When Andrew Shelley
decided to quit his job and backpack around the globe, he didnt
plan to have cameras tag along. But his friend Dusty Duprel realized
that Shelleys journey could make a powerful story. So the first-time
director/producer pulled together the team to shoot, edit and produce
the 91-minute film Beyond the Chair.
The documentary follows Shelley, 29, as he leaves a successful engineering
career to set off on an adventure, despite his familys concerns
for his health and safety. Born with a progressive muscular degenerative
disease that required his use of a wheelchair before age 25, Shelley
was excited to challenge the limits of his new all-terrain power chair,
the Frontier X5.
The journey stretched over several months, and included unpredictable
adventures in India, Cambodia, Thailand, New Zealand and the United
The films distributor, Betsy Chasse of Intention Media, is an
industry veteran whos worked on more than 30 films. She made the
hit documentary What the Bleep Do We Know!? It was narrated by Academy
Award winner Marlee Matlin.
Before the recent premiere of Beyond the Chair, David S. Zimmerman,
actor and founder of Meet the Biz, which offers workshops for entertainment
professionals, interviewed Shelley, Chasse, Duprel and director/producer
Rachel Pandza in Beverly Hills, CA.
Zimmerman: Dusty, how did you and Andrew meet?
Duprel: We met through a Craigs List ad when we were both looking
for roommates. We were roommates first, and then we became friends.
Zimmerman: What inspired you to make Beyond the Chair?
Duprel: After we had been roommates for a year, Drew decided that he
was going to travel around the world. At first, I didnt think
it was such a big thing, because I know him and his personality. But
after I told my friends about what he planned to do, they said we should
make a documentary about it.
While filmmaking is the only thing I ever wanted to do, initially I
wasnt interested in documentaries at all. But this was a good
learning experience, because you can make a lot of mistakes and correct
them more easily in a documentary than you can if you make them in a
Chasse: Intention Media really liked the film, by the way, because it
doesnt feel like a documentary. It has a cinematic element to
it that you dont oftentimes find in a conventional documentary.
Duprel: We wanted it to have a narrative feel, so we modeled it, to
an extent, after Murderball [an award-winning film about paraplegics
who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs], which was a great film
that didnt play like a documentary, either.
To incorporate the theme of the heros journey, we researched and
read a lot of Joseph Campbell books and watched PBS specials. We saw
that Andrews story was naturally the classic heros
Zimmerman: Andrew, did you ever think your life would be the subject
of a documentary?
Shelley: No. When Dusty first said it was going to be a film, I thought,
What is there to show? I had no idea that it might be a
story that people would want to see.
Duprel: Maybe a month into it, Drew goes, When you said we were
going to make a documentary, I knew it was going to be about me, but
I didnt realize it was going to be so much about me.
Zimmerman: I can see how that might be overwhelming, and also how transporting
several people around the world must have presented a fair share of
logistics. How big was your crew?
Duprel: There were about four people on the shoot: Rachel, me and then
Patrick Guera. Halfway through Patrick had to go home, so we flew Zachary
Borman to India. It just worked out that when we were in Thailand, we
had to hire a coordinator, Arthit Kimakhom, to work with us, so he became
like the fourth person in Thailand. And then throughout the editing
process, we had quite a few people helping.
Initially, Rachel and I edited from January to June, and we barely even
scratched the surface of 360 hours of footage. So then we had Alex Bridgman,
with whom we went to school, fly to South Dakota, and we all moved into
an apartment together. We would edit all day, go to bed, wake up, and
edit all day again, throughout the summer. So Alex was our second editor,
and then we brought Erik Puhm, who was also a college classmate, and
finally Tina Imahara, who came in and did the last pass.
Chasse: Tina was the editor on Fuel, which was another Intention Media
movie [about solutions to Americas addiction to oil]. I first
heard about Beyond the Chair on Tinas Facebook page. When we first
screened Fuel, we didnt think it was an Intention Media movie,
in terms of what we usually distribute. But the more I watched it, the
more that I appreciated that it was a spiritual, uplifting film. If
you think about Intention Medias mantra achieving social
changethen thats what this movie is.
Zimmerman: Even social change within oneself.
Duprel: Its funny, one of the first documentaries I ever watched
was What the Bleep Do We Know!?
