Sean McNamara Soul Surfer

Sean McNamara Soul Surfer

Soul Surfer

Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Denis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Lorraine Nicholson, Carrie Underwood
Director: Sean McNamara
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 105 minutes

Synopsis: Soul Surfer is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. Bethany lost her left arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, through her sheer determination and unwavering faith. Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) was born to surf. A natural talent who took to the waves at a young age, she was leading an idyllic life on Kauai, participating in national surf competitions with her best friend Alana (Lorraine Nicholson), when everything changed. On Halloween morning, a 14-foot tiger shark came out of nowhere and seemed to shatter all her dreams.

Release Date: May 26th, 2011

About The Production
Soul Surfer /sohl serf-er/ - noun; 1. A term coined in the 1970s, used to describe a talented surfer who surfs for the sheer pleasure of it. Although they may still enter competitions, a Soul Surfer's motives go beyond winning.

"Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That's what little girls are made of."
- Bethany Hamilton

On October 31st, 2003, spirited Hawaiian teenager and rising young surfer Bethany Hamilton went into the ocean, and emerged forever changed - her life upended by an unimaginable event, yet her determination to beat the odds sparked . . . and her adventures just beginning.

Now, the uplifting, true story of Bethany Hamilton's amazing ride from fun-loving surf girl to global heroine comes to the screen with the riveting motion picture adaptation of her best-selling book. Unfolding against the paradisiacal blue waves and playful youth culture of Hawaii, the film brings to life the story of how, just a few weeks after a shocking, near deadly shark attack that would take her right arm, Bethany Hamilton was back up on her board. In mere months she was crossing the globe to lend a hand to tsunami victims in Thailand, and in just over a year she would stun everyone by entering the National Scholastic Surfing Championships in Hawaii, surfing with only one arm - and revealing what it really means to have the heart of a champion.

In the process, her never-say-never attitude would awe the sports world, galvanize the nation, and bring her family closer than ever.

For director Sean McNamara, Soul Surfer is all about attitude - the feisty, unwavering attitude of a girl who never stopped believing in herself, her family or in the sheer beauty and thrill of being alive. "Bethany Hamilton took what could have been a tragedy and turned her whole life into an inspiration for people around the world," says the director. "Not only did she make one of the great all-time sports comebacks, but she did it in her own style. She is someone you look at and think, 'If she can do all the incredible things she's done, I can set the world on fire, too.'"

Sean McNamara, who directed the hit Disney series "That's So Raven," but has also headed into the waves with the girl-surfing TV series "Beyond The Break," was moved by Bethany Hamilton's story as soon as he heard it years ago. He felt right away it had the makings of a family movie full of outdoor action and heartwarming emotion, but it was when he first met Bethany Hamilton that he was further inspired by the idea of bringing her youthful spunk, verve and optimism to the story. He saw in her a universal underdog who wasn't deterred by the toughest of odds, and who showed that if one wave knocks you down, the next one might lift you higher.

"Her story is so amazing that I really wanted to get to the emotions of it," says Sean McNamara.

"There was so much going on inside Bethany Hamilton and her family that wasn't talked about and the way they overcame their struggles made it even more exciting than what people saw in the headlines."

After the shark attack, Bethany Hamilton could easily have succumbed to fear, despair or anger -- but instead the complete opposite happened. It only motivated her to push harder than ever before. She came to believe that the loss of her arm would, as she says, lead her "to something really beautiful." Of course, she couldn't have predicted then that she would make a triumphant return to surfing, become an international role model, write a best-selling book, and then be approached for a film about her life. But she knew that, no matter what, she still had a vast amount to experience and give to the world. She set out to prove that dedication, family teamwork and an unyielding spirit could turn an inconceivable event into an incredible source of inspiration.

It was about six months after Bethany Hamilton's accident, just as she was discovering the depths of her personal girl power and blossoming into an international surfing idol with her gutsy decision to keep competing with one arm, when producer Douglas Schwartz approached her to talk about a film. Best known for creating the hit beachside television series "Baywatch," Douglas Schwartz mentioned to Bethany Hamilton that her story could make for a uniquely moving experience for family audiences.

"I've been a writer and producer for 32 years and I'd never encountered a more inspirational story than Bethany Hamilton's," comments Douglas Schwartz, who would go on to co-write the script with Sean McNamara and two other "Bay Watch" alumni -- his wife Deborah Schwartz and co-creator Michael Berk.

