“I wanted to tell stories, real stories from other people who have had exceptional things happen to them.”
That is how Brian Weidling, whose documentary "SPEAK" recently debuted on DVD, explains his passion for filmmaking.
SPEAK examines the hurdles everyday people face when speaking in pubic and chronicles the wins and losses of six individuals on and off the stage as they compete in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest finals for the coveted title of “World Champion of Public Speaking.” Produced in partnership with Paul Galichia, it is a project Weidling, a Hillsborough native, describes as making him feel “much more connected with humanity.”
Growing up in Hillsborough, filmmaking was not even on Weidling’s radar. In his senior year at Immaculata High School, he had visions of playing college soccer and perhaps going into sports journalism or broadcasting. At age 17, however, he was “given a big life turn” when a car accident left him without the use of his right arm and without a left leg.
While he was physically healing, he knew he still wanted to play soccer. He was admitted to Emerson College, where he played for three years and was captain his senior year. It was also at Emerson that Weidling’s interest in filmmaking was born when an advisor suggested he create a documentary instead of writing a final paper. He “never looked back” and earned his diploma in speech communication studies with a concentration in filmmaking.
Weidling went on to enroll in grad school at USC, hoping to “get into the film industry” in the Los Angeles area. That turned out to be another fortuitous move, as it was there that he met his future wife and Galichia, his film collaborator and co-founder of Tumbleweed Entertainment.
Over the years, they have developed, produced and distributed several projects, including "Go Green," an original eco-series for Discovery New Media, and "The Goal–Claudio Reyna," narrated by Robert Duval.
After hearing about a shy woman who came out of her shell thanks to Toastmasters International, the pair decided to tackle a subject that many people consider their number one fear–public speaking. Weidling and Galichia spent two years “running around the country meeting these different characters,” Weidling said, exploring the physical and emotional symptoms that public speaking can cause.
They also interviewed such Toastmaster alumni such as “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, communications professors and sportscaster Brian Collins. The final “cast” includes six competitors, each with a unique personality and background who takes the stage to prove why they deserve the Toastmasters’ title.
“It was a great experience meeting so many different people and hearing so many different stories,” Weidling said.
Perhaps more importantly, he says, is that the project has afforded them the “ability to be part of someone’s legacy.” One of the contestants, LaShunda Rundles, struggled with systemic lupus. She had been terrified at the prospect of addressing an audience but was encouraged by her educator mother to make public appearances, eventually starting her own communications and relationship management company and entering the Toastmasters competition. She also recently passed away.
“We want to share her legacy with as many people as possible,” Weidling says. “To be able to forward someone’s legacy is a very serious mission. She was a truly amazing person who had a huge effect on both Paul and I. She’s our star.”
"SPEAK" has already had more than 300 screenings in about 50 countries with more anticipated at universities and other venues. For more information on how to purchase the "SPEAK" DVD or to find out where upcoming screenings will be held, you can visit the movie's website.
Now that the "SPEAK" project is complete, Weidling and Galichia are focusing on "A Symphony of Hope," a behind-the-scenes look at the collaboration of 25 of today’s leading Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy award-winning composers who create an orchestral piece to benefit The Haiti Project for earthquake relief.
“This is probably the most beautiful piece of music that I’ll ever have in what I do,” Weidling added.