Interview by Christine Thompson
The story of former Boston Bruin hockey player Eric LeMarque, 6 BELOW: MIRACLE ON THE MOUNTAIN stars Josh Hartnett and Mira Sorvino in a depiction of a true event that happened in winter of 2004, when LaMarque was stranded and lost for eight days in an unforgiving blizzard in the back country of the High Sierras.
Director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor, Need For Speed) prefers to call his movie faith-valued rather than faith-based, even though LaMarque does became a born-again Christian during his time on the mountain. Harrowing scenes like the one in which LaMarque is portrayed as eating his own flesh to survive, or facing down a pack of wolves are deftly handled by Waugh. He doesn’t hammer the audience over the head about how LaMarque handles his faith, and allows them to come to that conclusion themselves near the end of the movie.
In this interview, we came to find out that Scott Waugh has an incredible connection to Eric LaMarque. Waugh started playing hockey with Eric LaMarque at the age of six, both of them being coached by Eric’s father, the team portrayed early in the movie. We asked how it was to direct a film with such a personal connection. Read on to find out what Waugh said.
AMFM: This cinematography was incredible, and the beauty of the landscape was a stark contrast to events unfolding. Why did you decide to take this project on?
Waugh: They sent me a book and they wanted me to see if I would turn it into a movie. Their pitch on it was a crystal meth addicted snow boarder gets lost on Mammoth Mountain 2004 and spends 8 days on the Mountain. He falls in a waterfall, in a lake. He is in below zero temperature for eight days and ends up losing his legs and eats his own skin to get out.
I was like “Wow that’s a crazy story!” So I look at the book and I see underneath it that it’s the true story of Eric LaMarque. I ran out to my assistant and said I said “Eric LaMarque – didn’t he play Ice Hockey for the Boston Bruins?” And then I said “Oh My God, show me a picture.”
So they did, and I said “I played hockey with this guy when I was a kid for six years, and his Dad was my coach.
I thought “I have to direct this – and it’s about my childhood friend.”
AMFM: Wow, that’s crazy.
Waugh: All I can say is I knew Eric’s dad, I knew Eric’s mom. I knew Eric. I knew there was more to this story than just the eight days on the mountain. So I was so excited to a) rekindle my relationship with the real Eric, and then b) really dive into the film.
AMFM: You portray Eric’s father as a really stern man. Now that I know you were actually coached by him, how did you think you might approach this? You had to be truthful, you had to be honest, but wasn’t that a little difficult to do?
Waugh: Look, I’m all about authenticity, and I’m not going to fabricate something that wasn’t there, and his Dad was really hard. He was a phenomenal hockey coach, but he was extremely hard on us when we were really young.
AMFM: Like how old?
Waugh: I started playing with his Dad when I was 6 years old.
AMFM: Six year olds are cute little kids, and pretty amazing, but you were put in with a coach like that at that age? And…do you think that this has something to do with the way Eric turned out later with a meth addiction?
Waugh: I know that when I asked Eric why he quit the Boston Bruins, and he’s 47 years old now, he still looked at me and said “because my Dad wasn’t there to push me.”
His dad was so influential on his life, good and bad. I don’t want to represent that as because of his Dad, I want to let the audience do the math on that. All I know is that your past defines your present.
AMFM: It does, good and bad, but what came out of the other side is you were gifted with the ability to direct and tell this story in such a beautiful way. I mean…the scene where he eats is own skin. I can’t believe that.
Waugh: I needed to be authentic with this story but I didn’t want to do it in a way that was really vulugar, and no pun intended but I tried to do it in the most tasteful way I could, I hope I achieved that. The concept is really hard to wrap your head around. I think the movie shows how humans can be driven to do something like that.
AMFM: The instinct to survive is so strong. I don’t even know if there’s a word for that – self cannibalism – what would you call that?
Waugh: I don’t know either, it’s still perplexing to me how a human could go there. Eric was very open about it. “Man, when you’re at that stage and you’re six days on the mountain. You’re so depleted, and you know if you don’t do something you’re going to die.” Your survival skills take over. You don’t have a choice.
AMFM: That being said, survival skllls and all, when you’re raised with parents that are strict disciplinarians, it makes you kind of want to overcome anything in spite of them, it makes you really tough. So Eric is a tough guy.
Waugh: He is
AMFM: What kind of challenges, cinematographically and logistically speaking, while you were filming this in the mountain?
Waugh: We needed to go to the back country as far away as possible, so as not to be around any ski resorts. So it was a quadruple shuttle ride to get the set you had to shutlle to a 4 x 4 to a snow cat, then from the snow cat, as far as that could go, then offload onto snow mobiles, then the snow mobile would drive everybody into the set.
On top of that, the three weeks we filmed in the back country, we were in a blizzard the entire time. We got to experience on a small scale what the real Eric went through, but we got to go home at night, eat and get warm.
AMFM: When you’re in a blizzard you can’t even see a foot in front of you. That must have been scary with a crew and equipment. How many people did you have up there for the production?
Waugh: Those kinds of production require a lot of people unfortunately. I would have like to have made it smaller but we had a crew of about 80 people.
AMFM: 80 people, wow that had to be a logistical nightmare.
Waugh: But I was lucky in that my crew was so amazing. They were such great troopers. Ironically we all had a great time playing in the freezing snow.
AMFM: As the director, what would you like people to take away from this?
Waugh: Whatever situation you are in, however horrible it may be, I hope you realize if Eric LaMarque can survive this situation, then you can do it. I also hope that it shows our youth the ramifications of where drugs can lead you.
AMFM: That’s a good takeaway. Then you would say it’s a faith-based movie, right?
Waugh: We are at a big discrepancy right now. Normally we say faith-based films are usually sermons on film. I consider my as having more faith values in it.
AMFM: That’s a better way to say it.
The faith-based community really loved “Act Of Valor,” and that’s because the morals were right, the values are right, and I feel the same way with this one. I mean yes, Eric did become a born-again Christian after his events on the mountain. There are faith based elements in it, but first and foremost it’s an entertainment film that appeals to all audiences. That’s the unfortunate discrepancy with faith-based films, they’re really only for Christians.