Dan Goforth shares the journey from script to Neflix of the story of professional barrel racer and inspirational speaker Amberley Snyder is brought to the screen in Walk. Ride. Rodeo.
On March 8, 2019, Netflix will release Walk. Ride. Rodeo., the true, inspirational story of professional barrel racer Amberley Snyder. Already a champion rodeo rider at the age of 18, a truck accident left her without the use of her legs, and many assumed that her career was ended. The doctors said she would never walk again. Certainly, she'd never ride. Much less professionally.
I got to know this brave young woman's story many years ago, long before her "Wheelchair Wednesdays" became a national social media phenomenon, before segments on television like the "Today" show, before People Magazine blazed her story across their pages. She not only "got back on the horse," she is racing professionally and competitively with the very best rodeo riders today. And she has become a much sought-after inspirational speaker and an advocate for those who refuse to let disabilities define them. It's a thrill to be able to watch PokeProd Entertainment bring that story to the screen.
Sean, what was it about Amberley's story that drew you as a filmmaker?
When we heard about Amberley, instantly we felt this one needs to be told. It’s the kind of story you can’t believe is true. But it is. And that excited us. We started with research, watching interviews and we optioned an earlier script [by Dan Goforth]. Then we sat down with Amberley and her mother, Tina, for interviews and our fate was sealed. Amberley is a complex young woman. Filled with the confidence of a professional athlete, and struggling with the frustration of her situation. Tina is a mother that is torn between doing anything to help her daughter achieve her dreams and knowing there is only so much she can do. Some beautiful moments and tougher emotions were revealed. Which made the script that much more personal.
The opening of the film is the perfect example. The character of Amberley sits in the alley before a race. We wrote the scene from a perspective of an athlete—she cuts out the noise and only listens to her breath and the breath of her horse. The real Amberley laughed and said no, no, no. She hears everything—the crowd, the horses, the announcer. And it fuels her before the start of a race. It just made the scene feel so fresh and real.
You and Greg have worked together before. How did you handle two writers working on the screenplay?
We write every word together. We usually write in our office, sitting across from each other at a partner’s desk. If we are not together, we are on Skype. There is something about seeing a reaction or talking out a scene face-to-face that is invaluable to our partnership. If we are apart, we’ll write a scene out on our own, then edit it once we are together.
We always start with a detailed outline. Plot points, bits of dialogue—about 20 pages. A detailed outline is the most important part of a script—and not only because you can load it into Final Draft and already be 25 pages into the script.
We have written on and off for a long time. For the past six years, it has been very much on. Spec features and pilots and we are about to start our second film for Netflix. We pretty much finish each other’s sentences by now.
What were some of the hardest / most difficult scenes to shoot?
The post-accident scenes were emotionally tough. Amberley hearing about her paralysis and Tina trying to be strong for her daughter. We were unbelievably lucky to have two phenomenal actresses—Spencer Locke and Missi Pyle—giving everything they had in their performances. The real Amberley and Tina were not on set those days. It was just too hard to live through that again. They trusted us all to get it right. And we think we did.
The truck crash scene. You get one shot to roll and crash a truck. We were already tense. It’s a big stunt. Netflix was on set that day, too. When our director called action, our explosive on the truck that was supposed to cause it to roll didn’t fire on the first take. Our incredible stunt woman knew something was wrong and stopped the truck. Since that is the pivotal moment in the story, it had to happen. Our stunt coordinator found the problem and the truck rolled and crashed perfectly on the second take. It was exhilarating to watch.
What are some of the best memories from the shoot?
There is nothing like watching your words realized into images. And watching it go beyond that in the hands of our director, Conor Allyn, and our incredible cast and crew. We tackled so much of the raw emotional material in the first week of the shoot. Seeing that, take after take, we knew this film was kind of blessed.
And the horses. We have four horses in the movie playing Am’s horse, Power. Power plays himself, but only Amberley rides Power. Spencer rode three trained Power look-a-like horses, each with a different specialty. The horse scenes are emotional thanks to our horse trainer, the legendary Bobby Lovgren.
You brought Amberley in to do the actual riding in many of the scenes. How did that come about and what was it like watching her run the barrels?
Amberley told us—point blank—that if she gave us her life rights, she would have to do her own post-accident stunt riding in the movie. She was adamant that no stunt person could replicate how she rides her horse without the use of her legs. We promised her we would do everything to make that happen. We worked with SAG and our insurance company to do that safely and legally. We even hired Amberley’s younger sister, Autumn, to do all the pre-accident horse riding in the film.
Am is a fearless competitor and at the top of her sport. Once she moves from her wheelchair and onto the saddle of her horse, she is equal to any other rider. Better than most. When she took off riding, the entire crew watched with a mix of awe, terror and flat out amazement.
What is the one (or two) things that you really hope audiences will take away and be talking about after watching this film?
“Whatever life gives you, give more back.” That’s a statement that Amberley’s physical therapist gives her while she is in rehab. Amberley lives by those words. We should, too. Life is going to throw obstacles in our way. It’s up to us how we face and hopefully overcome them.
No dream is too big. I mean, come on. Look at what Amberley Snyder achieved. She lost the use of her legs but through sheer determination and unfettering confidence, she got back on a horse and started competing in rodeos. She is now a professional barrel racer. She impresses us every day.
A note from Dan Goforth: I wanted to conclude with something Amberley told me many years ago about having her story told: "I hope people leave inspired to chase their dreams. I hope they feel that they can face their obstacles in life. I want to give people hope to keep going. I want people to realize that good things can come out of not so good situations we are dealt."
Watch Walk. Ride. Rodeo. on Netflix beginning March 8, 2019.
Follow the film on Facebook.
Follow Amberley Snyder on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Follow Sean Dwyer and PokeProd Entertainment on Twitter.and Instagram.
Follow Greg Cope White on Twitter and Instagram.