The FENX and the camera crew: Behind the Scenes of the “Facing Life Head On” interview featuring The FENX Project

Posted: August 9, 2011 in FENX 4.0
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It was a cold and blustery Sunday morning in late January and I was in a suit, tie, and sweater headed for Capitol Hill.  The FENX provided as much shelter from the frigid wind as it could on the sidewalks of Washington, DC as man and machine prepared to go in front of TV cameras to tell the story of The FENX Project, it’s pilot, and it’s creator.  I was to meet with the production team of Facing Life Head On, an Emmy award winning show that tackles the abortion issue and along the way tells amazing stories of inspiration and perseverance for the sake of LIFE, endeavoring to show the world that life is sacred and that the practice of abortion does, in fact, deprive the word of wonderful individuals who would have been a joy and blessing to those they would have encountered.  The entire time-line of events leading up to this interview actually taking place was initiated by Olivia Braaten, a friend and fellow Fall 2005 intern with the Heritage Foundation Young Leaders Program, who is a field producer for the television show.

Arriving early, I parked the FENX outside the all-access entrance to the Longworth House Office Building, across from the United States Capitol building. Making my way through the labyrinthine underground tunnel system that connects the three House office buildings, I was headed into the halls of the Rayburn building to the office of my boss, Representative Thaddeus McCotter.  I was anticipating a phone call from Rachel Reeves, the producer of Facing Life Head On, as I plopped down into the chair in my little office known as “The Batcave”; a hovel filled with Star Wars novels, historical tomes, and a number of volumes from the Philosophy and Popular Culture series.  Soon, the call came and I retraced my steps back to the entrance in Longworth to meet the crew and escort them through security (there was quite a lot of gear for multiple cameras and monitors).  As we walked back to the office they asked questions about the FENX, how I came to be on Capitol Hill, and what it’s like for someone with a “disability” to be here doing the work I do on various policy issues – it is an interesting question to ask when you are the only individual you know of with a obvious physical condition like Cerebral Palsy working in Capitol Hill in a congressional office. (Ed: It is a unique spot to be in, often difficult, wherein you’re blazing a path in hopes that others will follow in your tread).

Upon arrival the production crew began set up all the equipment in the Representative’s personal office, as that was the prime location to conduct the interview.  Before long one of the camera operators told me they needed to shoot some “B-roll” footage of me in the office – footage to accompany voice-over sections of the interview – and I realized later upon watching the interview that some of my Philosophy and Popular Culture volumes actually made it on screen.   (Ed: It was odd to me, and certainly something new, to know that there was a crew across the office lobby setting up equipment to film me, to ask me about my life and my experiences, seeing it as something that is unique and special; I often forget this about my life, that my idea of “normal”/”conventional” is anything but that to the vast majority of people I meet.)

Soon enough, Rachel got a call from Brad Mattes, the host of Facing Life Head On, and he was waiting for us at the entrance of the Longworth building so I could get him through security.  As we walked back to the office in Rayburn, Brad asked me what it’s like to be part of the policy making process – so close to these powerful decision makers – and not be overwhelmed by it.  In what many would see as an unconventional answer to that question, I took a page from Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Ring and recounted the scene near the beginning of the film when Gandalf the Grey is explaining to the hobbit Frodo Baggins what the One Ring actually is and the power it possesses.  Upon hearing the tale of Isildor’s failure to destroy the One Ring and subsequent subjugation to it, Frodo begs Gandalf to take the One Ring from him and (wisely) Galndalf refuses and says “Understand Frodo, I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine”  I told Brad that I see Capitol Hill in much the same light, therefore I hold at an arm’s length a desire for power and influence, knowing there is no certainty I would not be overcome by it if drawn to it.  He was surprised, but I think impressed too, having been given such an answer.

Once we arrived at the office and made sure all of the equipment was prepped, Brad and I jumped right into the interview, as he started asking me a series of questions about my life, my work, my childhood, and The FENX Project, much of it detailed in the footage shown in the two episodes featured on the Facing Life Head On website and on television these last two weeks.  It was a very comfortable environment to be honest – considering I did not know the questions in advance – and even I was surprised with how at ease I seemed in telling my tale – the surprise goes back to seeing my life very differently than the majority of folks see it .  (Ed: I really see the opportunity to be part of this show as a chance to talk of what the Heavenly Father has done with me, a chance to honor my earthy parents for the lengths to which they have gone to ensure my quality of life, and a platform from which to undermine the insidious, and yet prevalent, stream of thought in society that those with longterm physical, mental, and medical challenges are incapable of a good quality of life and therefore are of less worth in our society because they will accomplish less.  This is something that doesn’t get as much attention in the Pro-Life/Conservative community and it needs to; it is unfortunate that in a society built on the idea of inalienable and God-bestowed rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (notice that is NOT “the Guarantee of Happiness”) many focus on what a person can do and not who they are; the focus is too much on what they can contribute (and what the definition of contribution is). As I stated in the interview “You matter because the Master and Creator of the Universe took the time, and that is enough”

After the interview itself was done, we headed back over to Longworth and on to the Capitol grounds to film the FENX and I in action and so Brad could film his closing thoughts for the episodes.  (Ed: Props to Brad, Rachel, and the rest of the crew for standing out in  the bitter cold for those final takes.)

It was a wonderful opportunity to work with great people to tell an inspiring story, and a continued affirmation that I have been given gift, abilities, and talents and that there is a Plan in motion for using them to speak Truth.  Not to mention another chance to see how television is made.  Many thanks to Brad, Rachel, the tech crew, and especially Olivia; no one would have guessed that connecting as Heritage Interns years ago would lead to a unique adventure such as this one. 

Riding Towards Eternity,



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