Bethany Hamilton was unsure at first, but then she became intrigued by the idea that a movie might continue to bring hope to other teenagers and families looking to turn around tough situations.

"It has been such an incredible journey for me, that I'm excited to share it," Bethany Hamilton explains. "Having a movie made about me is something I would never have picked for myself but I think the filmmakers and actors have made an amazing and fun film that I hope will encourage people to make the most of their own lives, no matter their circumstances."

When Sean McNamara traveled to Hawaii to meet the rest of the close-knit Hamilton family, the source of Bethany Hamilton's vivacious grit revealed itself to him. "The Hamilton family is made up of remarkable people who overcame a lot of inner struggles together," he says. "I had the feeling as soon as I met them that the spirit of this family would be a major theme of the movie. They all had doubts after Bethany Hamilton lost her arm, but they never let them take over. Their love and devotion is a big part of what makes the experience so stirring. Together, they helped Bethany Hamilton turn adversity into the drive to make a difference."

It was also important to the writers to imbue the screenplay with Bethany Hamilton's fiery passion for competitive surfing, one of the world's most risky and soulful sports, in which athletes attempt to dance on huge ocean waves, requiring an intense mix of daring, skill and artistry. Unwilling to turn away from her surfer girl life, despite having only one arm to paddle, push up and balance, Bethany Hamilton invented a whole new way to do it that took everyone by storm.

"When you see Bethany Hamilton in the water, you can't help but be in awe of what she has accomplished," Sean McNamara says. "She works out 6 hours a day. At her young age, she's just an amazing and fearless athlete who loves the ocean and that is part of her story."

With the script in process, an accomplished and diverse team of producers came on board. David Brookwell, an Emmy-nominated writer, director and producer ("Even Stevens," "That's So Raven," "Beyond the Break") and partner with Sean McNamara in David Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, is himself a surfer who was excited by the film's youthful vibe and lush Hawaiian setting. Yet, he says the surfing is really just a backdrop to a profile of courage and a family bonding together. "We really wanted to focus on the relationships between the characters," David Brookwell explains. "The question is not only will Bethany Hamilton surf again, but who will she be when she does?"

Roy "Dutch" Hofstetter, a close family friend who has been Bethany Hamilton's manager for years, says he knew that her bold refusal to halt her dreams would resonate around the world. "The first time I met Bethany Hamilton, I was on the beach where the surf movie Blue Crush was being filmed. She was nine years old, and she and her best friend Alana came up to ask if they could please be in the movie. They thought I was producing it. I said, 'Don't worry, girls. Some day you'll have your chance to be in the movies," recalls Roy Hofstetter. "But I didn't know we'd be telling Bethany Hamilton's story."

David Zelon, executive vice president of production for Mandalay Pictures, was integral in securing the film's distribution deal with Sony Pictures. As soon as he saw Bethany Hamilton riding the waves, a portrait of harmony in motion, he felt audiences would be mesmerised by her valor. "Watching her surf is like an optical illusion. She does things that your mind can't comprehend," he muses. Money manager David Tice was honored to make his debut as an executive producer on Soul Surfer. "I've never been involved in producing or financing a film before, but Bethany Hamilton's story is so special, I felt audiences around the world would want to see it," says Tice.

Finally, Dominic Ianno, who helped negotiate key finance agreements for the project, joined the project as in order to move closer toward his goal of making movies that inspire people. "This is ultimately a story about strength of will and serving others," Dominic Ianno says.

One thing that set the film apart for all the filmmakers is that, although it is biographical, it is also a rare true-life story about a young woman who is still at the very start of an exciting life, and whose full story is not yet written. Now just 21 years old and ranked among the top pro female surfers in the world, Bethany Hamilton has also become a global spokesperson who speaks about the power of never giving up and staying open to what ever challenges and adventures life brings. Even she can't predict what will come next.

"I'm so excited just to greet every single new day," Bethany Hamilton summarises. "I only hope when people see this movie that they'll feel that same way - that there's more to happiness than ourselves and that the real joy of life is learning to love others more."

