at 5:15 p.m. …a remarkable little film, "Voice in Exile," will be
screened at Filmex. The 30-minute movie, written and directed by Mark Kaplan, is
a journey into the mind and emotions of a 17-year-old stutterer, and the terror,
both imagined and real, that stutterer's are forced to endure. The 27-year-old
Kaplan, a stutterer since the age of 3, was interviewed by Herald Q&A editor
On a personal level, how hard was it to make a picture about a stutterer?
It was like an internal war. Besides the battle of normal filmmaking, I had an
internal one. As a director my number one tool is my instincts, in a film like
this, I didn't know if my reactions were instinct or part of an internal system
telling me I was afraid of revealing something.
If anything, your film is about terror - as a stutterer, the terror that you
might be called on in class, or knowing that the phone is ringing and has to be
answered, the simple basic things that all of us take for granted.
That was what I hoped to portray.
That's an actor up there on screen, but that's really you, isn't it?
Yes. When I was 3, my mother's father had a stroke in Florida. My parents flew
there, left me with my father's mother. They were gone for two weeks, At the
airport. I started to cry. They took me home, she took me off the bottle, and
when my parents came home, I was stuttering. When I was making the film, I
relived what I went through as a child, that sense of being left alone, without
a feeling of security.
When your parents returned, did they perceive the stuttering as a problem,
did they try to do something for you?
They tried. The interesting thing is that my father stuttered until he was
25, and my older brother stuttered until be was 25. They thought, partly, that I
was imitating my older brother. So, at first they ignored it. When I started to
go to school, it got real bad, I started to cut school every day because the
kids were just really not nice. They didn't understand it. I know that now. At
the time, it was terrible.
Did they react to you by laughing?
Yes. And a lot of people still do, actually. I still have people, adults,
laughing at me. And I'm 27.
Growing up, did stuttering affect every area of your life?
One hundred percent.
How were you able to win over people? Or, were you an outcast, and if so,
did you accept that?
I didn't know that I had a choice. I know that now. At a very early age, I
started to hunt for a way to communicate without talking, like drawing. I went
into architecture because my father was an architect. At 12, 1 went to the Art
Institute of Chicago for two years to study art, painting, and sculpture. I did
still photography for years. When I was 16 in high school. I took a class in
film. I made a short, showed it to the class, and all of a sudden I realized
that I was communicating. All the other stuff was out. I captured the audience.
I moved them.
Did that inhibit in any way your progress in being able to speak?
It did the exact opposite. It made me more confident about who I was. It
told me that I wasn't nothing, that I was a human being, that I was alive.
Before that, I had the feeling that I wasn't there. It's like a wall between you
and the rest of the world when you are a stutterer. Every time you talk, it all
stops. People get uncomfortable; it feels like everything stands still.
When you are talking, as now, do you edit yourself because of certain words
that you know will trip you up?
I used to. Not anymore. I've been working on my stuttering for about 12
I've been to every known form of therapy: Transactional analysis, gestalt
therapy, self-hypnosis, yoga, speech retraining - you name it.
Has any of it helped you?
They've all helped me as a person, as a filmmaker. As a stutterer, yes and
no. The speech center at USC handed me tools that if I concentrate really hard
on, I could speak fluently. Right now, if I concentrate 100 percent, I'm fine.
Then, in two hours, if I'm exhausted, it gets worse.
It must take a tremendous amount of concentration,
Yes, and it's a very slow process, For me, the big transformation came when
I finally could say, "The hell with it, if people don't like me for my
stuttering, the hell with them."
Did that make it easier?
Oh God, yes. It's self-esteem. But it is more like realizing that everyone
is exactly the same, and that you are not less than anybody else. If someone
doesn't have the time to get to know you, that's OK, but it doesn't mean you are
less of a person.
In the film, you make the point that Moses was a stutterer. Aristotle was a
stutterer. Winston Churchill. Demosthenes. You obviously had to do a lot of
research to find that out.
In the Bible, it says that when Moses was at the burning bush, and God asked him
to go into Egypt and speak out, Moses essentially said, "…but I am slow
of tongue," I think the expression
told him that his brother Aaron would speak for him. That's what happens, His
the Pharaoh when Moses is standing there. Churchill created this thing where
right before he would speak he would do this hum.
Almost like a mantra?
Yes, it was like he was warming up to it. Then he'd go right into sentences.
His pauses were
very strange. People would say, "What a brilliant speaker!" because it
was so unusual and yet be used it to his advantage.
Have you learned how to do those kinds of things, too?
Yes, I can do them, but it depends. If I am tired, I stutter. If I'm
nervous, upset, rushed. I stutter. After 25 years, it is a learned condition, so
that when I have certain emotional states, it is automatic.
The fact that your father and brother stuttered until 25, does that indicate
a hereditary link for stuttering?
They believe there is, but not all stutterers come from families that have
problems. That's the problem with the research, so many of the cases are so
different from each other.
So if your father stopped at 25, and your brother stopped at 25, and yours
still stuttering at 27, are you angry about that?
No, because most of the time, I don't stutter.
Did you think you would stop when you were 25?
I was hoping I would. Then, all through my 25th year, it got worse, because
of the pressure.
I finally said, "The hell with it." Most of the time, I don't stutter.
Do you communicate with other stutterers?
Yes. There's the national stuttering project out of San Francisco. They
publish a newsletter.
They have a
convention. They helped me with the film. My actor, Ben Bottoms, went to a
meeting of stutterers and stuttered in front of them without telling them be was
an actor, and they bought it. Afterwards, we talked about it, they spoke to him,
it was real nice.
I understand people are responding very well to the film. Is the response
due to the subject
because of Mark Kaplan the filmmaker?
Because of the emotion, I don't think it has anything to do with my
stuttering. A lot of people who weren't stutterers came up to me with tears in
their eyes and talked about how they had the same fears. I'd never thought of
that, I never thought that everybody had those fears. So many people.
What happens today if you get those old reactions from people. What do you
I say, "Excuse me, I am a stutterer." That stops them dead, makes