Melody Goodspeed: Welcome everybody to The American Foundation for the Blind's Inform & Connect series. So excited to have you guys here with us today. Inform & Connect was created to foster camaraderie between the blindness community with informal storytelling. And with our special guest today, I'm so excited is our very own Juan Alcazar who is a film producer and YouTuber. How are you, Juan?
Juan Alcazar: Hey, Melody. Glad to be on here. Doing pretty good.
Melody Goodspeed: Good. I'm glad to have you. And I'm glad you get to be here with our funness that we have on Wednesdays. I we're just so particularly drawn to how your kindness and your compassion and your quick wit humor, which I've very much enjoyed the last couple of weeks talking to you. But with that said, can you tell us a little bit about what drew you to your career in film?
Juan Alcazar: Well, first of all, my name is like you said, Juan, and my YouTube channel name is called the JC5 Productions. I'm a legally blind filmmaker and YouTuber, and I've been doing YouTube actually since 2011, it's been awhile. But I got into film ... Well, I got into film back when I was in high school, actually. It started with a creative writing class and we were just writing short stories and things like that. And next thing you know, the teacher told us, "Okay, we're going to learn how to write screenplays." And I was like, "I've never done that before." And then that just ... I got hooked. And then when I went to college, I thought, "Okay, let me take a screenwriting class."
Juan Alcazar: And fast forward to that, that turned into majoring in film production. So now, fast forward to me graduating from San Francisco State with a film degree, I decided to do the film festival circuit, but then, film festivals, cost money. So, I was like, "Yeah, that's maybe not going to work out too much," because I thought I was this great out-of-film school filmmaker, but no, my films still needed a lot of work.
Juan Alcazar: So I decided to jump on YouTube, but it wasn't until just a few years ago that I finally started talking about my disability on YouTube. And now my channel revolves around talking about disability, visual impairment, but also with the perspective of storytelling. So there's short film ... Excuse me. So there's short films in there as well. So I try to just have everything go around the storytelling aspect, so it revolves around that.
Melody Goodspeed: Nice. So in 2017, what changed to have you talk about your disability? What calling did you see to do that?
Juan Alcazar: Well, I basically discovered the disability community, the blind community on YouTube. It was through several YouTubers and I started watching them. I didn't realize that there was an entire community of blind YouTubers, and later I found out also blind bloggers. And that's when I started thinking, "Okay, maybe this isn't so bad," especially when folks started talking about using their canes, things like that. And that propelled me into just accepting my disability and also talking about it as well.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. And I really loved what you said in one of your quotes and also watching your channel, about doing what you do and being passionate about it, is like staring your disability in the face and saying, "No, you can't control what I do." What is that thing when you're doing your work?
Juan Alcazar: Meaning? I didn't understand it too well.
Melody Goodspeed: Just think, when you're doing your work, I just love how you said that, the passion that you have in it. And a lot of people I think are really afraid to move forward with their passions when they have a disability. I mean, I know that myself, I was. So how did it, when you work with that, how does that feel to you when it comes to advocacy?
Juan Alcazar: Well, I guess for me, it's because ... So it's tough for a lot of people who have a creative endeavors to move forwards with that passion, especially if they have a disability. Because most of the time we're encouraged to pursue something else or do other stuff, instead of following your creative dreams.
Juan Alcazar: But with me, because I went to film school and went through that route, I really told myself that, "You know what, you can still make films. You can still make videos, but the thing is yeah, you're going to have to make adjustments. It's going to take a little longer to do these things." And I think a lot of folks who are encouraged to pursue something else really should advocate for themselves, because if this is something that they really want to do, if they know that this is something they want to do, instead of just a hobby, they should go for it. Because if they don't try, then how do they know if this is going to be a passion that works for them or not?
Melody Goodspeed: No, I totally agree. And I just love the part that you're encouraging people to find their passions through the work that you're doing. And for me, I too, with you talking about YouTubing and talking about people that you found that are blind blogging, that are doing YouTube channels, that are doing what we would call visual work. So how did that inspire you?
Juan Alcazar: Well, I mean, like I said earlier, it just made me realize that there's a whole community online for this. And I started making my own videos, but then I started to reach out to a lot of these folks, and a lot of them now are acquaintances and even friends. And it's just, I didn't realize how tight-knit this community was, but then the more I realized it's like, "Wow, everybody knows each other here in a way."
Juan Alcazar: And that led me to make a video featuring the 10 other YouTubers and myself that I really feel is one of my best videos that I've done, based on that topic.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, actually you're leading me to my next question. I was going to ask you, if you could think of one video or one incident that just was just a really amazing experience for you. Can you tell us about it?