AnnaSophia Robb Learns To Soul Surf
The rousing drama of Bethany Hamilton's story would soon draw a highly accomplished cast, including Academy Award® winner Helen Hunt and Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid, as well as many rising newcomers, among them the pop and country star Carrie Underwood, making her film debut, and Lorraine Nicholson, Jack Nicholson's daughter. But the key to it all would rest on finding a young actress who could genuinely capture Bethany Hamilton's inimitable personality, and her incredible grit, as she makes the journey from a girl whose dreams are nearly shattered to a teen powerhouse and star athlete ready to change the world.

They found all that in AnnaSophia Robb, the rising teen actress who had her first breakthrough as Opal in the hit family film Because of Winn-Dixie, then won the coveted role of the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and went on to anchor such beloved family films as Bridge to Terabithia and Race to Witch Mountain. Sean McNamara knew the minute he saw AnnaSophia Robb that she had exactly the right mix of sweet and strong. "AnnaSophia Robb is an amazing actress and she brought everything we could have hoped for to this role," he says. "She did an incredible amount of research to prepare for the part and even learned to surf in a remarkably short time. She worked closely with Bethany Hamilton and they made a great team together."

As soon as AnnaSophia Robb read the screenplay, she was ready to commit. "I thought it was such an uplifting story," the actress says. "It was so unbelievable that I kept wondering: did this really all happen? Is it really true? I met with Sean McNamara a few days later and he said 'yes, it all really happened.' Then he told me that Bethany Hamilton had wanted me to do the role, and I was so honored, I was just like 'oh, wow, that is so cool.' The fact that she wanted me to tell her story made me want to do a great job even more."

Bethany Hamilton was surprised at first to find that AnnaSophia Robb is more than half a foot shorter (Bethany Hamilton is a statuesque 5' 11"), but as soon as she saw AnnaSophia Robb perform, she knew that she had the right stuff to get to the essence of her story. "I was stoked that AnnaSophia Robb would be the one playing me," she says. "At first, I wasn't sure if we would ever find someone who I thought could do it justice, but she did an amazing job. We're really good friends now and I think we always will be."

Once she was signed to the role, AnnaSophia Robb dove into physical training, working out for four hours a day to prepare for the film's physical challenges, including surf lessons, swimming and weight workouts, as well as stretching, some of it mirroring Bethany Hamilton's own rigorous training and diet. Bethany Hamilton herself gave AnnaSophia Robb surfing lessons in Hawaii, along with her long-time coach, Russell Lewis. "AnnaSophia Robb actually learned pretty quickly," enthuses Bethany Hamilton. "I mean, surfing takes years and years to learn, and she only had about a month or so, so she did really well. It was fun for me to watch her improve and to help her overcome her fears."

Heading out into the warm, wild waves for which Hawaii is famed, AnnaSophia Robb started to develop the kind of passion for the ocean that has always been a part of Bethany Hamilton's life, as well as the courage to tackle the big, intimidating surf. "I was so excited to get out in the water and learn," she recalls. "But then I felt terrified because those little baby waves looked so big to me! I just thought to myself, 'If Bethany Hamilton could face her fears after the shark attack, I can face this.' Now that I've gotten past that, I find that there is something really peaceful and beautiful about surfing."

AnnaSophia Robb was grateful to spend personal time with Bethany Hamilton and her family, gaining first-hand knowledge of how they supported each other even when they were all scared and unsure of what might happen. Most of all, she got a sense of who Bethany Hamilton is, and how she kept going by keeping her perspective on what was really important to her.

"I just loved hanging out with Bethany Hamilton because she is such a fun person, and also a constant inspiration," AnnaSophia Robb says. "We really became close and it was so nice to have her around during filming, because I could ask her any question - about her arm, her family, her thoughts on life, anything. No question was off limits with her. She was so receptive, and that was wonderful because I wanted to play her as realistically as I possibly could. It amazed me that she doesn't mind talking in detail about her arm - but I came to see that's because it's no big deal to her at all."

Bethany Hamilton's journey to accepting her forever changed, but no less remarkably strong and capable, body has led her on a personal mission to help other teen girls overcome body image issues. She hopes AnnaSophia Robb's performance will convey to young audiences that what really counts in the world goes far deeper than flesh and bone. "A big part of the film is that there is so much more to life than what your body is," Bethany Hamilton comments. "What matters the most is who you are inside and how you treat others. It's really important to accept yourself as you are. I have one arm and a lot of people think 'oh, no' but I accept myself for who I am. To me, real beauty in life is being kind to other people and that's what the filmmakers and AnnaSophia Robb really understood."

