The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is everywhere. Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have been nothing but clips of people dumping precious water all over themselves in the name of keyboard activism. It's been a fun and perhaps slightly irresponsible way to get the word out about a deadly disease, but it can be easy to forget how real the terror is.
To fight that complacency, one brave Miamian living with ALS wants to bring the issue closer to home. He teamed up with his friends at the ALS Recovery Fund, 305 Films, and the Miami Heat to star in a creative, uplifting, and true-to-fantasy short film.
The Borscht Film Festival has agreed to premiere it, but they still need a little help from you. Get involved, and you could earn some Heat tickets and player memorabilia, no ice bucket involved.
Jeff Fogel has dedicated his life to basketball. He's helped coach the ladies of the Michael Ann Russell JCC Summer Camp to victory since his teenage years. Now in his early 40s, he continues to coach his loving team of young women, but he's forced to do it from a wheelchair. About three years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS, but throughout, he's remained positive and inspired with his coaching as his "medicine."
Fogel's story is heart-warming if not a bit of a tear-jerker, and Miami's ALS Recovery Fund -- dedicated to helping locals with ALS keep hope alive and live to enjoy another day -- reached out to him to tell his story. Fogel in turn reached out to his best buddy of more than 20 years, award-winning director Gil Green at 305 Films.
"Jeff's story actually resonates with me because I went through a similar experience with my father," Green says. His dad, who also dedicated his life to Miami and basketball, was diagnosed with MSA, a neural disease quite similar to ALS without a cure. Green lived with his father and helped him every step of the way until his unfortunate passing two years ago.
"He was probably in his late 50s when he was diagnosed, and he had it for about seven years," Green says. "I know what the process is for someone that's going through those physical changes."
Maybe the constant social reminder is annoying you, but that's nothing compared to the way ALS takes over its victim's lives. Colloquially known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS destroys the nervous system and completely degrades the body until a patient can't even breathe. There is no cure for ALS and while there are drugs, there's not much in the way of treatment.
The average life expectancy after diagnosis is two to five years, but there's always hope.
"While my dad had that disease, I was always thinking in the back of my head 'what is my dad thinking?'" Green says. "How does an athlete, a guy who's been an athlete his whole life, challenge himself to do simple daily things?"
That thought returned with Fogel's diagnoses, and therein lays the heart of the creative message behind Who Is Lou Gehrig?
The 12- to 15-minute film won't be a sappy downer.
"I come from the most creative end of the film world, which is experimental music videos, where we can have fun," Green says. "Instead of doing a documentary on Jeff, which is cool but Channel 6 is doing that when they do a report about him, let's go into a world of fantasy. Let's see what's in his head and how he gets by every day."
Jeff Fogel poses with his team of young women basketball players at the Michael Ann Russell JCC Summer Camp.
Fogel is the kind of guy who gives everything 110 percent. In his mind, when he's coaching his girls, he may as well be leading the Miami Heat to victory. Thankfully, Green's got connections on the team. His father and #40 Udonis Haslem's father used to ball together. When Green asked Haslem to get involved, it took little to no convincing.
"I have to say, the Miami Heat organization, since I've been working with them, is so entrenched in the Miami community and volunteering," Green says. Sidenote: he's been filming the team intro for six years. "When they understood this project, they were like, 'man, what do you need? You wanna use our basketball court? You wanna shoot after practice so we can grab some more players? Do you need coach Spoelstra? They're more than helpful."
The script is written, Haslem and the Heat are on board, Green is at the helm and Fogel is looking up. Borscht is helping how they can, and the ALS Recovery Fund is getting some much-needed attention, but there's still one big obstacle.
"Even for just this 15-minute film, the way I do film production, high end music video style, it costs money," Green says. "Even with favors and everybody donating their time, it's five days of full shooting and full crews, so our biggest challenge was 'how do we raise money?'"
The project, which actually got its conceptual start before the whole Ice Bucket thing, was at a standstill for months. Finally, someone told the guys to just start a Kickstarter, and now, "Who Is Lou Gehrig?" finally stands a chance.
Maybe you've participated in film Kickstarters before, but there's not chance the perks have ever been this good. At just $25, you get a digital copy of the film and fancy collector's book of on-set photographs. At $50, you can get a limited-edition Who Is Lou Gehrig? t-shirt and your name in the credits. For $100, Green and Haslem will give you a signed production stills, and for $250, you get a signed basketball.
Work your way up to $500 for tickets to the premiere and VIP reception. Donate $750 for free tickets to see the Miami Heat at any game you want. Those able to donate $1,000 get a signed copy of the script, and $2,500 get a walk-on roll plus hotel stay on South Beach for the film's premiere. That also gets you your pick of lower-level Heat tickets. The biggest donors can even get a pair of Haslem's signed personal sneakers.
"Even if you're not interested in the film, you might just want to buy these prizes," Green jokes, "but it's more than the prizes. We're trying to make everyone a part of this team. We're more interested in just the amount of people becoming part of this whole process; from an idea to something that you can sit down, watch, enjoy, and pass on."
The initial goal is $60,000, which may seem steep but is the bare minimum to ensure production costs are met. Ideally, if the fund raiser takes off, they'd like to reach $120,000. That kind of dough would take Who Is Lou Gehrig? to the next level.
There's less than 30 days for the goal to be met with $7,220 raised at press time. It's a race against the clock, but even more serious is the race against Fogel's ailing mobility. When the idea for the film came to Green and his friends less than a year ago, Fogel wasn't yet in a wheelchair. The threat to his health is real, and ALS won't wait just because they've got plans to make an inspiring film.
"I just feel most people are going to be able to adapt to it, whether they know someone with ALS or not," Green says. "Everyone's life has challenges. Everyone has dealt with their own drama, and it's heartfelt to every person, no matter what they're going through. Drama can be depression or someone breaking up, losing someone in your family or just society. Whatever pressures you have, it's a story about adversity and how to deal with adversity, how to make your mind strong and sharp and look at that glass as always being half-full. I think the movie will resonate beyond just the ALS world."
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