Juan Alcazar: Yeah. I mean, I can go back in time and mention one that is my most popular video. And then I can mention the one I just said. I made a film back in 2012 where it's basically two little crumpled up pieces of paper talking to each other, because they were rejected ideas. And they was talking to each other saying, "Why did you get rejected?" "Oh, oh, I'm hoping that ... I thought I was special," and things like that. And it was just a simple little idea, and I didn't realize that that was going to get almost half a million views now.
Melody Goodspeed: Wow.
Juan Alcazar: I mean, I uploaded it back in 2012, but it's gotten quite a good amount of views by now.
Juan Alcazar: But post me talking about my disability, I think the most important video is one that's called Blindness is a Spectrum. And like I said, there I featured 10 other YouTubers, 10 or 11, I lost count. But there's a good amount of us talking. And originally I was going to make a video where I wanted to talk about the whole blindness is a spectrum topic, but then I thought to myself, "Okay, one person isn't going to cut it. I'm going to need a backup here."
Juan Alcazar: So I asked other folks if they were kind enough to do this, I gave them the concept. Some of them told me that they wanted to, but they couldn't because of time. And I said, "No, no, no, no, I'll wait for you. I'll wait for you. Just take your time." And yeah, I mean the finished product is something I'm very proud of, and it really does show that blindness is a spectrum because it ranges from folks who have some vision to no vision at all and several different conditions. And I couldn't be prouder of any other advocacy video that I've made up to this point.
Melody Goodspeed: That's awesome. And I have to agree with you, because I know you and I have talked about how there are so many differences, like I'm totally blind and you're partial sight. And then it's a really hard thing for people to grasp and with what we're doing, even in different spaces, me at AFB and you're … blind, and then you're doing what you're doing while in this together with inclusion.
Melody Goodspeed: Because we are showing that there are different spectrums, just like people, we all are different. And I think if we looked at it more at that kind of smaller level that we're just people, it would take away a lot of the uncertainties and could bring more inclusion. So speaking of inclusion, how do you do that when you are in your filmmaking? What are your goals for that?
Juan Alcazar: As far as inclusion is concerned? Just in what way, though?
Melody Goodspeed: In the way of how we can be seen. People that are blind or vision impaired, no matter what our spectrum, to be included in everyday life.
Juan Alcazar: Well, for me, it's a bit limited because especially right now, since it's hard to go out and film stuff. So I'm trying to tell things from my perspective, but of course I know I only speak for myself. I can't speak for even two or three other blind people because no two blind people see alike.
Melody Goodspeed: Right.
Juan Alcazar: But what I can do is I can try to do some of the raising awareness part, like most sighted people don't know that we use technology or how to use the phone. How is cane travel like? Like last year I made a video talking about how we traveled to Chicago. And I know that's just coming from my perspective, but still, if it's able to shed a bit of light and to giving someone who doesn't know about this just an overall picture, I think then I've done my job.
Juan Alcazar: But yes, like I said, the more voices that we have out there, the better, because different perspectives.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, agreed completely. And it also shows the spectrum of what you want to do in your first video you spoke about.
Melody Goodspeed: So Juan, I know I'm interested in wanting to notice, is there any type of ... When you were in the first … and you're creating something and you have it in your mind, when it comes to implementation, so if I wanted to create a YouTube channel or if anybody that's blind. Are there any adaptations that you do?
Juan Alcazar: Yeah. For editing, I tend to use the zoom magnification, just a lot of magnification features. I'm trying to learn how to use a screen reader for editing. For filming it's a little tougher, I have to do all this jerry-rigging at the moment. Sometimes I can't see where the camera is because I usually take my glasses off because, I don't know, they make my eyes look really small. And for some reason I'm uncomfortable showing that on camera. So I have to put some sort of marker so I can see something and I'm like, "Okay, the marker's right there. If I just look a couple inches down, then that's where the lenses."
Juan Alcazar: I mean, it would be nice if there was some sort of movie camera or just some sort of video camera that was accessible to folks who are wanting to get into filmmaking. I know the iPhone is great. I know it gives you an idea of where ... If you're taking a picture, it'll tell you where the person is in frame. But still, I mean, I wish something like that was adapted into a video camera. But-
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, I know what you're talking about, that would be good. What do you find when you're in that creative process and you're putting it together, you're talking about using a screen reader, do you find that ... What work arounds do you use with the adaptive technology that we have?
Juan Alcazar: Well, for the time being the majority, like I said, is during editing. So, but for the filming part, that's a little tougher because it's ... Okay. So this is my filmmaking side coming out, but we were taught, "Don't set anything to auto. All your camera settings have to be on manual." So that means if I'm just filming myself talking in front of the camera, I would have to put something in my place where I'm sitting.
