Telling Authentic Stories with Disability Consultant Sam Oldknow

Our Production Manager apprentice, Sam Oldknow, has been working with Director Carl Woods from Zedmill on the feature length film ‘My Everest’ and a bunch of other incredible films. ‘My Everest’ tells the story of Max, a data analyst with cerebral palsy, climbing up to Everest’s base camp on horseback. Sam was brought on as the disability consultant to help construct the narrative and make sure the representations of Max and their disability was authentic. Sam’s main objective within the film was to have Max’s character drive the narrative rather than their disability.

We spoke with Sam about his role within post-production and the important impact he made on the film. His comments give some great insights into the representation of disabilities on screen that you should take into your next project to make sure the telling of the story and characters remains genuine.

My Everest Synopsis

A physically disabled man treks to Everest Base Camp on horseback, yet when the mountain puts his life on the line, he’s forced to question how far he’s willing to go, just to fit in.

It premiered at BFI IMAX on April 27, 2023, and subsequently went into 20 cinemas across the UK.

Sam’s Thoughts on his Role

My role on this film was as disability consultant and there were two main elements to this role.

The first was working with the Carl Woods, director and editor, in the edit process to help ensure that the film did not fall into any stereotypical representation tropes for a disabled person. I recall many extensive, sometimes heated conversations about a section we labelled the Martha section. Within this section Martha (Max’s mum) discusses the challenges she had to overcome when trying to get Max seen and diagnosed.

We were both acutely aware that information within this part could perpetuate the pity stereotypical representation for disabled people. To help shift the focus away from this we decided to focus on what Max learnt through witnessing these experiences and how that eventually impacted his approach to tackling Everest and allowed max’s character to drive the story.

This is my main message when it comes to disability representation. We must look beneath the characters disability and focus on the human at the centre of stories in order to make them authentic. 

After this portion of the work, I worked with the distributor and press team to make sure that the cinema release and Press communication was as authentic and accessible as possible. I would review Press releases, and social media posts to make sure that the language was authentic to Max’s character. I also liaised with the various cinema chains to ensure that each of the screenings was as accessible as possible. The highlight of this was liaising with the BFI IMAX to help coordinate accessibility for the premier event. I went on a few site visits and was in dialogue with the BFI to ensure that accessible features such as the audio description headsets were ready and available at the front desk for our event.

Through this experience, I learned that teamwork and collaboration are essential when it comes to creating truly inclusive projects. I also developed my understanding of how to communicate with people in a fair and respectful way.

Sam Oldknow, Production Manager & Disability Consultant at My Everest Film Premiere
Sam Oldham at the Premiere for 'My Everest'

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