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Q & A with Peter Berg

2-preview

HBO

How did you find the subjects for the film?

Peter Berg

I actually went to high school with Steve Shope. He was an old friend of mine. I had been thinking about doing a show about athletes who had become quadriplegic. When everything you've done in life has been organized around sports and then you have your body taken, that's very compelling. I was talking to Eric LeGrand and about a month later I heard that Steve broke his neck mountain biking. The specifics of the show are about a mountain biker and a football player, but it's about what really matters and how friends and family come together in times of need.

HBO

The film presents an intimate look into Steve and Eric's family lives. Was it difficult to get that close to them?

Peter Berg

It took some time for the Shopes to get comfortable with the film crew. Eric and his mom had been around the media for much longer. When we first met with Steve, he'd only been out of the hospital for six months. It was more emotionally wrought, so we had to approach it gently and over time, we gained their trust.

HBO

In the panel discussion, Steve says he's actually feeling better, which is remarkable considering where he started out. What was it like to witness his progress?

Peter Berg

When I first talked with Steve he talked a lot about wanting to kill himself and going to Seattle where he could have assisted suicide. I'd never had a conversation like that with anybody. A clear, lucid, composed, articulate conversation where your friend is making a case for killing himself. All I could think to say was, "Steve, give it some time. Let's talk about this in a year." I hadn't seen him for about four months before we did the roundtable, and he was a totally different guy. He had his color back, his smile back, and he could use his hands. There was no more talk about going to Seattle.

HBO

The men seem to share a natural bond. Do they see some of themselves in each other?

Peter Berg

An injury this severe instantly makes you a member of a very exclusive society. The only people who can really understand it are the people who have suffered these injuries and the caregivers who are there for 24 hours

HBO

Is there a difference in the way athletes handle their injuries compared to people who are hurt in other ways?

Peter Berg

There could be. Both Steve and Eric are very, very competitive men. That quality is now being transferred to their rehab. There's a scene in the film where you see Steve working incredibly hard just to move a pillow five inches. It's a very emotional scene. The intensity and the emotion and the power needed to do that is helped by being a very competitive athlete.

HBO

Eric says he would strap on a helmet and play now if he could.

Peter Berg

He loved football, and I don't think he blames football for his injury. He lowered his head by accident and was the victim of a poor form tackle. He understands that. For Steve, that little rock that he slipped and fell on, he's done that move hundreds of times. He just took his eye off the ball for a second. Both of them wish they could go back and have a redo. They certainly don't fault the sport for their injuries. They loved their sports. Steve loved getting up at 4 in the morning and going out on his bike on a freezing cold day. He loved that.

HBO

Eric might be one of the most recognizable paralyzed athletes. Does he view himself as a representative of the group?

Peter Berg

I think he does. I've gotten close to many paraplegics. I work with a group called Gridiron Heroes that helps high school football players as soon as they get hurt. I've met groups of these young men because you gotta be doing something pretty physical to break your neck. Whether it's as large a stage as Eric LeGrand or Steve going to an elementary school to talk to a group of 10-year-olds, they inevitably become role models. Part of the mental rehabilitation is realizing that they have a lot to offer to people. They're going to be inspirational.

HBO

What's been the audience reaction to the film so far?

Peter Berg

After seeing it, it's the kind of thing that makes people say, "I'm never going to feel sorry for myself again."

Broken

State of Play

November 25th at 10 PM ET