Lights! Camera! Roll 'em!

by Kathy Wechsler on Mon, 2008-09-01 09:16
Scott Lew directing
Scott Lew, left, directing a “Bickford” scene on location with actors Patrick Fugit and Olivia Wilde.

During his Hollywood career, Scott D. Lew of Van Nuys, Calif., has been a writer, producer, director, actor and star of the 2007 documentary, “Living with Lew.”

Lew, 39, has worked on films such as “Spy Game,” “Air Force One” and “Bring It On.” He produced and directed documentaries including “Fan Club” and the award-winning “Welcome Sinners! The Velvet Hammer Story.”

In addition, last season he wrote for USA Network’s show, “The Dead Zone.”

Take 2

In 2002, just as Lew was getting the finances cleared to begin directing his first feature film, “Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas,” the twitching in his arms and chest muscles was diagnosed as ALS.

Soon after, he began having trouble using his hands and walking, falling frequently. About a month before his crew began filming “Bickford Schmeckler,” Lew began using a wheelchair full time.

“I just embraced the idea of becoming a ‘wheelchair dude,’” says Lew. “I do think it helped me, in a strange way, as a director. When someone is in a wheelchair, you need to bend down and focus on what they’re saying — perfect for a director who wants people’s attention.”

Scott Lew
Filmmaker Scott Lew

Movie sets aren’t designed to be navigated by wheelchairs, but Lew says his crew was very helpful moving obstacles and clearing pathways. To deal with the Hollywood summer heat and long, grueling hours, Lew had an assistant to help him drink, take restroom breaks and lie down to use his BiPAP machine.

Because it was his dream to direct “Bickford Schmeckler,” for which he’d written the script four years earlier, Lew says quitting was not an option. He’d worked too hard climbing the Hollywood ladder to let ALS stop him from fulfilling this dream, and so dedicated himself to working long hours despite his ALS progression.

“I was nervous that the people who were financing the film wouldn’t want me to direct it given my rapidly deteriorating condition,” he says. “Luckily for me, they embraced the idea, and after some legal maneuvering to ensure there would be a director in place just in case I couldn’t complete the film, we went full steam ahead.”

Take 3

Before filming began, Lew was approached by Adam Bardach, a friend with whom he worked on “Welcome Sinners: The Velvet Hammer Story.” Bardach asked Lew about making a documentary about his life with ALS.

“I remember him saying, ‘A guy like you, in your condition, making a movie, is a great subject for a movie in itself,’” recalls Lew. “I’m a big ham, so any time someone says they want to follow me around with their camera, I’m powerless to deny them.”

Produced by Bardach, “Living with Lew” follows Lew as he directs, copes with ALS with the loving support of friends and family, and learns to adjust to breathing machines, feeding tubes and transfer lifts.

Lew’s unique personality and self-confidence bring an uplifting spirit to the documentary that surprises many viewers, says Bardach.

“The point that ‘Living with Lew’ is trying to make is that you have a choice to deal with adversity in a positive way or in a negative way, and I think Scott was such an incredible example of dealing with it in a positive way,” says Bardach, who hopes the documentary will help raise ALS awareness.

Take 4

Lew hasn’t slowed down one bit since the making of “Living with Lew.” He played the “Wheelchair Guy” in a 2008 episode of “Reno 911” on Comedy Central and was a guest speaker at the Southern California MDA/ALS Awareness Month seminar in May, where he had the opportunity to introduce “Living with Lew” to attendees.

Currently, Lew is working on a documentary about Lou Gehrig and writing a memoir about his “crazy Hollywood journey” called “Scott Lew’s Hollywood, Deadly.” And he’s doing all that while trying to sell a television show, a thriller with comic overtones.

“As I progress and lose abilities, I’ve got ‘Living with Lew’ and ‘Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas,’ to remind myself to look on the bright side,” says Lew, whose speech has deteriorated since the making of the documentary.

“It’s not impossible to have fun with ALS, you just need to choose to do it.”

To learn more about “Living with Lew,” visit www.livingwithlew.com.

Kathy Wechsler
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