Box Talks: Documentary Filmmaker Bret Malley


Funnelbox talks with Bret Malley about his vision for a documentary film made by the autism community, for the autism community—and beyond.

Watch a snippet of our conversation, read the full interview below, and find out how you can support this film!




Tracey: All right, Ready?

Bret: Ready. Whenever you’re ready.

Tracey: Ok! Bret, thank you so much for being here. We’ll start with just a very general introduction. Tell us who you are, what you do, and why you’re here today.

Bret: My name is Bret Malley. I’m a full time college instructor at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, where I teach multimedia arts and visual communications. And I’m an author. I do a lot of Photoshop, but I’m also a filmmaker, and I have a sabbatical, and I’m working on a film that’s really important to me. So that’s who I am, and what I do in a nutshell.

Tracey: Let’s talk about this film. Tell us about the project that you’re embarking on with your sabbatical this year.

Bret: Yeah. So a little back story. About a year ago, my son was officially diagnosed as autistic, and that triggered a number of things. Mostly a lot of questions that we sort of tumbled down this rabbit hole of understanding a whole bunch of different things. And so I’m going to be going on this journey that I hope others will relate to, that I’m very excited about and passionate about. This is kind of my life right now, so I’m going to take my filmmaking skills and experience some things that I teach. I’m going to go into the industry, partnered with amazing people and bring that back to my students and also get to tell the story that is really important to not just myself but many, many others that are going through this as well. And so I hope this is relatable. I hope this is something that turns into validation for many, and also just a wild ride of a personal journey. So we’ll see where this takes us.


“Difference should be accepted, everywhere. And this is part of that.”


Tracey: Tell us more about why this topic is important to you. 

Bret: So my son one year ago was officially diagnosed, but that wasn’t the beginning of this process. We had started with one school when he was pre-K, found out that that wasn’t fitting. And then we went to another school that had nice parameters that he could sort of work within, and then that also ended up not working. And there’s this really, really long journey that was very difficult, not with who my son is and how he interacts, but working with others that couldn’t relate to or get into how he thinks, how he experiences things. And so that friction, that frustration, led to this larger idea and also led to the very arduous process of getting an official diagnosis, which is not… it’s not easy. It’s really long, and it can be painful, depending on, everyone has a different experience of it, but it was really tricky. So a good 8 to 9 months, probably a year since we started the process, we finally got to meet with the doctor that would do the in-person assessment, and we finally got that. And just then, when we got the official document that said, yes, your son is autistic, the school year was over. So we were looking for this as a tool, and it wasn’t timely, and I think that’s part of the process and part of the story. So bringing it back to the why, that’s kind of the reason is, going through this experience has been really challenging and I know that my family is not alone in that. In how misunderstood their children are, or people that have been undiagnosed, and how much misinformation, how much stigma is there, all these things sort of build up. And then for me, having a sabbatical coming up where I get a chance to express myself and capture this story, that is all I sort of think about right now, it was sort of the perfect alignment of stars to go find partners that also feel passionately about this, that can help in this creative process and make it something impactful that other people can relate to and feel.

So, that was a long way of saying it’s personal. It’s been a long journey that just now had the right elements line up to then pursue this for real, which is very exciting.

Tracey: Mmm yeah. Thanks for sharing that. So tell me a little bit more about why you’re pursuing this project right now?

Bret: So I teach full time, which is wonderful, and I love doing that. For me, I never have time to do my own artwork. I’m either teaching Photoshop or I’m teaching Premiere Pro or the technical gear. So for me personally, why now? I have this opportunity to have a full year of support to pursue and then also to bring back to my students. So there’s that element. Professionally, like there’s time will actually do something, which is huge, and that’s a huge privilege. So I have to use that. This is the time for it. 

And then for my own journey. This is the moment of when we are now learning about autism and about all these different things that come with it and these amazing people and communities that are part of this, and really wanting to share that with others that are also maybe wondering about themselves or their children or loved ones and how to make this something that’s supportive, that takes away stigma, that takes away all these misconceptions. And also a big part of why now is, my son really likes to have the agency of talking about his experience and how it’s not like so many others and how misunderstood he has been, kind of his whole life with this. So giving him a bit of a platform to be able to talk about his own experience from his own voice.

So I have a child that wants to communicate and use his own voice as an advocate for himself, as well as an opportunity to make that happen.

Tracey: What experience and perspective do you bring to this story Bret? 


“I feel like a newborn. There’s this rich, amazing community that I’m just now discovering about, and I am still an outsider a little bit.”


Bret: That’s a complicated one for me because I feel like a newborn. There’s this rich, amazing community that I’m just now discovering about, and I am still an outsider a little bit, trying and I’m going to go through my own journey of process, this process as well. But I’m not, you know, the doctor that studied this for years, or known about it from a young age, or have all this other expertise. I do know that I’m neurodivergent. I know that I’m dyslexic. There’s a number of things that I am. I know that making eye contact for me is challenging, and I’m doing my best, so thanks for bearing with it. And a number of things that are not just your stereotypical, the assumption of what autism is. So part of why me, is going through my son’s process of a diagnosis, and realizing that I meet a whole lot of criteria, or potential criteria, and I could be clinically autistic, but definitely neurodivergent.

