From the San Diego Union-Tribune, October 2, by Pam Kragen:
“Boy’s triumph over autism inspires new film: Actress writes movie that draws on her onetime mentoring relationship with San Marcos college student.”
SAN MARCOS — When he was a toddler, Cal State San Marcos freshman Julian Kalb overcame an autism-related communication disorder with the help of L.A. actress Maggie Baird. Fifteen years later, he’s returning the favor as executive producer for Baird’s new film — a drama inspired by their long-ago mentoring relationship.
“Baird co-wrote and stars in “Life Inside Out,” the story of a mother who helps her socially awkward son find himself through music. Baird produced the low-budget, independent film — which opens a weeklong run Oct. 17 at the UltraStar Cinema Mission Valley — with the financial support of family and friends, including Julian, 20, of San Marcos, and his father, Ken Kalb, of Rancho Santa Fe.
“When Maggie started working with Julian, she was his helper and now, flash-forward 15 years, and he can help his teacher make her dream come true,” said Kalb, a film buff and entrepreneur who has started several software and telecommunications companies. He said he and his son cashed in some of their Apple stock to invest in Baird’s movie.
The title, “Life Inside Out,” comes from a song lyric in the film about discovering your inner self, something experienced in life by Julian and on film by the fictional teen son.
“It’s about living your life authentically and being seen for who you really are,” Baird said. “In the film, the mother is dealing with a child who has not found his thing until music clicks for him, and Julian was definitely an inspiration for that.”
The Kalbs first met Baird in the late 1990s, when they lived on the same block in the L.A. neighborhood of Los Feliz. At the time, Baird was a member of L.A.’s comedy improv group The Groundlings. Kalb asked her if she could do some improv and theater exercises with Julian to help him better express his feelings. Beginning at age 2, Julian could only speak by parroting lines from cartoons and movies and he was unable to carry on a conversation, Kalb said.
Baird said she had no training as a therapist, but she decided to improvise when she first sat down with Julian. When he started talking to her with scripted lines he’d memorized from a Charlie Brown television special, she responded to him as Charlie Brown’s arch-nemesis, Lucy.
“I saw a light go on in his eyes when he saw that I was buying into it and we had long conversations as those characters,” she said. “Gradually over time, I expanded the dialogue so he learned the natural give and take of conversation.”
Baird worked with Julian for two years until the Kalbs moved to Solana Beach. With his newfound love for theater, Julian went on to perform in more than a dozen youth-cast musicals with J*Company in La Jolla. The Torrey Pines High School graduate now lives on campus at Cal State San Marcos, where he’s majoring in visual and performing arts.
“When I get onstage, I don’t feel very nervous at all,” he said. “It’s fun creating a character. I would like to work behind the scenes in the film industry as an executive producer and maybe work as a voice artist.”
Baird stayed in touch with the Kalbs over the years, and said she’s been impressed by how Julian has blossomed.
“He’s funny and charming and is still an amazing mimic,” she said.
Baird began writing the “Life Inside Out” screenplay in 2012 with her friend and fellow singer/comedian Lori Nasso. It’s the dual story of a mother of three who rediscovers her love of music at an open-mic night, and her social outcast son Shane, who finds his own musical voice along the way. She co-stars in the movie with her real-life son, 17-year-old Finneas O’Connell, an actor and singer who fronts the L.A. band The Slightlys.
Since its release on the festival circuit earlier this year, “Life Inside Out” has won 10 awards, picked up a distributor and is opening this month in several cities around the country.
“I’ve been delighted at how well it’s been received,” Baird said. “Audiences have responded so positively. Men and women have come up to me and said over and over ‘this is my story.’ ”
Kalb said that when he and Julian agreed to invest in the movie, they did it out of gratitude and friendship, not expecting it would become a festival hit.
“It’s been a remarkable experience and such a nice surprise,” he said. “We gave Maggie the money because we love her and she’s a life force, not because we expected it to become wildly successful. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”