn’t want to take a closer look at Sam, but she believes she’s doing the right
As the moment of truth grows near, Sam and Rita form an unlikely bond. “What you have to see is that while Rita seems like she should be the most sane person in the movie, she really is the most insane and on the brink of falling
apart,” Pfeiffer explains. “Sam has this sense of honesty and truth that just busts her. Other people are intimidated and afraid of her, but Sam doesn’t feel any of that. She has closed off her heart, but completely by surprise, he finds a way in.”
“The thing to me is that Sam’s disability doesn’t in any way diminish his individuality or his humanity,” says Penn.
Making / Am Sam would not have been possible without the Los Angeles-based L.A. Goal, a non-profit organization founded in 1969 that serves adults with developmental disabilities. Director/co-screenwriter Jessie Nelson and co-screenwriter Kristine Johnson made extensive visits to the center while writing the screenplay, focusing particularly on mentally-challenged parents. “They were so non-judgmental,” recalls Nelson. “They were proud of every
accomplishment.” Adds Johnson, “I know that many of the people we met had a lot of pain in their lives, but they were very open with us and had so much integrity as human beings.”
The project found a home at the Bedford Falls Company, producers of such recent Academy Award-winning films as Shakespeare in Love and Traffic, when the company’s president Richard Solomon brought the project to co-founders
Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. “This story is about the creation of a very unusual family, which is something we’re always interested in,” notes Zwick.
Adds Herskovitz, “The script was impressively truthful and faced up to the reality of a man like Sam and what it means for him to try to raise a child. It didn’t shrink from the hard questions.”
The journey to find the right actor to portray Sam began and ended in Milan, Italy, where Jessie Nelson was vacationing with her family while at the same time Sean Penn, who had recently read the script, was working on another film. “Sean hadn’t formally committed yet, we were sort of circling each other, and while he was telling me about an idea he had for a scene, he stood up for a second and walked as Sam,” Nelson recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, this is too good to be true.’ In that moment and in that walk I was able to see the whole movie so clearly.”
‘The script really resonated with me and touched me as a parent,” says Penn.
With Penn signed on as Sam, Nelson felt that she had an actor who could bring the unique character to life in a completely original and authentic manner. “I knew how deep Sean could go and how meticulously he searches for the truth of a character,” states the director. “To me he’s the most brilliant actor of his generation. From the moment he came aboard, I feel like it elevated the whole project.”
Penn’s involvement in the project brought him and the filmmakers back to L.A. Goal. “When Sean got there he disappeared into the center and immersed himself in the experience,” recalls screenwriter Johnson. “He didn’t bring any ego
with him. He was there to discover and learn.”
“I wanted to go there to observe and be around people who face the kinds of challenges that the character of Sam encounters in the story,” Penn says. “I have a relative with Down syndrome, but I hadn’t spent any social time with other
men of my age who were mentally disabled. There was an increasing comfort level in both directions with each visit to L.A. Goal, as we began to realize that there’s just not that many really big differences between us about the important
things in life.”
“Sean came to L.A. Goal and I think he fit in pretty well,” says cast member Joe Rosenberg, a long-standing member of the organization. “He made us feel very comfortable and everyone liked him because he is a good person, which made me feel good about being Sam’s friend in the movie.”
Rita Harrison, the high-powered, high-strung attorney who becomes Sam’s counterpart in his quest to reclaim his daughter, was the next crucial role to cast.
Nelson, who had previously worked with Michelle Pfeiffer when she co-wrote the screenplay for The Stoty of Us, had the acclaimed actress in mind from the start.
“I love the idea of taking someone that the audience has certain expectations about and pushing it in a whole other direction,” states the director. “But I didn’t know if she would take that leap of faith with me. She is an extraordinary dramatic actress with great depth and soul, but she also has great comedic timing. It’s such a rare combination.”
Like Penn, whom Pfeiffer had attended the same acting class with twenty years before, Pfeiffer found herself profoundly moved by the story. “Stories about family and what defines a parent really resonate with me,” says Pfeiffer. “But I
was a little nervous about the character. Rita is so self-obsessed and busy that it takes her ten minutes into the scene to even realize that Sam is mentally challenged in some way.”
“Michelle’s the greatest: beautiful, vulnerable, edgy and always brave in her performances,” says producer Marshall Herskovitz. “She’s certainly an easy and obvious choice for a part like this, and a wonderful counterpart to Sean.”