Juan Alcazar: And I'm like, "Okay, focus on that. Now, sit down where you are, lean forward awkwardly and lean back. And okay, now remove the card, put it in the computer, see if you're in focus, zoom in really close." And then, if not, repeat. So it's a cumbersome process. So that's why I don't like it when I film myself, I'd rather film other stuff because it's like, "Okay, that's in focus. I can kind of tell."
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. Well, I just sent out with this, for the reminder for everybody, that what we were doing this today is, and Dave Steele was featured on here a couple of episodes back. Can you tell us about the collaboration of that project? Because I think that would be a good ... I mean, you showed so many visuals with him doing his poetry and reading it. But what I was really impressed with in the work you did was, obviously the music with it, but also just the images that you created. Can you tell us or walk us through how you do that?
Juan Alcazar: Yeah. So, first of all, I've known Dave for a little while now, maybe a little bit over a year. And ever since I started reading his poetry, I've thought to myself, "Maybe ... What if I asked him if I turn one his poems, not into a short film, but have a visual accompaniment to it." And I reached out to him and luckily he agreed and gladly, he agreed. And I thought, "Okay, let me go through your books. Let me see which one I like." But then he said, "Oh, here's a new one. Here's a whole new one for you to try out."
Juan Alcazar: And we agreed on ... I told him what the message I wanted the poem to have. And luckily he had one ready to go. So the majority of the visuals that you see in the short film, well, in the visual piece, that's a lot of footage that I had already shot months ago. And sometimes I just go out and try to film. Just nice looking stuff, just to have just in case. But then the more I thought about it and I was like, "Wait, I can use a lot of these. And these go really well." Of course I shot some more things. Like there's a shot of me reading braille or a spoon falling on the floor, things like that. Because I wanted to incorporate as many things about blindness, as many visuals about blindness into the piece.
Juan Alcazar: The music, it took me a while to find, I'm always picky with music. It takes me a good ... Hours, it takes me hours to find music. So I'm all lining up the music. I'm like, "No, this doesn't go well. No, this one's too cheerful. No, this one's too dull." That's my process right there. But no, it turned out really well.
Melody Goodspeed: No, it did. It was amazing. It was quite awesome to see that, it was very moving. You did a very good job.
Juan Alcazar: Yeah. I'm grateful to Dave for allowing me to do that. So thank you, man. Thank you for doing that. And I know you're here. Or I think I know, I think I know what you're hearing.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, that is so awesome. I just am in awe of you because I have the hardest time, even with uploading anything to YouTube or whatever, and it's something that I really want to get into. And if you had some advice to somebody who wanted to move into doing a YouTube channel or to use any type of social media, what one tip would that be?
Juan Alcazar: Find your deeper purpose. I know that sounds a little hokey and cheesy and cliché. But the thing is, a lot of people want to start because they want the views, or they just want some quick results. But the thing is, if you don't have this deeper meaning, this deeper purpose for doing this. It's like when you ask someone, "Okay, what do you do?" That's easy to answer. But if someone asks you, "Why do you do it?" That's a little tougher to answer. And the thing is that the clearer that why is, the more focused you actually are. Because a lot of times when I've gotten stuck, I've reminded myself, "Okay, why are you doing this in the first place?" And it's just steered me in the right direction again.
Juan Alcazar: So you really do have defined that deeper purpose as to why you're doing this, because so many people say they want to be positive. They want to make people laugh. And that's great, but what else? I mean, people tune into TV shows, people watch movies. Because they personally get something out of it. It's, you want your favorite movie or TV show because you make some sort of connection. And that's what you have to identify with, what kind of connection you're making with the audience. It's a tough question to answer. And it took me several years to figure that one out.
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. That's awesome. Your why story, you hit me with that one.
Juan Alcazar: I mean, and it wasn't until I started talking about my disability that I realized my why, because at first I was, "I'm just going to make movies." But next thing you know, I'm like, "Wait a second, maybe you're onto something. Maybe you can talk about the same things, but maybe from a different perspective." So that's my why now. And I really feel like I found my voice on YouTube now.
Melody Goodspeed: That is awesome. And I think you have, well, I know you have to, my friend. I have been completely moved by everything that I've watched, and just meeting you as a person and knowing that you are genuine and you're doing it for your purpose. And I think you send a really good message off as we end this, is that we all need to be looking at ourselves, especially at this time. What is our, why? Why do we do what we do? And when life gets nuts and chaotic. And thank you for reminding us all of that.
Melody Goodspeed: Juan, thank you so much for everything you've shared with us today. It's been so amazing. Giving people tips on if they want to get into building their own YouTube station. And, just all the things you've done and shared with us, and your advocacy, I really appreciate it. Your creativity is awesome. If you guys want to learn more about the American Foundation for the Blind and our programs, please visit A-F-B dot-org. Thank you, and have an amazing rest of your week.