So why me? I’m at this point where there’s a lot of others. There’s a whole generation of those that were either not diagnosed or misdiagnosed, and I feel like I represent that part of wondering, and wanting to learn. And so if I can bring others on this learning journey, because I don’t know everything, I know hardly anything as I’m discovering, right. And I feel like that’s an opportunity, and a privilege, to be able to bring others along that are at a similar stage and process, and to also hear directly from autistics. And they get to express their experience of difference, in whatever form that looks like.

Tracey: Can you give us a little bit of a sense of how you envision this film looking and feeling?

Bret: Part of it is being led by the voices of autistics. That’s primary number one. But then how do you communicate difference? As creatives, we have some really great storytelling tools at our fingertip. Animation and illustration, there’s so many different styles, as many styles as there are different experiences, and the diversity of what it is to be neurodivergent. So tapping into the creative ability to make anything happen and to visualize that and make it relatable for those that maybe couldn’t otherwise relate to someone that they’re just talking to or interfacing with. So using creative tools to represent and illustrate those very personal experiences that people are sharing is really important. While talking heads are very informative, and there’s a lot of information that can be conveyed, and that will be a part of the documentary, what’s going to be more important is where the creatives can make this come alive, make these stories really resonate to a different level, and to a wider population, including those that are part of the community.

So it needs to resonate on a personal, validating level. And creatives can do that. Animators can do that. And then also be something that draws others in. That really starts lowering the stigma, that makes it more acceptable, and standard. Difference should be accepted, everywhere. And this is part of that. So creatively telling the story not just with filmmaking in the traditional sense with cameras, but with animation and VFX and all these other ways to tell stories.

Tracey: And what made you reach out to Funnelbox for support with this project?

Bret: I was looking around for quite a while when I first had this idea of a sabbatical project, of including animation to illustrate experiences for those that are talking about, you know, anecdotal stories or just really nice, visually rich language. So I was looking for those that had production chops. But more importantly that had the heart, that had a similar value system of care and commitment to causes that aren’t just maybe commercial.

So the technical had to be part of it. I looked around lots of different production companies. And then I stumbled upon Funnelbox, looking at the kind of work, you know, aside from the technical. Yes, very professional, beautiful animation, right. Looking at the demo reel and varied animation. It’s just like every person’s experience of their autism or neurodivergence is unique, that needs to be captured and represented in some way. So someone that has versatility creatively and then also those that have a value system where this is meaningful and impactful work that they will also embrace and carry forward and care about that end goal of how can we help to make the world a better, more inclusive place. So Funnelbox aligned with all those things, both technically and then most importantly, what your mission is, what you’re about, and the kind of work you do.

Tracey: Thanks for saying all that. And yes, one of the things that we care deeply about at Funnelbox is supporting our community and local community projects, especially when those projects are about elevating underrepresented voices, stories and experiences in the way that I know you aim to with your film. So for all those reasons, we were so excited and honored when you reached out to ask for support. And, I just have to say, since the beginning of our conversations, the bravery and the courage and the vulnerability that you’ve shared and demonstrated in owning your story and sharing your experiences has been incredibly impactful and inspiring. And I just am so glad that we get to support this project and that brings me to my final question.

What additional support do you need? What else are you looking for? How can the community get involved and support you on this journey this year?


And that is one of the foundation elements to this story, is that it’s by the autism community for the autism community, and beyond.”


Bret: Yeah, so first, thank you for all of that. It’s mutual. Just to back up on what you said very quickly. I’m very thankful that reaching out I had such a wonderful reception and I think that was the number one thing that I needed. That other people found this valuable, and having a community of creatives is huge. It’s such a big deal! One thing that I’ve learned is that just because I can do a thing by myself, does not mean I should. And I think this will be so much better having partners such as Funnelbox, as well as other creatives. 

So what do I need? Other creatives who have neurodivergence as part of their identity, or they’re part of that community, who want to get involved and help tell this story. Also people who want to tell their own story and become part of this journey as well. And that is one of the foundation elements to this story, is that it’s by the autism community for the autism community, and beyond. That root of who’s telling the story is really important. So bringing together those that are interested and passionate and would like to participate, is a huge aspect to the telling of this story.

Financial support is also really important. To pay these creatives and to make this something that’s equitable and has value, within as well as out, making sure that it’s financially supported is really important. If you go to the website, there’s a pledge form for a crowdfunding campaign that will be starting soon, and you can sign up for the mailing list too.

And then if you have any leads that open up voices and magnify those that are autistic, or are neurodivergent, that taps into much more diversity than what I represent. There are so many underrepresented voices and populations that autism, and how misunderstood it is, and the stigma, impacts. And so including those experiences is really important. 

Tracey: Anything else you wanted to share? 

Bret: I’m learning, and others are as well, and always will be. So to bring people along on my journey, as cringy as it might be at times, if we’re learning how to walk, right, if I’m at a very early stage of this, it’s figuring out my balance and figuring out the terrain and how best to navigate.

Tracey: And that’s where all that courage and vulnerability comes into play. So I just commend you again for your bravery and for your taking on this epic journey over the next year. And thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing more about the story.

Bret: Well, thank you for having me. This was a very worthwhile trek from Corvallis. It’s great to be back in Portland, so thanks for having me here.