While many people are blown away by the fact that Bethany Hamilton surfs at the highest competitive level with just one arm, to Bethany Hamilton that was just a matter of figuring out how to think past what other people imagined would be her limits. "Surfing with one arm is challenging, but I just have to use my brain a lot more and position myself in the best possible spot for catching the wave," she explains in her typical, easy-going manner. "It has helped me really focus on technique."

As AnnaSophia Robb, too, became more accustomed to using only one arm during production, she became increasingly aware of all the unseen work that has gone into Bethany Hamilton's indomitable attitude. "I had a lot of conversations with Bethany Hamilton about how she does every day things, like how she drives, and even how she opens up water bottles," the actress explains. "She has a lot of interesting methods. I learned so much from watching her and the thing I learned most of all is that she makes it all looks so easy because she's so strong, not just in her body but especially her spirit."

For Dennis Quaid, what made AnnaSophia Robb's performance stand out was her ability to get to the core of that spirit. "You couldn't ask for a better person to play this part," Dennis Quaid comments. "She's so dedicated and so skilled as an actress that everything she does feels absolutely natural, which makes everyone else that much better as well."

Bethany's Rocks: The Supporting Cast
Bethany Hamilton could not achieved all that she has without an incredible amount of love, honesty and support from her family, friends and community. For Sean McNamara, casting Bethany Hamilton's parents, her youth group leader Sarah Hill and the friends who stood by her when her world was unraveling was vital to bringing the full emotional kick of the story to the screen.

He was especially thrilled when Dennis Quaid, the Golden Globe-nominated actor known for such films as The Right Stuff, Great Balls of Fire!, The Day After Tomorrow and recently G.I. Joe, came on board as Tom Hamilton, Bethany Hamilton's surfer dad who is heartbroken after the shark attack.

"We combined several of Bethany Hamilton's coaches and her real father, who was also her coach, into the role of Tom Hamilton," says McNamara. "As a father himself, Dennis Quaid so strongly related to the part that soon after we asked him to consider the role, he called me personally in Hawaii and said, 'No matter what happens, I'm doing this movie.' His passion for it was fantastic."

Dennis Quaid recalls a curious coincidence of timing that led him to jump at the role. "The week before Christmas I was watching 'The Today Show,' and Bethany Hamilton happened to be on about her story. I'd never really heard it before and I got very emotional while watching it," he says. " It really got to me, how she overcame adversity and how positive she was about it. I got a little verklempt. Tears were streaming down my face, it was just so beautiful. Then, four days later, out of the blue, I get a call offering me the role of her father, Tom Hamilton. I'm so glad I said yes. This is a terrific story and one that everyone can relate to and take something from. I loved that Sean McNamara was so committed to capturing the spirit of Bethany Hamilton, of this family and of Hawaii."

Having faced firsthand the heartache of family health issues in his own life, Dennis Quaid immediately felt a kinship with Tom Hamilton, who was in the hospital about to undergo knee surgery when he got the news that his vibrant, young daughter had come into the emergency room, fighting for her life. He understood Tom Hamilton's driving desire to see his daughter return to the surfing world as soon as possible, and developed an even deeper admiration for Tom Hamilton's go-for-it attitude after getting to know him.

"I found Tom Hamilton a real inspiration," Dennis Quaid says, "and I wanted to capture the essence of the man. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's very honest, hard working and true to himself and his family. He went through a lot, but I loved that Soul Surfer is a story of a family overcoming adversity as well as the story of Bethany Hamilton's triumph."

Although Dennis Quaid was not a surfer before taking the role, he was ready and willing to get out into the water and try anything. He soon fell in love with it. "I'm a true beginner but I think I've caught the bug. When you're out there, you forget about everything else that's going on," he observes. "I was enjoying it so much, I didn't want the production to end."

Known for her engaging portraits of women in complex situations in such films as As Good As It Gets (for which she won the Academy Award® for Best Actress,) Pay It Forward and What Women Want, Helen Hunt also dove into the role of Bethany Hamilton's mother without hesitation. "I'd heard about Bethany Hamilton's story, which was a heart wrenching event, and I was so impressed by how she moved right through it," says the Oscar®-winning actress. "I thought, what could be better than getting to act in a beautiful story with wonderful actors in a spectacular place?"