The filmmakers were next faced with the challenge of finding a young actress who had intellectual and emotional maturity beyond her years while still retaining the innocence and vulnerability of a child. They found Lucy Diamond in virtual unknown Dakota Fanning.
“Dakota possesses a real strength and wisdom that is well beyond her years,” observes director Nelson. “As it turns out, she has a relative that is similar to Sam’s character, and I think growing up around him has enabled her to bring a
certain empathy and dimension to her character.”
Nelson adds that Fanning also surprised her as an actor: “She often came to me after a take, saying, ‘I think I could go farther; I think I could give you more.’ To know the range of her talent at 7 years old is just astounding and we were lucky to have her in the film.”
The filmmakers cast Dianne Wiest as Annie, Sam’s helpful and nurturing neighbor. “Dianne is an extraordinarily gifted actress and was our first choice for the part,” says producer Richard Solomon. “We really went after her.” “Dianne liked the material so much she was willing to fly back and forth between New York while shooting “Law and Order,” says Edward Zwick. “She brought something to the role that was beyond our expectations.”
To play the County Counsel attorney Turner, the filmmakers cast Richard Schiff, one of the stars of the acclaimed NBC series “The West Wing.” “Richard is an actor we’ve worked with a lot and now, with the success of ‘The West Wing,’ the
world knows about his abilities,” says Zwick.
Laura Dern, who has starred in such controversial projects about parenting as “The Baby Dance” and “Citizen Ruth,” takes on the role of Randy, Lucy’s foster mother. “Laura brings such an inherent sympathy and humanity to the part, there’s no side to this character that could be perceived as arch or diabolical,” says Solomon.
To portray Sam’s circle of friends, the filmmakers discovered their ensemble in unlikely but, in the end, ideal places. Doug Hutchison, who is best known for his chilling roles in “The X-Files” and The Green Mile, took his part as Ifty seriously enough to stay in character throughout production. “The character of Ifty is Sam’s best friend, so there was always the hope that someone would come in and capture that rapport and be as unique a character as Sam was,” says
Nelson. “Sean and I were in the room when Doug read for the role. Doug stayed in character throughout the audition and we both thought to ourselves, ‘Does he really have this condition?’ We looked at each other and knew right in that
moment that he was Ifty.”
Though he came in to read for a different role altogether, Stanley DeSantis struck Nelson as the perfect embodiment of the character Robert. “Stanley has a wonderful way of capturing Robert’s paranoia and anxiety while still making him
such a caring friend to Sam,” says Nelson.
The last pieces of the puzzle to be cast for the film were the characters of Brad and Joe, the remaining members of Sam’s group. While writing the script, Nelson and Johnson based the roles on the characteristics of Brad Allan Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg, two long-standing members of L.A. Goal. So, it only seemed natural to the filmmakers to cast the two individuals as the characters in the film.
“I had always wanted to have real disabled actors in the movie, but I also wanted the right people for the role,” explains Nelson. “Brad and Joe are such wonderful actors that it wasn’t as if we had disabled people who were acting; we had actors that happened to be disabled.”
Since 1990, L.A. Goal has had a pioneering therapeutic arts program that provides people with developmental disabilities a forum to express feelings that they are not able to articulate in conventional ways. Both Silverman and Rosenberg participated in the acting program, with Rosenberg appearing in Los Angeles productions of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cats,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Peter Pan.”
“I knew that the film would be significantly enhanced by their presence because the whole film grew out of our experiences with them. It was so evident that they were meant to be part of it,” Nelson notes.
The filmmakers agreed they’d not only assembled a dream cast in terms of actors, they also felt everyone shared a passion for the project. “For everyone, this was a journey about doing great work and we are blessed to have these people in the film,” says producer Richard Solomon.
Prior to the start of production, Nelson knew the best way to rehearse her accomplished group of actors was to discuss the script and “make sure the actors were comfortable with the beats of the film and each other,” she says.
“We didn’t want to over-rehearse so that we could capture a kind of freshness, spontaneity and reality on film.”
Principal photography commenced at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with particular drama and anticipation attached to the first day of production. “I didn’t actually see how Sean was going to play his character until the first day of shooting,” recalls Pfeiffer. “I think it worked on many levels for both of us because we didn’t really have to spend endless hours discussing our characters.
