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Filming my father in Life and Death

Post Author Take1 / March 27th 2015


Steve Isaac suffers from Motor Neuron Disease – a condition that damages parts of the nervous system and severely shortens life expectancy. Diagnosed at 51, Steve has defied medical expectations and through an unmoveable determination, made his 56th birthday.

Steve lived an active life before it was turned upside down by his diagnosis – Skiing every winter, Edinburgh festival in the summer, and even for sometime after his diagnosis he remained active, getting involved in designing the wheelchair to which he would be bound.

In 2011 the managing director of Verve Productions, Liz Tucker met Steve and was instantly bowled over by the unusual honesty of both Steve and his family. She decided that theirs was a story worth telling; one that would show the havoc that Motor Neuron Disease can wreak on family life. The programme was commissioned almost instantly by the then commissioner of Channel Five, but none of them had any idea just how long they would be making the film…

From the outset Liz decided that the approach to telling Steve’s story would be one of honesty. Not to contrive or reconstruct, but to provide viewers an insight into the action as the family experienced it. The problem was that with traditional documentary techniques, moments would be missed, no matter how often the crew visited the family home to film.

After some consideration Liz found a solution:

She knew that his children would be there through all the ups and downs of the illness, and could capture intimate moments and daily struggles as they happened; giving viewers a detailed look on the way Steve’s disease affected the family. Steve’s son Fraser had provided early home video footage of his Dad to use in the documentary and so was a prime candidate to get involved in filming.

Fraser agreed, left his job, and was hired as part of the production team. It required constant communication between both Fraser and Liz to discuss the stories and issues emerging at home, and how best to capture them on film. Fraser wasn’t left alone to handle the documentary though. The crew visited regularly to shoot both the main narrative and to review the material Fraser had for the four years that filming took place.

This technique is obviously unique, and certainly wouldn’t work in many other instances. But it gave an insight that would have been impossible to capture any other way, and gave Fraser and other family members a focus as their father’s condition deteriorated.

 

The documentary is a touching story and tribute. Steve’s determination and drive through both the bad times, and the good is unwavering. He has made the decision to be switched off when he can no longer communicate. But even then, thanks to Liz, Fraser, and the rest of his family, Steve can continue to communicate his story just the way he wants.

Steve’s story is currently available in the UK on Demand 5: http://www.channel5.com/shows/filming-my-father-in-life-death/episodes/filming-my-father-in-life-death



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