Mike Mitchell was just 15 years old when he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare muscular cancer. Over the course of almost 4 years, Mike endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. A fierce athlete and competitor, Mike’s love for sports served as a fuel. Not only did he fight the cancer, he continued to play sports, even in his treatment.
You would expect that a boy undergoing chemotherapy would never set foot on a basketball court, much less play at a competitive level. Through a mutual friend, I heard just a snippet of his story, and it never left my mind. Finally, I asked to meet Mike to hear more. We sat in a park outside of Nashville on a balmy summer day, along with his girlfriend. He was kind and humble, and if I hadn’t known, I would have never guessed that he was just wrapping up his most recent round of chemotherapy. We spent most of our time talking football and basketball. He didn’t like talking about his cancer, mainly because he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him, or to treat him any differently. I was floored by his positive outlook, his will to play sports, and his determination to keep his body in shape, even while undergoing rigorous treatment.
So, of course, I wanted to tell his story. And somehow, amazingly, he trusted me with it. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to capture his competitive and determined spirit, through the context of his love for sports.
With the help of an amazing team, we began production. First concepting, writing, and then finally filming. I was introduced to Steve Johnson, who became the absolute champion of this project. He was instrumental in connecting us to all the right people. His unconditional love for Mike was a thing of beauty. We filmed a handful of days with Mike, and several with his closest friends and family.
We had shot about 80% of our story when I got the call: it was like ice in my veins. Mike had been having back pains, which had become increasingly severe in a short period of time. He had been hospitalized, and the doctors were certain as to the source… It was less than a week later that I sat with him, in his hospital room, and handed him an iPad, where we watched a rough cut. That was the last time I talked to Mike Mitchell. Less than 2 weeks later, he left this world.
I had no idea what to do at that point, no idea what story to tell. It was all too fresh, too intense. A fresh set of eyes and a fresh dose of passion from our eventual editor, Sean Dave´, was exactly what it needed. Once we had a rough assembly cut, the inspiration was back and we were charging through the edit process.
On March 16th, 2016, we premiered the film to Mike’s friends and family, at the church he had attended. There were over 400 people in the audience, all with one thing in common: respect and admiration for Mike Mitchell.
This is a glimpse into his story, his unwavering character, and his unstoppable attitude. This is Mike Mitchell.
Production: GearSeven Creative
Director: Matthew Underwood
Producer: Connor Carroll
Executive Producer: Kirk Slawek
Cinematography: Colin Noel, John Matysiak, Matthew Underwood, Kirk Slawek, and Connor Carroll
Editor: Sean Dave´
Additional Gaffing: Sam Willey
Original Score: Connor Carroll and David Brubaker