It was really just about showing up and discovering each other.”
Nelson likens Penn’s work on the film to “having Michael Jordan on the court.
Everybody’s game gets elevated when Sean steps onto the set. He’s like a truth serum that has a ripple effect into every department, and you want every bit of set dressing, every prop and camera angle to completely capture the truth of
what he’s doing. Even when Sean is not on camera he’s giving so much to the other actors during their close-ups.”
The presence of cast members Brad Silverman and Joe Rosenberg also had a profound effect on the entire production. “They have a great capacity for love, which is in many ways what this movie is about,” says Penn. “You can feel their
warmth and honesty when you spend time with them and they have such an inherent sweetness that is infectious and transparent in their performance.”
“On the day when Sean finally took the stand, Brad was crying because he couldn’t understand why anyone would kidnap Lucy and question Sam’s ability to be a good parent,” Nelson recalls. “He felt it so deeply, but he was also having
an experience as an actor of getting so into the scene that it felt real to him.
There was always that fine line of their own life experience and their burgeoning technique as actors. It was an interesting dynamic to watch evolve.”
Production continued to work its way through the 48-day shooting schedule in such quintessential Los Angeles locations as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Veteran’s Memorial Building, Echo Park, Pershing Square and Grand
Central Market, as well as HOP, Target, Payless Shoe Store and Starbucks. In the film, Sam has been working at the local Starbucks bussing tables for the past seven years and the filmmakers secured special cooperation from the Starbucks Corporation to ensure an authentic experience of their work environment.
Nelson worked closely with director of photography Elliot Davis (Out of Sight) to bring an intimacy to the camerawork. “I wanted the film to have a look of moments being captured,” says Nelson, “that it was almost like watching a diary of these peoples’ lives, of moments that normally wouldn’t be seen.”
“Elliot is such an inspiring person to work with,” Nelson continues. “When the actors were crying during a scene, he would come up from behind the camera and be equally sad as if he was right there in the scene with them.”
Davis shot the film predominantly with hand-held cameras. “The vision never wavered from Jessie’s essence of what the film was about,” says Davis. “We wanted to do a very subjective view that would allow the viewer to eavesdrop on
Sam’s world. From that concept came the hand-held shooting style which allowed for time to be stretched or compressed to develop a form that would allow us to relay whatever emotional impact was needed.”
The lighting, notes Davis, was “always interpreting and expressive. It wasn’t just a passive bystander. Sam had a very fluid point of view where he would be taking in the world around him, and what he became interested or not interested
in would dictate the movement of the camera and the lighting. Hand-held zooms helped us emphasize emotional impact from inside him, and the degree of movement was based on what emotions were transpiring.”
Acclaimed film editor Richard Chew (Star Wars, The Conversation) further developed the film’s unique visual and structural style. “It’s been a long journey to find a subjective cutting style to fit the story and camera movements,” says Chew. “Since it’s a very emotional story, Jessie, Elliot and I worked to impose a rawness to the film, using a loose, moving camera along with some improvisation on the set.”
Chew welcomed the challenge of the material, he says, “because I was allowed to break traditional rules about continuity cutting, a style which maintains a strict objective — representational — reality. Jessie encouraged me to explore how to maintain a subjective — psychological, emotional — reality.”
Production designer Aaron Osborne worked with Nelson and Davis in creating distinct worlds for each character to occupy. ‘We developed the look of the sets by trying to create a world from each one of the dysfunctional points of view and the oppositions that each one of them have,” notes Osborne. “A high-powered lawyer is going to live in a very different world than a mentally-challenged man.”
Costume designer Susie DeSanto spent time at L.A. Goal to prepare Sam’s wardrobe, interviewing the members to help her make choices they would make.
“I wanted to know where they shop and what kinds of clothes they like to wear,” she says. “I also talked to them about how they would dress a little girl.”
DeSanto continues, “From there I worked with Sean in the fitting room and we found a look that he felt worked. We decided to keep it pretty muted and very simple. Khakis, soft greens and pale colors.”
Rita’s surroundings would also transform. “We wanted Rita to be very angular and not very friendly,” explains Nelson. “We wanted to show that she hadn’t taken the time to make a home that integrated her child. The production team
created both sets and locations that captured the power, money and elegance of her character, while at the same time it was cold, empty and very minimalist.”