Helen Hunt's decision to join the cast was a coup for Sean McNamara, who welcomed her input into the script. "Helen Hunt was always my number one choice for the role. I so wanted her to be in this movie, I started tracking her two years before production began," he says. "I knew she would really put herself out there and give it all the depth it needed. From the minute we started talking about it, she was incredibly intelligent and had a real sense of all that she wanted the role to be."

The very title of Soul Surfer spoke to Helen Hunt. "Any title with the word soul in it is always going to catch my eye," she admits. "I'm always try to bring my soul to everything I do and I feel that's a big part of what the movie is about: soulfulness, even in the toughest of moments."

Soulfulness is also a big part of what Cheri Hamilton gives to her daughter as she battles to get her life back on track after losing an arm. Helen Hunt describes Cheri Hamilton as "the one voice who is telling Bethany Hamilton, 'yes, you need to get back in the water but not too quickly.'"

She continues: "Cheri Hamilton is the one who really wants to let her daughter take her time and find the path to healing in her own way. She wants Bethany Hamilton to find what's true for her even in her darkest hour. That rang a big bell for me, because it's what I want for my daughter."

An experienced surfer, though an admittedly mellow one, Helen Hunt took the time to get to know Cheri Hamilton personally, surfing with her on the Hamiltons' home turf in Kauai. "The whole family was incredibly sweet and generous and welcomed me completely," Helen Hunt notes. "I liked being around Cheri Hamilton a lot. She's someone who's very grounded to the earth, relaxed and open and I wanted to get those qualities into the movie."

The chance to work again with Dennis Quaid was also a draw for Helen Hunt. "I already knew what a great guy and wonderful actor he is," she says. But the real surprise was AnnaSophia Robb, who amazed Helen Hunt. "AnnaSophia Robb is so smart and did such a beautiful job carrying this movie on her shoulders," she says. "The whole experience was really a pleasure."

One of the most exciting moments in casting Soul Surfer came when Grammy Award winning singing star Carrie Underwood chose to make her feature film debut as a character vital to the story: Bethany Hamilton's youth group leader, Sarah Hill, who sees in Bethany Hamilton more than just athletic talent, and encourages her to use her unique experience to help others. "I think people will be really surprised by Carrie Underwood," says Sean McNamara. "She was so honest and real on camera, it just blew us away." Carrie Underwood right away felt a connection to Sarah Hill and was thrilled to get to know her personally. But she also brought her own touch to the role. "I definitely got a sense of how much Sarah Hill meant to this family," she says. "I didn't try to capture exactly how she dresses or the way she talks, but rather to show her strength and the way in which she was a rock for this family."

She goes on: "I wanted to do this movie because it was a chance to reach out to people with an amazing story. I never set out to be an actress, but I always said if something came along and it was for the right reasons, I would do it. And this script just felt right. I think it will be impossible for anyone to see this story and not be impacted."

A favorite part of the entire production for Carrie Underwood was meeting Bethany Hamilton. "She's so cool and relaxed and makes light of every situation. What happened to her could be seen as the worst thing that could ever, ever happen to someone, but you honestly get the feeling she wouldn't change a thing," Carrie Underwood says. "She doesn't sit around saying 'why me?' She uses what happened to her to go out and do something in the world."

Her first time in front of a movie camera was daunting, but Carrie Underwood was up for the challenge. "It's all so new," she says, "and it's a learning process. But everyone was so nice and helpful and patient, it was really exciting for me. Everyone making this film was doing it for all the right reasons."

Although she's not a surfer, Carrie Underwood got a glimpse during production into the meaning of the term Soul Surfer. "To me the phrase Soul Surfer is about finding your path, and making the best of the ride," she sums up. "In the end, it's the thing that's most important."

Rounding out the main cast of Soul Surfer cast are Kevin Sorbo and Lorraine Nicholson as Holt and Alana Blanchard, the father-and-daughter team who helped to save Bethany Hamilton's life on the day of the attack and whose friendship was a major factor in her spectacular recovery and return to surfing.

