Pain and Perseverance

Director Barak Goodman explains the emotional challenges of filmmaking

Capturing the story of cancer is a rollercoaster journey for a film crew — though it obviously pales in comparison to the experiences of those who are fighting the disease. Over time, our team of filmmakers has grown very close to the patients we are profiling. Most of them are winning their battles, but we have experienced loss and witnessed many dark moments along the way.

We have all been inspired – even ennobled – by the many examples of courage and grace we’ve seen, but the moments of physical and spiritual pain are harder to deal with. As filmmakers, we develop strong connections to our subjects, yet we must continue filming even when every instinct is to stop and console them, or at least give them their space.

This is our challenge. In moments of intense emotion — for example when a patient suffers a setback or a family member passes away — we want to be respectful and avoid causing any further pain. On the other hand, we’ve embarked on this project precisely because it is a story that must be told in close-up, in all its frequent ugliness.

Walking this tightrope requires both self-discipline and awareness of the needs of the films’ subjects and our fellow crew members. Luckily we have been blessed with a fantastic team and, in particular, several field producers — Ali Sargent, Lindsey Megrue, Chris Durrance, and Emily Chapman — who have spent months in the field adroitly balancing these competing demands.

Ultimately, the crushing sadness found in this subject is leavened by the fact that there is real hope among many of the scientists and doctors who are dedicated to fighting the disease. Their optimism about the road ahead is contagious, even when they caution about how much more work remains to be done. As filmmakers, it certainly helps to be able to have a happy ending, or at least the prospect of one in the not too distant future.

– Barak Goodman is a Producer and the Director of “The Story of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies”