Monday, April 6, 2009

Prize4Life Interview with Makers of ALS Film Trapped

Welcome to the Prize4Life blog and its first post: an interview with Director James Takata, and Writers/Producers Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney of Trapped. Trapped is a short film about a brilliant young composer and piano player who discovers he has ALS after an eerie progression of symptoms. And though he begins to lose his ability to phsyically write music and play the piano, his spirit and his genius cannot be taken by this terrible disease. As Director Takata describes, though is body is deteriorating, “his ability is still there.”

Trapped Main Character Steven Plays the Piano

Interview Transcript

Interviewer: I wanted to thank all of you for taking the time to interview with Prize4Life, and wanted to start off by asking what were the roots of this project?

Zach: Amy Yamner (Prize4Life Chairman of the Board) called us in March of 2008 and said she had found a short-film about Alzheimer's disease that got a lot of hits and put Alzheimer's into the public eye, and she thought [we] could do something similar to raise awareness about ALS. Then Jim and I wrote the script and after 2-3 revisions we starting shooting on September 15th, after giving our lead actor [David Rodgers] a month to do research. David Rodgers really did his homework and found stuff on Avi [Avi Kremer, CEO of Prize4Life]. He took the responsibility of capturing someone with ALS accurately.

Amy Yamner (right) and Jhenn Webberly (Trapped film editor) at Trapped Screening Party

Interviewer: How did you guys [Jim, James, and Zach] meet each other before making Trapped?

Zach: I used to be a lawyer and did acting at night. Jim and I met in acting school and started writing during the writers’ strike after getting advice from our coaches that now was a great time to try it.

Jim: I saw Zach’s talent and trusted him right away. Shortly after meeting him, we did another movie together.

James: I actually helped Jim get his third voucher on Ghost Whisperer (CBS Show starring Jennifer Love Hewitt). Without it, he couldn’t join the [screen actors guild] union.

Jim Mahoney (left) and James Takata at the Screening Event

Interviewer: What are your hopes for the film?

James: Even if the film doesn’t do anything beyond raise awareness, it is a success. I’m delighted to help push for a cure to ALS and anything beyond that is a bonus. But we’re really excited about this film and would love to see it go to a festival. I’m glad to be a part of it.

Zach: We wanted to highlight what it’s like for someone to be trapped inside their own body. We worked to show the beauty in Steven’s mind.

Steven's Hands Trying to Write His Music

Steven Composing Music as ALS Sets In

Interviewer: Tell us about the production process? What were the challenges?

Jim: Most of the crew work 80-90 hours per week, but they still managed to work full days on the weekends to make Trapped. All of the crew were volunteers, and James offered up his house for 12 or so long days of shooting.

Zach: At one point, we had 10 people polishing a piano for one of the final scenes. It was great.

James: One of the challenges was trying to portray this fatal disease without being too sappy and sad. This was especially difficult because this is a short film and you have to establish understanding of the characters quickly.

Interviewer: What are some of the highlights of the movie and the process in your minds?

Zach: Michael Mollo’s music. He composed all the scores and soundtracks for the movie. He did this for free and wants to contribute to ending ALS as well. One of the other highlights was hearing from Avi on Skype during the premiere in L.A. People were on their feet and clapping.

Michael Mollo (left) and James Takada

James: One of the things I really liked about the script is that in the end, Steven is the same person as at the beginning of it. Even though the disease is killing his body, the person and his abilities are still in there.

Steven’s Genius Goes on Regardless of His ALS

Interviewer: Thanks guys. Any parting thoughts?

Zach: We did this because everyone enjoys making films, but mostly because people like James' wife's grandfather died from ALS and he couldn’t do anything about it. That’s a tragedy we hope the film will ameliorate.

The Trapped video is a fantastic story about the tragedy of ALS. The music is original and well composed, and the film conveys its messages artfully and powerfully, but in a subtle way. The Prize4Life blog will be tracking the video as it attempts to enter the festival circuit and will keep the Prize4Life community informed. Thanks for participating in the first Prize4Life blog posting, and please join us by becoming a follower, subscribing to the blog, or leaving a comment!


  1. This film is absolutely amazing. Please join us at Akasha in Culver City for a screening along with a great dinner and wine-tasting. You can buy your ticket here:

  2. how cool would it be to successfully do "Extreme ALS Research" weeks -- similar to "Extreme Home Makeovers"? A marathon of researchers all together working intensively in the same faciity with a targeted goal for finding the cure vs being scattered all about the globe .... sleeves rolled up intensively working together in the same researh facilities.

  3. "Trapped" sounds quite like the story of Jason Becker's life. Was Jason involved in anyway?

  4. Anything that raises awareness of ALS is fantastic. Thank you to everyone involved in this project.

  5. I feel strongly that it is important to portray, as James commented,that the person with ALS is still the same on the inside as the disease progresses, and the talents are still there.
    Thank you for making that point.

  6. Great post, what you said is really helpful to me.