Kevin Sorbo, known for his starring television roles on "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Andromeda" found Holt Blanchard a fascinating guy, someone who was able to stay cool under the most unimaginable of circumstances. The experience of playing him, says Kevin Sorbo, "was pretty intense." Another surfing novice, as soon as he got the role he started right into surf training in order to be able to shoot the water sequences. He also spent time with Bethany Hamilton, who openly shared with him her memories of what happened moment-by-moment on that fateful day.

Kevin Sorbo thinks the story will strike a chord with diverse audiences. "I think this is a very interesting time for this movie to come out," Kevin Sorbo comments. "In the wake of movies like The Blind Side, we've seen that people want more positive types of movies, to balance everything that's going on in the world. This movie truly has that. I think audience will come out of this movie with a feeling of triumph about life and knowing that there's hope out there."

Lorraine Nicholson, daughter of acting legend Jack Nicholson and a rising young talent in her own right (The Princess Diaries 2, Click, World's Greatest Dad) was equally excited to play Alana, Bethany Hamilton's long-time best friend and fellow surfer, who has to face her own fears and guilt in the wake of Bethany Hamilton's shark attack.

"I spent a lot of time with the real Alana," Lorraine Nicholson notes. "She's an amazing surfer and also a very sweet person. She has such a chill personality with a really optimistic outlook, which I think was so important because in some ways what happened to her is as traumatic as what happened to Bethany Hamilton."

Like the rest of the cast, Lorraine Nicholson found Soul Surfer to be a movie-making experience unlike any other. "The exciting thing to me is that it's about the resiliency of the human spirit," she concludes.

Sean McNamara worked closely with the whole cast to develop what he calls the "intimate circle" that created a safe zone for Bethany Hamilton to explore all that might be possible in her life after the attack. "In the beginning, I brought people together in a casual way. We talked a lot and got to know each other rather than jumping into formal rehearsal," he explains. "It was really about bonding before a single line was ever read. That time together was so important. We had incredibly talented actors, but we couldn't have predicted that we would be blessed with such terrific chemistry."

On The Waves: Shooting Soul Surfer
Adding to the stirring authenticity of Soul Surfer, Sean McNamara and the filmmaking team shot on location on the North Shores of Oahu and Kauai, the epicenters of Hawaiian big wave surfing, where the ocean is a way of life. Filming took place at such surf hotspots as Makaha, Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay Resort - many of the places Bethany Hamilton has been frequenting since she was old enough to stand up on a board.

To capture the look and feel of Bethany Hamilton's Hawaii, a place that seems to mirror her sunny, spunky, relaxed way of tackling life, the filmmakers got lots of input from the extended Hamilton family. In addition to Bethany Hamilton herself, Bethany Hamilton's parents, Tom and Cheri, her brothers, Tim and Noah, and sister-in-law Becky Baumgartner, who directed the 2007 short documentary film Heart of a Soul Surfer, all spent considerable time on set, ready to answer questions, big or small, about the personal details of their lives. The on-set presence of Hamilton's surf sponsor Rip Curl, which stood beside her in supporting her dreams, brought another element of Bethany Hamilton's real-world life to the film.

Collaborating with Sean McNamara to bring the mix of Bethany Hamilton's family life, teen life and life as an inspiration and continued threat on the surfing scene all to the screen, was a team that included director of photography John Leonetti, production designer Rusty Smith and costume designer Cathy James.

John Leonetti also oversaw the exhilarating surf footage captured by the movie's second unit, headed by Brian Keaulana and Greg Barnett, the award-winning water team and stunt coordinators behind the hit girl-surfing movie, Blue Crush. "When it came to the surfing, I wanted the audience to get a realistic feel for what it was like for Bethany Hamilton to be out there," says Sean McNamara. "We had a fantastic crew who all love and know surfing and they made that possible."

With cameras mounted on surfboards and jet skis, as well as on land, Brian Keualana and Greg Barnett were focused not only on in-the-moment realism but safety. "We approach water production like risk management," says Brian Keaulana. "You have to identify all the elements in play and all the hidden dangers -- reefs, strong currents, high surfs, cold, wind - and work with them, not against them."

