director’s statement


ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a diabolically frightening illness.  A patient’s mind remains completely intact while control of one’s physical body is progressively lost.  For Trapped we had to address the physical reality of Stephen’s deteriorating body, but it was also important to portray his complex inner life as an artist. 

As Stephen’s symptoms progress, his world becomes more confined and fractured.  The elegant score by Michael John Mollo expresses Stephen’s changing state.  The music, while building artfully towards the final piece, has passages of confusion and dissonance to reflect the course of the disease.

Visually, DP Oliver Ponce and I kept the camera and actors still and the color palette cool whenever we were in the real world.  Using filters and soft focus, we tried to suggest that things are falling apart.  In Stephen’s fantasy world, where he performs his masterpiece, we freed the camera to be much more active and made the colors more vibrant and alive.

Most importantly, David Rogers has a courageous performance as Stephen. He and I both shared a strong sense of obligation to do things right for those who have ALS or have experience with the disease.  David spent a lot of time and effort in his preparation for the role, and his performance showed a keen understanding of the nuances of ALS. 

There is a scene where Stephen is sitting on the couch with an electric keyboard.  He is just on the verge of losing control of his hands and fingers. This is terrible to imagine for anyone, but especially for a musician who uses his hands to speak through his instrument.  Originally the scene involved writing, but there was some debate during the blocking rehearsal over what implement he would use to write in his advanced state of the disease; a pen stuck in a racquetball was the top choice.  Lacking the proper sporting equipment, we decided to try it without the writing.  During the next rehearsal David just pushed lightly on the keys, and I felt that the scene had been revealed. The scene is a final goodbye to playing the piano, not just a demonstration of another stage of ALS.  That’s how David played the scene, and it’s heartbreaking.

While the film ends with the realization that Stephen’s concert occurs only in his mind, the final shot of the film signifies hope and triumph.  Stephen’s smile, emerging from the grips of his broken body, says that he’s okay.  Although his physical body is not what it once was, we are assured that he is the same man inside and that his spirit is at peace.   Although he is not cured, Stephen has found a way to beat his illness.