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SOUL SURFER

About The Production
Soul Surfer /sohl serf-er/ – noun; 1. A term coined in the 1970s, used to describe a talented surfer who surfs for the sheer pleasure of it. Although they may still enter competitions, a Soul Surfer's motives go beyond winning.

"Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That's what little girls are made of.” -- Bethany Hamilton

On October 31st, 2003, spirited Hawaiian teenager and rising young surfer Bethany Hamilton went into the ocean, and emerged forever changed – her life upended by an unimaginable event, yet her determination strengthened, her faith deepened and her compassion for others solidified as the driving force of an inspirational new life. On that terrifying day, Bethany lost her left arm in a sudden, near-fatal shark attack that made headlines and broke hearts around the world. But just weeks later, Bethany would be back up on her board, in mere months she was crossing the globe to lend a hand to tsunami victims in Thailand, and in just over a year she would win the National Scholastic Surfing Championships in Hawaii, surfing with only one arm.

How did she do it? What fueled her rapid transformation from a devastated young girl to a courageous champion and heroine to many? Sean McNamara's moving screen adaptation of Bethany's best-selling book, Soul Surfer, reveals the grit, grace, and unsinkable belief in life that led Bethany and her family on a quest to transform what seemed like an overwhelming personal loss into an astonishing opportunity to make a difference for others.

McNamara, who is best known for directing the hit Disney series "That's So Raven” as well as the girl-surfing TV series "Beyond The Break,” was awed by Bethany's story from the first time he heard about it. He saw it not only as one of the all-time great athletic comeback stories, and not only as a portrait of girl power taken to the max, but as a chance to explore where bravery and motivation come from in the most challenging moments of our lives.

"Bethany's story is so powerful,” comments McNamara. "Most people would have given up after what happened to her, but not only did she make an amazing return to surfing, she excelled at it, and has turned her life into an inspiration for people all around the world. She is someone you look at and think, ‘If she can do all the incredible things she's done, I can set the world on fire, too.'”

After the shark attack, Bethany could easily have succumbed to fear and anger, but her reaction was the polar opposite. She came to believe that the loss of her arm would, she says, lead her "to something really beautiful.” Nothing would stand in the way of her belief that she could contribute to the world as much as ever, even more so now that she truly understood what it takes – emotionally, spiritually and physically – to move through loss and into the hopefulness of big dreams.

It was about six months after Bethany's accident, just as she was blossoming into an international heroine with her gutsy return to surfing competition, when producer Douglas Schwartz, best known for creating the hit series "Baywatch,” first mentioned to Bethany that her story could make for a unique movie experience.

"I've been a writer and producer for 32 years and I'd never encountered a more inspirational story than Bethany's,” comments Schwartz, who would go on to co-write the script with McNamara and two other "Baywatch” alumni, his wife Deborah Schwartz and co-creator Michael Berk.

Having just come out of a period of intense spiritual questioning, Bethany was intrigued by the idea in a way she might not have been before. She now saw a movie as a means to reach more people with a story she felt was important: the story of how the strength of her relationships – with family, with the friends who stood by her side and with God -- gave her the optimism and resolve to turn what could have been an abrupt ending into a exhilarating, new beginning.

"It has been an incredible journey for me and now, I'm just so excited to share it,” Bethany says. "Having a movie made about me is something I would never have picked for myself but I think the filmmakers and actors have made an amazing film that I hope will encourage people to make the most of their own lives, no matter their circumstances.”

When Sean McNamara flew to Hawaii to meet Bethany and the close-knit Hamilton family, the heart of the story revealed itself to him. "I first met the Hamiltons in a tent church outside near the ocean, just like you see in the film,” he recalls. "They were amazing people. We talked a lot and they told me about the inner struggles they experienced as a family. Then they brought out the actual surfboard with the shark bite in it. You could still feel the sand and the moistness on it and I had the feeling right then that the full story of what they went through had to be told, and that it would become a family film about courage.”

The resulting screenplay would explore the triumph of an athlete who refused to give up but also the power of love to provide a map to those feeling lost in the wake of tragedy. McNamara goes on: "What we really wanted to capture in the screenplay was not only Bethany's comeback but also, more importantly, the struggle that brought her there. I saw that the fabric of this family had been ripped apart. After the shark attack, they were in anguish, they had doubts, but it was through love and devotion that they came through to the other side, and that is what makes their experience so moving and emotional.”

Though the story is shot through with Bethany's personal faith, which has always been a part of who she is, McNamara believes Soul Surfer speaks to anyone who has ever faced tough odds while reaching for a dream.

"I set out to make a movie that would appeal equally to faith-based audiences and to general audiences looking for entertainment that inspires,” he says. "It was an exciting challenge to do both but I think the beauty of Bethany's story is that it has the potential to reach lots of different people. Whatever you believe in, we all have to face adversity and we all have a lot to give to the world, and Bethany found a remarkable way to do both.”

An accomplished and diverse team of producers shepherded the project to the screen. In addition to Schwartz and McNamara, the roster included producers David Brookwell, Roy "Dutch” Hofstetter and David Zelon, as well as executive producers David Tice and Dominic Ianno.

Brookwell, an Emmy-nominated writer, director and producer ("Even Stevens,” "That's So Raven,” "Beyond the Break”) and partner with Sean McNamara in Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, is himself a surfer who was excited by the film's ruggedly beautiful Hawaiian setting. Yet, he says the surfing is really just a backdrop to a profile of courage and a family bonding together.

"We really wanted to focus on the relationships between the characters,” Brookwell explains. "The question is not only will Bethany surf again, but who will she be when she does?”

Hofstetter, a close family friend of the Hamiltons who has been Bethany's manager for several years, says he knew that her bold refusal to let her spirit sink would resonate around the world. "The first time I met Bethany, I was on the beach where Blue Crush was being filmed. She was nine years old, and she and her best friend Alana came up to ask if they could please be in the movie. They thought I was producing it. I said, ‘Don't worry, girls. Some day you'll have your chance to be in the movies,” recalls Hofstetter. "But I didn't know we'd be telling Bethany's

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