This was especially true on Soul Surfer, because it was vital to Sean McNamara to be able to film the actors in action in the ocean, even though many of them were surf novices. "I felt you had to see Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt out on the water," the director explains. "We used professional doubles for the bigger stunts, of course, but having the stars out there really added to the authenticity. The fact that I had such game actors willing to learn and put themselves in that position meant a lot to me. I think they trusted me because they know how much I love surfing."

At her request, Bethany Hamilton did a lot of her own surf stunts, although matching her willowy body with AnnaSophia Robb's took a variety of camera tricks that play with perspective. "It's amazing that we were able to match them up so well," muses Sean McNamara. "They are completely different sizes, and yet, somehow they were such mirrors to each other in other ways that it worked."

Production designer Rusty Smith faced a different kind of challenge, recreating the Hamiltons' vibrant but rustic North Shore home inside a barren local house. For Bethany Hamilton's room, Rusty Smith and art director Rosario Provenza created a surf-girl's ultimate refuge -- covering the walls with inspirational pictures and posters, lining the shelves with trophies from surf contests Bethany Hamilton really won, and filling the floor space with surfboards, workout equipment and even a dog bed ("my real dog Hana gets to play herself in the movie!" notes Bethany Hamilton).

At the center of the shoot was one of the most heart-rending and difficult scenes: the sudden shark attack that changed Bethany Hamilton's life. Although Bethany Hamilton never saw the shark, which grabbed her arm from the depths below without warning, the filmmaking team built an exact replica of the 14-foot tiger shark for the production.

For Bethany Hamilton, it was a shock to see a life-size re-creation of the animal that had done so much damage to her in mere seconds. "It was weird for me to see for the first time how big and scary it really was," Bethany Hamilton says. "But I thought it was cool, too, because I also think sharks are really beautiful."

In order to create the acute sense of urgency and alarm, Leonetti's team shot the post-attack section of the shark scene with the cameras' shutters switched to 45 degrees, producing a visual staccato effect along with crisper images. To further heighten the gripping tension and stark realism of the scene, the shark attack was CGI-enhanced in post-production."

More than 750 visual effects were also employed in post-production to transform AnnaSophia Robb's left arm into Bethany Hamilton's distinctive, at-the-shoulder stump. The film's visual effects team, anchored by the Los Angeles-based company Engine Room, covered AnnaSophia Robb's arm with a green sleeve throughout filming. They then digitally inserted the stump in every single shot where it was exposed - using a process similar to that used in Forrest Gump to allow Gary Sinise to play the legless Lieutenant Dan Taylor.

"It was a very technical process," notes Sean McNamara. "We had to be able to show Bethany Hamilton from all kinds of angles and in action as she's surfing, which was a real challenge to coordinate with the visual effects. But the results were amazing."

For all the wildness of the Hawaiian surroundings, the elements seemed to cooperate seamlessly with the production, which had unusually good, even serendipitous, weather conditions throughout. "One afternoon we had this big, bright glamour photo scene scheduled for Lorraine Nicholson," recalls Sean McNamara. "That morning it was raining and overcast. But halfway through lunch, the sun came out, and the entire afternoon was a beautiful, blue day. We called that 'The Bethany Factor.' There were remarkable events like that almost every day."

Later, Hawaii would stand in for Thailand, where Bethany Hamilton traveled just months after the shark attack, to lend a humanitarian hand to those recovering from the devastating 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people. Segueing from raw news footage of the real event, production designer Rusty Smith scattered broken trees and debris throughout the landscape around Turtle Bay Resort to recreate the scene of destruction in the popular beach town of Phuket. The filmmakers then brought in hundreds of Thai extras from all across Hawaii, as well as animals native to Thailand such as water buffalo to forge a scene that is integral to Bethany Hamilton's breakthrough against fear.

"It's a wonderful moment when Bethany Hamilton sees that nobody will go in the water because they're afraid," says Douglas Schwartz. "When she decides to go in the water herself, thousands of people on the beach watch this girl with one arm do the unthinkable - and suddenly the children follow her. It really sums up Bethany Hamilton's power to move people."

Sean McNamara says it is moments like these that make Soul Surfer as much about the triumph of the soul as it is about an athletic triumph against the odds. "I've always loved movies that leave you feeling more excited about life when you leave the theatre than when you entered it," he concludes. "I really hope people will walk away from Soul Surfer not only feeling good but inspired to put some of that goodness back out in the world."


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