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Film / A Different Approach

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A Different Approach is a 1978 short film (21 minutes) directed by Fern Field.

A bunch of corporate types gather together to watch a film they are producing, a public-service short film funded by the government, encouraging businesses to hire the physically disabled (or, as they're called in 1970s lingo, the "handicapped"). A brash young filmmaker named Howard (Michael Keaton) starts the projector and plays the first scene—a musical number in which a bunch of people in wheelchairs sing about how all they want is a chance to work.

The leader of the meeting (Sorrell Booke, Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard), who expected a typical sort of serious, earnest public-service film, is appalled, but Howard insists that making the product entertaining will also make it more effective. Various sketch comedy bits play out, introduced by Real Life television stars of the day, all dedicated to the message that the physically disabled are an untapped source of labor who can do all sorts of jobs if only they are given the chance.

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Michael Keaton's film debut.


Tropes:

  • An Aesop: Don't be afraid to hire the handicapped!
  • Bait-and-Switch: One skit has two people walking through a parking lot, hidden by cars, as they grouse about how their company has been lowering drafting tables in order to accomodate some new disabled employees. When they finally become visible, one is using crutches due to having malformed legs, and the other is a little person.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: The opening musical number in which the disabled people sing about how "nobody here wants a handout" is done Busby Berkeley style, with folks in wheelchairs spinning around in a circle as the camera pulls up overhead.
  • The Cameo: Several TV celebrities introduce sketches with words to the effect of "Why not try the ____ approach?" Actors appearing as themselves in the short include Martin Mull, Betty White, and All in the Family star Carroll O'Connor.
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  • Clown Car: A gag in the "turn the tables approach" skit has the abled man get on an elevator at the company with all-disabled employees. The elevator gets where its going and opens, followed by a lot of wheelchair-bound people getting out. Cut to the abled man still in the elevator, quivering in shock.
  • Framing Device: A team at some sort of industrial film production company sits down to watch their latest film. The bits of Howard's movie are interspersed with the people at the meeting talking about them. Sometimes they talk over the In-Universe film bits.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Averted. The whole point of the film is that the physically disabled can work just like anybody else can, at any job that their disability doesn't actually prevent them from doing.
  • Persecution Flip: The "turn the tables approach" skit involves a physically abled man applying for work at a company where everyone is wheelchair-bound. He's inconvenienced when he has to bend over to use a pay phone that's mounted low on the wall.
  • Public Service Announcement: In-Universe the film that Howard and the company are making is a public service announcement funded by the government. A Different Approach was actually privately funded by United Airlines.
  • Title Drop: When talking about how he asked "creative people" in New York about how to get his message across, Howard says "They all gave different approaches." As the credits of the film roll one of the board members says "This was a different approach."
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