“How do you want to be remembered?” You wouldn’t think this would be a topic of discussion while working out, but there it is, printed on a large orange and blue banner, hanging high along the wall of Oak Park and River Forest High School’s weight room. It’s that level of physical and philosophical intensity that provides the backdrop for our next piece.
This past year, we made our first inroads into the world of sports on film. We were contacted by Stillmotion to see if we were available to help with a shoot for NBC Sports for their television series, “Sports Illustrated.” Our footage was used as part of a greater story (20 minute piece) that aired last Fall entitled, “Man In Full.”
The piece followed Mike Powell, wrestling coach of Oak Park and River Forest High School. Simply put, Mike Powell was a beast. During his senior year at OPRF, he went a record 42-0, and won the state title. He would come back to OPRF as head wrestling coach and build the struggling team back into a statewide powerhouse.
But Mike’s story would take an unexpected turn. Coming off the heels of leading his team to a major victory, Mike began to feel signs of physical weakness. This was no small news. In the SI article written about him, we get a glimpse into how being physical strong played a part in Mike’s life:
“His entire life he’s been the strongest guy in the room. Growing up in nearby Forest Park, he was doing pull-ups at age three. By four he could do handstand push-ups and had earned the nickname Mikey Powerful. In eighth grade he set a school mark for pull-ups; at Indiana he set multiple weight-room records… This is the man who signs his e-mails “in relentless pursuit,” who works 18-hour days and is the first one back in the gym, smiling and hopping around.”
Despite the overwhelming desire to ”shake it off,” Mike went to a neurologist to figure out what was going on. And the news he received was anything but good. Mike was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease that makes the immune system attack the body rather than protect it. the disease drains victims of their strength, leaving some in wheelchairs and at risk of complications involving the lungs and heart. What’s worse is, there is no known cure.
It didn’t come immediately, or without soul-searching for that matter, but despite having a muscle disease with devastating effects and no known cure, Mike continues to battle on, and be a source of inspiration not only to those he coaches, but to anyone who has had heard his story.
“You know, in a lot of ways, hardship develops compassion, and it develops optimism, and better perspective. So that’s what I focus on.” - Mike Powell
Not knowing how much of our footage would actually be used in the full TV piece, we sought to create as comprehensive a story as possible within the short amount of time we were given. And boy, we were given a very short amount of time.
We received a call in the morning asking if we were available to shoot that day. It was the final day of wrestling camp at OPRF and so it had to be that day. We packed up a car with apple boxes, c-stands, lights and all sorts of other production gear, and made the drive up to Chicago. A producer out of New York was feeding us info on Mike, ideas for shot lists, and potential interview questions.
We were literally doing pre-production work while driving to the shoot. Once we got there, we had a couple of minutes to scout, shoot b-roll of the wrestling camp, and record Mike giving his final speech to the wrestlers. Since we could only buy another 15 minutes of his time (because he had to drive some kids to the airport), we couldn’t set up any lights for an interview, so we opted for an impromptu setting using natural window light in the weight room.
We knew we had to pass along the footage to the folks at NBC, but since we didn’t know the scope of the piece, we wanted to give them enough to content to work with. Knowing that he probably spent time talking about the disease in length during a previous interview, we thought we’d ask as many questions as we could in that short timespan. As a reference, we cut together a reel that showed how we saw everything being pieced together.
We, as well as the producers were pretty happy with the result. And while our footage was mainly used as a supplement to the full story that aired, we were more than excited to see our work air on national TV. Moreover, we were able to create our own standalone short film, which we are very proud to share with you here.