The premise of a film is a thesis of sorts, a theory that is presented to an audience. During the early stages of production in a documentary, it is often speculation. But throughout the process it becomes the filmmaker’s assertion, a belief that is presented through the story that they tell.
When Dave and I first began filming Chris in January of 2011, it was unclear what that premise would be. We knew that he was a unique character. We knew he was somewhat socially awkward, that he did not perform well in large groups of people. We knew that he was searching for some kind of acceptance within this community of strongmen. These are all themes that are present in the film. But we didn’t know what his ultimate goal was, and he didn’t either. Or if he did, he wasn’t able to express it to us.
A couple of months in I started getting frustrated. We needed to have some sort of premise, we needed to have something that would tie all of these themes together. Or else we didn’t have a film. Why do people do what they do? What drives us day to day? Why was it that Chris is working so hard to bend these pieces of metal?
So I looked at myself. Why did I want to make this film, what was driving me? It surely wasn’t money - I don’t take gratification in racking up credit card debt. It wasn’t fame - after all this was a documentary. The real reason lie in the feeling of accomplishment. In the hope that I would create something that not only other people would appreciate, but something I would be proud of myself.
And then I remembered Chris telling us late one night in his apartment about the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you bend a piece of steel, a piece that you hadn’t been able to bend before. It’s a feeling unlike any other. For a brief moment, you have a sense of intense gratification. There is elation… a moment of success. But that feeling is fleeting, and you quickly move on to another piece of steel, one you cannot yet bend. And so on and so on.
It was at that moment that I realized what the premise was going to be. It wasn’t just a single accomplishment, it wasn’t even a series of accomplishments. It was the quest for fulfillment… the process of wholly developing one’s own abilities or realizing one’s own character. Which is something that is ongoing, something that we all continue to work towards, something that has no end.
This Thursday we will screen “Bending Steel” for the first time in front of an audience of family, friends, and people who have been instrumental in the making of this film. I anticipate that I will experience Chris’ fear of crowds. I will share his desire to find acceptance within a group of people. And I’m sure I will feel also a great sense of accomplishment once it is over. But ultimately that quest for fulfillment, that journey which we are all on together, will continue. It is what keeps us going, it is what drives us to grow in character and to progress in life. Because without it, we are stuck with a piece of steel which we have no hope in bending.