DeSanto wanted Rita’s style and colors to match her busy and streamlined lifestyle. “She is someone who doesn’t have time for shopping but has a lot of style and money,” the costume designer notes. “There weren’t a lot of gray areas in Rita’s life so I wanted to keep her in black and white almost exclusively.
Luckily, we had a relationship with Armani and it fit the story that her character would be the type of person who just goes to Armani for her clothes. When things get a bit softer towards the end of the film, we added some lavenders and
pale blues, and softened the fabrics.”
“Suzy did an incredible job collaborating with Elliot Davis and Aaron Osborne on the wardrobe of this film,” comments Nelson. “She was constantly looking for ways to express the characters.”
When principal photography ended, cast and crew alike felt they had all been on a journey together. “This film was as good an experience as I’ve ever had with a director,” reflects Penn. “Jessie offered such affection to cast and crew so that everyone really felt they were part of a group at large, all trying to make something truly special.”
“It’s been a crazy and wild ride,” adds producer Richard Solomon. “I think Sean, Michelle and all the actors were extraordinary, and to see Brad and Joe accomplish what they did was one of the most unique experiences of my life.
What Jessie accomplished on this film was truly remarkable.”
For Nelson, the process of making / Am Sam was a collaborative effort that touched everyone involved on a personal level. “I truly feel that this is one of those rare opportunities where the combination of what everyone brought to the
mix elevated the film so much that it turned out in a whole other way that exceeded my greatest expectations,” she concludes.
ABOUT THE SOUNDTRACK
The Beatles play a prominent role in / Am Sam, from Sam naming his daughter Lucy Diamond after the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” to his obsessive knowledge of dates, times and places of Beatles events, facts and trivia.
The permanence and timelessness of Beatles music became apparent to director/co-writer Jessie Nelson and co-writer Kristine Johnson in their research while writing the script. “When we went to the different organizations and
attended some of their music and chorus classes, every single one of them that we asked would say their favorite music was the Beatles, across the board,” says
Nelson. “Many of the people we met not only loved and idolized the Beatles but looked to them as guides on how to act in life. If someone was separating from a roommate, they might relate it to how the Beatles broke up. It was an accessible way into their world.”
Likewise, The Beatles became a common thread throughout the film. Nelson played Beatles music on the set throughout production to keep their feel in the actors’ heads. It seemed natural for these songs to play on the soundtrack, but
rights issues inspired the filmmakers to approach Sony Music about obtaining permission to create a soundtrack that would feature contemporary artists recording personal renditions of classic Beatles songs.
The filmmakers arranged for V2 Records West Coast A&R executive Jon Sidel to see the film, who in turn felt compelled to get label executive Kate Hyman and label president Andy Gershon involved with the film. Everyone involved jumped at the opportunity to create for this film what is perhaps the most ambitious collection of Beatles covers ever assembled. “In light of everything that has happened in the world, I Am Sam is the kind of film you want to believe in,” says Gershon.
Director Nelson and producer Richard Solomon collaborated with V2 Records to generate a wish list of artists they wanted for the soundtrack and ended up garnering a wave of interest from top artists.
Among the first to sign on was Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, who is a friend of Sean Penn. The song Vedder planned to perform was “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” a childhood favorite of his. The Wallflowers recorded “I’m
Looking Through You” at a studio owned by Jackson Browne, who sang harmony on the track.
Additional tracks include Aimee Mann & Michael Penn collaborating on “Two of Us”; Ben Harper performing “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and Sarah McLachlan performing a stirring rendition of “Blackbird.” Additional participating artists
include The Black Crowes, Ben Folds, Rufus Wainright and Sheryl Crow, among others.
The / Am Sam soundtrack, which will be released on January 8th, 2002, is produced by Kate Hyman and Jon Sidel of V2 Records and director/co-writer Jessie Nelson.
“I hope that when one listens to the soundtrack they will draw from it the artists’ inspirations from the movie and their affection for the music,” Gershon says.
“That what makes this collection of songs special is the way the artists were able to take a Beatles classic and make it their own.”
A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the / Am Sam soundtrack will be donated to L.A. Goal, a non-profit organization founded in 1969 that serves adults with developmental disabilities and was a touchstone to the cast and crew