Laughing our way to the Emmys
by Julia Urich
It isn’t every day you meet someone who unquestionably changes your perspective and appreciation of life. When I got an email from then 20-year-old Shane Burcaw in June 2012, I could never have known it was from a soon-to-be great friend and fellow Emmy winner.
Shane reached out to a number of local production houses in our little Valley (the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is!) to ask for assistance with professionally producing a documentary with him. I am, apparently, the only person who asked to meet him to discuss the idea. And how grateful I am for the opportunity.
In the first two minutes of talking to Shane, I was completely enamored. I knew in an instant that I was in the presence of one of the most amazing individuals I might ever meet.
Shane has a unique perspective on life, literally. He’s at least a full foot shorter than most – both because he is permanently in a wheelchair, and because of the disease wasting his muscles away: Spinal muscular atrophy. This recipe means many different flavored dishes of crap Shane gets served by the world around him. By looking at him, many people assume he can’t think or speak like an “average individual” (whatever that means). You would never know at first glance that he is a brilliant writer with over half a million people around the world tuned into his blog and social media outlets to find out what he has to say.
Don’t worry – Shane doesn’t care how much I talk about him. I can say pretty much anything to or about him, because Shane has removed the barriers … taken down the wall of discomfort that many might experience when standing face to face with an individual who is physically handicapped. Do I shake his hand? Can he understand me? Will he be offended if I say “disabled?” Believe me, it’s all crossed my mind and the minds of many others! And Shane knows it.
All of this is what the self-deprecating, sarcastic, and seriously brilliant college senior has made a business of in his relatively young non-profit organization: Laughing At My Nightmare, Inc. He will make you laugh ‘til you cry and there are no boundaries – you can talk about or say anything when you’re with him. And just to be sure you’re comfortable with it, he’ll open the conversation with some witty one-liner.
By the time he finished telling me his story in that first, fateful meeting … how he got started writing his blog, and how he wants to change the world for the better … I was in tears. It had nothing to do with feeling sorry for him, nothing to do with the realization that I am a first-class offender when it comes to passing judgment, rather it was sheer awe, amazement, and profound respect for this human being who is eight years younger than I am and has accomplished so much. He lives every single day not being able to do a fraction of the things I take for granted, and his disease will progress until it kills him (his life expectancy is 30 years). Yet he finds all the beauty in everything around him and is determined to inspire the world to do the same, and have a freakin’ good time doing it!
Rocky (my husband) and I have believed from day one in our business that the greatest thing we can do is give back to our community and our world through our craft in an effort to make even one life more enjoyable. We have the unique ability to reach many people with what we do. Video is a universal tool for storytelling — even in a foreign language, you are able to interpret some amount of the story through the visuals presented. We focus on telling a story in every video we create – whether it is a non-profit organization, a corporation, or a small business; a longer format or a thirty-second TV commercial. We know we are blessed to do what we do, and feel it is our obligation to use it for good.
It was a no-brainer to take on Shane’s project. He embodies everything we have always believed and more, and we are confident his story will change more perspectives than just our own.
I’ve never had more fun or laughed so hard as on the days I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with my husband filming Shane, his partner-in-crime, Shannon, and their amazing family and friends. (Seriously, I think I wet my pants on at least two occasions.)
It has never been so rewarding to work on a project. We are witnessing firsthand the power of media and we’re simply in awe. In less than seven minutes, Happiness is Always an Option informs viewers about an awesome organization and communicates a message of hope. The video has been shared all over the Internet and we have received amazing feedback. We believe in the power of video and that’s why FireRock and LAMN, Inc. are already teaming up for more projects!
It just so happens that the first video we worked on together won an Emmy this year in the Mid-Atlantic region. It is an incredible honor and we were nominated in a category with some outstanding and talented people. It was truly not even a thought at the beginning of the production process, but an unexpected surprise to have it end up this way. We hope that whatever attention might be garnered from the Emmys ultimately furthers the mission of Laughing At My Nightmare and changes the perspective of at least one individual.
I’ve learned a lot from Shane and his family in the past year. Most importantly, laughter is the best, most inexpensive and highly effective (and addictive) drug in the world. And there is no overdosing. So, laugh! Laugh a lot! And let your heart be warmed with positivity. Soon you’ll find yourself surrounded by like-minded people who want to laugh with you and have a positive effect on those around them.
You might find yourself in the strangest of situations together – like at some big awards dinner you only every dreamt about until that moment; receiving a beautiful gold statuette and standing in front of a crowd of talented peers and seasoned colleagues. On the ride there, you might influence and change each other; and maybe, just maybe, together you’ll influence and change the world.Tags: Documentary filmmakers, Emmys, FireRock Productions, Happiness is Always an Option, Hollywood, Julia Urich, Laughing At My Nightmare, Rocky Urich, Shane Burcaw, Shannon O'Connor, Spinal muscular atrophy