Unlikely Heroes Run Their Own Races in Secretariat
- Wednesday, October 06, 2010
"I love that moment [in the scene] where I have that look with Secretariat or Penny has that look with Secretariat, because it's wordless. And people can infuse it with as much capacity as they have for being able to step into the shoes of Penny in that moment."
In another scene, the night before the Belmont Stakes, Penny pays a visit to Secretariat in his stall. The stakes are literally high at this point, as Secretariat is about to run the longest race (1.5 miles) he has ever experienced in his career. Everyone in the racing community is doubtful that the three-year-old will have the stamina to maintain his speed over such a great distance.
But Penny believes in him, as she rubs his head and says softly, "I've run my race. Now you run yours."
It's a quiet moment in the midst of all the nail-biting action, but it speaks volumes to the film's core message: living the life that's ahead of you and becoming who you were meant to be.
Really Up Close and Personal
As the history books have maintained, Secretariat does indeed go on to win the Belmont (winning by 31 lengths—a record that still stands at 2:24 for 1.5 miles) and in filming these race scenes, the audience is given its own place in the saddle in which to ride (or grip tightly) along. Hooves are pounding, legs are churning and dirt is flying at what feels like only mere inches from the screen.
Only some unconventional filming could have captured these thrilling, "how did they do that?" moments—and Wallace attributes these efforts to Academy Award-winning cinematographer Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves, We Were Soldiers), whom he refers to as "the Rembrandt of cinematographers."
"We wanted the audience to be participants in the story and in the racing which necessitated that we shot these in an entirely different way than anyone had shot horse-racing before with camera technology. It was not ultra sophisticated, but it was just brilliantly implemented."
What has been deemed the "Ollie cam" brings the audience right into the jockey's perspective due to its close proximity to the action. A small, lightweight camera was affixed to the end of a stick and positioned near the horses as they thundered down the track. Amazingly, the footage matches seamlessly with footage that was shot with a bulkier professional digital camera, which was also sometimes hung outside trucks that raced alongside the horses while filming. The end result is extremely realistic action sequences that are exhilarating for the audience and only inspire them further to become involved in what is happening on-screen.
"It amazes me and delights me to hear the audiences sitting there screaming at the screen, ‘Go, go, go!'" says Wallace after observing people in several preview screenings of the film.
But capturing real, live action didn't just stop with the horses, as the jockey who portrays Secretariat's jockey Ron Turcotte, is actually real-life jockey Ortho Thorwarth. While he had never acted previously, the athlete won the hearts of filmmakers in his casting session and showed that he had a knack for all things thespian.
"Otto became one of the most delightful finds of this whole film," Wallace reveals. "He walked in and looked me in the eye, and I knew that minute he was going to be Ronnie Turcotte. He was fearless. And beyond that, there is a joy about that fearlessness."
The Heart of the Matter
Wallace showed his own fearlessness as well, as he ably balanced both action and emotion in portraying the powerfully true stories of real heroes and real people.
"In terms of the souls aspects of the story," he explains, "we were inside the characters' lives and their alone moments, their silences. So the scenes where Penny can't make it back to her daughter's play, when she's there with her father when he's dying, when she's with the horse the night before [the race], or even when she's alone at the ball and surrounded by people and yes she's alone, and then she sees her family reconstituted in a new way—those were the scenes that moved me the most. And I think they're the ones that get us caught up in the story as now rather than being able to associate [with history] and go, ‘Oh, well I know what happened.'"
In the end, the story of Penny Chenery Tweedy and Secretariat is one that history has already told and many already know well. But in Secretariat, it has been given a new, cinematic life and will undoubtedly connect with audiences of today with its uplifting story of courage, determination and heroism—something that is always worth telling again and again.
Starring Diane Lane, John Malkovich, James Cromwell, Fred Thompson and Scott Glenn, Walt Disney Pictures' Secretariat releases wide in theaters on Friday, October 8, 2010 and is rated PG (for brief mild language). For more information, please visit www.disney.com/secretariat.
Photos © Walt Disney Pictures.
**This article first published on October 6, 2010.
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