Chasse: When we first released What The Bleep, we didnt have a
distributor. We did it ourselves. After wed played in about 20
markets, we signed on with Samuel Goldwyn for distribution. After Bleep,
I was sent hundreds of movies by other indie filmmakers. I had gained
a lot of knowledge about self-distribution, and started Intention Media
with my partner Melissa Henderson. We screened so many films that deserved
to be seen and given a chance. Thats what Intention Media is all
Zimmerman: While you were filming Beyond the Chair, what was the highlight
of the journey?
Shelley: Probably the suspension bridge in Thailand, which was held
together by bamboo and coat hangers, and leaning to the side. I didnt
know if I should wear my seatbelt or not. If I had my seatbelt on and
I fell, my wheelchair would go off the bridge, and Id go with
it. If my seatbelt was off, then I might possibly stay on the bridge
if the chair went over. So I rode halfway with the seatbelt on, and
halfway with it off.
Chasse: 50/50. I love that.
Duprel: This old bridge was about 100 feet above a river, and I didnt
feel safe walking across it. It was even more dangerous for Drew, as
there was a legitimate concern that it would collapse.
Zimmerman: Glad that everything worked out. So Rachel, at what point
did you become involved with the project?
Pandza: We were all friends with Dusty at San Diego State, and he introduced
us to Drew.
Zimmerman: And you went to San Diego to learn how to produce films?
Pandza: The school was more for all-around production. Everyone learned
every single role.
Duprel: Rachel and I had many of the same classes together, and we were
really good friends.
Pandza: The other two cameramen and our editor were all friends from
San Diego State, as well.
Duprel: They were like 90 percent of our crew.
Chasse: Were there any scary moments during the shoot?
Duprel: One time, Drew got thrown out of his wheelchair and had to go
to the hospital [in Cambodia]. We filmed there, even though we werent
supposed to, and then we got caught. At the time, we had film equipment
with us that was probably worth a years salarythree or four
years salary by Cambodian standards. So I wanted Rachel to take
the expensive cameras and go back to our hotel with these two Cambodian
men that we didnt know.
Pandza: They werent total strangers; they were tuk tuk drivers
who had been helping us for a few days. So I took the cameras back to
the hotel, and I wouldnt have gone with them if I didnt
feel I could trust them. But Dustys reasoning was that it was
dangerous to assume that they had good intentions. I guess Dusty thought
I was going to return to the hospital after I dropped the cameras off,
but because of miscommunication, I just stayed at the hotel and rested.
The tuk tuk drivers returned to help Drew, if he needed it, and to give
Dusty a ride back to the hotel. But because they barely spoke English,
and werent clear about what they intended to do, Dusty assumed
they might have done something to me or with the cameras.
I think its just the perceptions that people have when they go
to a place like that. They just dont know. The people were actually
really nice. You could walk the streets; I almost felt safer than in
Zimmerman: Ah yes, perceptions.
Duprel: The two guys returned the hospital without Rachel, and I had
asked her to come back.
Pandza: But I was tired.
Duprel: And I thought that maybe the guys had killed her and taken the
Pandza: He has a wild imagination.
Chasse: You watch too many horror movies.
Duprel: So I had the guys take me back to the hotel, and I had one wait
downstairs, while one came up with me. I was still very paranoid at
this point that they could have possibly harmed or robbed Rachel, so
I asked the smaller of the two to go to the hotel room with me. That
way if Rachel wasnt there, I could hold him hostage. Of course,
Rachel was fine, and I blew the situation all out of proportion.
Pandza: One of the guys had never been in an elevator before, and he
was just like, Whoa.
Duprel: He didnt expect it to move.
Pandza: It was so odd, and you dont even think about stuff like
thathow people in another place may not have experienced even
small things like that.
Zimmerman: Andrew, did you have any money challenges?
Shelley: All of the time. Once, in India, I lost my shoes, and my credit
card was maxed out, and the ATM machine wasnt working, so I called
my mom, and said: I have no money and no shoes.
Zimmerman: Did she send you something?
Duprel: No, she didnt.
Pandza: We had a lot for our production budget, but Drew was spending
a lot of his own money and at some point it was running out, and we
were maxing out cards, trying to get as much as we could for all the
things we were doing.
Shelley: Yeah, I burned up my credit line. But luckily, when I got home
I got a short-term engineering job and paid it off.....
in ABILITY Magazine
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