Sunday nights meant dinner at Bennigan's and then a movie at the Inner Harbor for Sheldon Candis and his parents. Sometimes his dad would even pull him out of school for a movie — even ones he was too young to see, like "Purple Rain" and "The Fly."

"I wanted to be a part of that," Candis says. "I was so fascinated by those films."

No surprise, then, that years later his parents were driving him across the country to attend film school at the University of Southern California. Yet when Candis graduated, his desire to make movies still burning, he could only file them: He got an entry-level job in the basement archive of a cable TV channel.

Then it was clinging to scaffolding to hang Christmas lights at a mall, pushing a 75-pound fan up a hill for a Jennifer Lopez video and sweeping up what he's pretty sure was human feces outside a Grammy Award-winning rapper's trailer. He did score one directing gig — artfully moving cameras between a host and the Home Shopping Network goods she was hawking.

Eight years out of film school, Candis' parents wanted him home for the holidays. He couldn't face them.

"You're broke. It's not happening. And what happens is you stop going home for Thanksgiving. You stop going home for Christmas," he says. "You don't have the money to get there. And you haven't achieved what you told everyone you were going to achieve. Your family offers to pool up money to buy you a ticket, but you just don't want to go home because you feel like you failed."

He started to sour on movies, wondering whether he was destined to be the guy who could only watch them, never make them.

But his favorite movie wasn't "Rocky" for nothing.

The screenplay Candis and his writing partner had worked on during all of those discouraging jobs finally gelled, and he sold people on it. "LUV," loosely based on Candis' life in Baltimore, debuted this year at Sundance Film Festival. Starring Charles S. Dutton, Common, Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover, it's expected to be released in theaters next year.

"We're all going after the endgame, but it's about you being about to navigate the journey and survive the journey that makes you a successful person," he says. "It is a very, very tough journey."

Mary Beth Marsden, host, WBAL Radio and former WMAR anchor

A mother knows when something isn't quite right. When her youngest child's words weren't coming and she was acting out, Mary Beth Marsden knew. But it didn't make it any easier at the doctor's office, hearing the diagnosis and that one word that Marsden could barely stomach.

Autism.

"My first reaction was, I want to say devastated, but that's too simple," she says. "The word echoed in my head. I was numb. It was a very controlled emotional breakdown."

Grief followed. And a fair bit of denial. Guilt and anger, too. Then a realigning of a mother's hopes.

"It was a letting-go of expectations that we really never knew we had," she says. "It turns out you have them in the back of your mind, and you have to let them go and rethink what the future means."

Marsden read books, talked to other parents and found programs that worked for her little girl.

Her daughter, she says, is doing great now — thriving, actually — enrolled in elementary school and taking the typical classes with the help of an aide.

Marsden will tell you she's improved, too. She's a better person with more purpose.

"I've become a much less judgmental person, I've become a more soulful person. I have let go of thinking that I can control my world and the world around me," she says. "My eyes are opened in a different way."

She has launched a website for parents, Real Look Autism, where people can watch videos of different autism therapies to see what might work for their child. A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book she's co-editing for parents of children with austim and Asperger's syndrome is due to come out in April.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts