Diane Musselman's Why

Diane Musselman wants to communicate. She has a passion for words that gushes out in response to any question. You can see it in her choice of professions — first as a speech pathologist for 22 years and then as a screenwriter for the past five.

Diane is the writer and producer of the award-winning, Just Another Dance with My Father, a 17-minute film about a young stroke survivor. It is the first film from her production company, Dancing Forward Productions’ site.

The film is about Katie, a 30-something realtor who experiences a stroke in her office in the opening scene. The rest of the film follows her realizations of how much the stroke had changed her life — especially in the reactions of others. Her fiancé dumps her, her friends fall away and her co-worker can’t leave the hospital fast enough. The title refers to dancing with her father at her sister’s wedding.

Diane wanted to write about a young survivor because as a speech pathologist she had witnessed the trauma stroke brings to someone in the prime of life. “I saw the difficulties they went through,” she said. “I started to develop a passion for supporting them. So when I had the opportunity to make a film, I made it about a young survivor, who was a compilation of different survivors I knew. I felt like nobody talked about what young survivors go through.”

Diane (center) with fellow producers Kay Yamamoto (left) and Sheryl Hartman (right)

The film gives a realistic depiction of how daunting the beginning of therapy is. “I really wanted to show what physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists do,” Diane said. “I had my colleagues go through the script and had them work with the actors to get it as close to real as possible. Some of the patients on the unit graciously allowed Jerrika Hinton, who played Katie, to come in and see what they were going through. She took such care to get it as accurate as possible and that was really important to me; that we show as close to real as we possibly could.” (Hinton also portrays Dr. Stephanie Edwards in the popular television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.)

She’s gotten good feedback from stroke families. “One survivor friend of mine had tears in his eyes when he said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I felt,’” Diane said. The film has played at several film festivals, and some stroke support groups have used it, “which I love.”

However, a 17-minute film only whetted her interest and she is developing a full-length documentary about young brain injury and stroke survivors. At 54, she has spent the past two years working on new writing projects. “I just finished co-writing a paranormal, which is a very different genre, with a friend of mine,” she said. “I’m also writing an action-adventure TV pilot. But I keep getting drawn back to wanting to make my statement about an area that I’ve been passionate about a good portion of my life. I’m not done with this topic.”

Diane went into speech pathology because a teacher said she had a knack for it, and she found the work rewarding. She likes working with survivors and their families. “The ones I’ve met show so much courage,” she said. “I am really impressed with how they take up the challenge. I have great respect and honor for stroke families.”

Her why? “I have always wanted to help people,” she said. “I always loved working with survivors, helping them regain their ability to communicate and create a better life. When you have a stroke, there’s just so much that goes on, and I want to bring attention to the need for support and education. Stroke families need support and resources.”

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