NYSATA Athletic Trainers Provide Injury Prevention and Management on Movie Set

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Sports-themed film “Best Man Holiday,” out November 15, 2013, was primarily filmed in Toronto but moved to Orchard Park, NY for the live football action scenes at Ralph Wilson Stadium. With the cast, including twenty-five ex-professional and Division I football players, creating a realistic game sequence, two NYS certified athletic trainers (ATs) were hired to be on set during filming for added safety and injury prevention and management.

O'Malley (right) in 'Best Man Holiday' team photo

As an athletic trainer (AT) on a movie set, you need to be capable of making game-day decisions and treatments to keep the actors safely in the scene.

In typical movie fashion, reality does not get in the way of a good story. “Best Man Holiday” tells the story of college friends who re-unite after fifteen years when one of their group is ill and another is about to make sports history. It is the holiday season and Lance (Morris Chestnut), a running back for the NY Giants, is about to break the all-time rushing record, while also dealing with anguish in his personal life.

To add to the allure of the film and get the audience revved up before the final scenes, live football action was added to the film. A specialty company, Game Changing Films, was signed to create explosive, “jump out of your seat” action. Twenty-five former Division I and professional football players were hired, as well as a former football coach to serve as the stunt coordinator and two athletic trainers (ATs) to help keep the ‘team’ on the field.

Bob O’Malley, MEd, ATC, CES (Excelsior Orthopedics-Williamsville South HS) and CeliaMarie Matias, ATC (Excelsior Orthopedics-St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute), who learned of the opportunity through the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), worked behind the scenes and on-set as the cast’s athletic trainers during the football practices and stunt filming. In preparation for the work, they interacted with the Game Changing Films co-founder Jesse Moore, a former Texas Tech soccer athlete, and Tory Bellingham, Best Man Holiday props coordinator, helping connect them with local vendors for the football props and ordering supplies for the athletic training needs.

It took three full days of preparation to lay out the eight plays to be filmed for the movie. Three of the plays were specifically choreographed to provide the ‘wow factor’ on screen. “’Be prepared for a very short pre-season and several game days’ was the message from Jesse Moore,” said O’Malley. “Mark Ellis, football stunt coordinator, added ‘We can’t afford injuries changing who was in the scene one day and not the next’.”    

Filming took place during four overnights as Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, took on the Hollywood aura of Giants Stadium. During the filming, there was also a local EMS crew on-site who coordinated care with the athletic trainers. “It was like a typical sports pre-season: work hard for short periods, provide treatments as necessary in-between sessions, network locally with medical providers for the athletes (actors), and “be-ready” on the field when you knew the big hit was coming,” explained O’Malley, who also serves as the Region 7 Representative (western NYS) for the New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association (NYSATA).

Although there were a few injuries to attend to – only one significant enough to refer to an orthopedist – the time spent preparing everyone for the action paid off. To help prevent injuries, the ATs ran the ‘team’ through a functional warm-up prior to every practice session and after long layoffs during filming. Combining the active warm-up with treatments behind the scenes there was nearly no time lost on set.

The skills and experience of athletic trainers are ideal for movie productions. Even the actors, including lead actor Morris Chestnut, realized the value of having ATs on site as a resource and took advantage of their skills between scenes. By the end of one night even the make-up artist wanted in on a few secrets of the trade.

O’Malley emphasized, “As an AT on a movie set, you need to be capable of making game-day decisions and treatments to keep the actors safely in the scene. But, when necessary, you also need to be prepared and able to access further medical care for them.” On her view of the experience, Matias adds, “There were some pretty long days, but aside from it being overnight it was no different than working football two-a-day practices. Everyone on set, from the athletes, actors and directors were a pleasure to work with. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my professional career.”

The New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association (NYSATA), founded in 1976 and incorporated in 1989, stands to advance, encourage and improve the profession of athletic training (AT) by developing the common interests of its membership for the purpose of enhancing the quality of healthcare for the physically active in NYS. Athletic training is practiced by certified athletic trainers, who have expertise in the assessment, emergency management, rehabilitation and prevention of acute and chronic sport-related injuries, illnesses and conditions, including concussions. Comprised of over 1,200 certified and practicing athletic trainers, NYSATA is the state-wide affiliate of the regional Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association (EATA) and District Two of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

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Deanna Errico

Kristy Hart
since: 11/2012
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