• Behind The Scenes of "Heart Stop Beating" 02/09/12

    Jeremy Yaches (L) and Jeremiah Zagar (R) with Phil Cox lurking in the background.
    Jeremy Yaches (L) and Jeremiah Zagar (R) with Phil Cox lurking in the background.

    One of the initial 5 Focus Forward films to be completed is Jeremiah Zagar's Heart Stop Beating, a rather chilling, yet exciting look at a revolutionary new heart procedure in which the patient's heart is completely removed and replaced with two turbines, resulting in a live patient with no pulse. 

    In March of 2011, the film's subjects, Drs. Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier, of the Texas Heart Institute replaced the heart of a deathly ill man, Craig Lewis, with their experimental pumps. Lewis had amyloidosis and was literally at death's door, with doctor's giving him roughly 12  hours to live. The day after the procedure, he was sitting up in bed and typing on his computer. Unfortunately, as is often the case in patients with his condition, the disease attacked his other organs and he died a month later, but Cohn and Frazier say the pumps worked flawlessly.

    While some of the Focus Forward filmmakers took to the task in more methodical ways (asking around in various professional communities about people being innovative, for example) Zagar was a little more direct. "We actually googled 'innovation.'" The inspiration came from a story that Jeremiah heard on NPR a few weeks before his producer Jeremy Yaches was contacted by Cinelan about the idea of contributing to Focus Forward.

    "I thought it was really interesting...the no pulse aspect of it," says Zagar, adding, "I was also really moved because Jeremy has some heart problems and I thought that maybe this was something that pertains to both of us. It's something that I find interesting and something that's emotionally relevant to [him]."

    Cohn and Frazier's invention is an amazing advancement in medical science but the idea of a pulseless person does tend to creep some people out. "I always thought of it as a 70s horror movie," says Zagar. "Our first cut was too horror-esque, so we had to tone it back. It's very sci-fi." And at first, the pair was skeptical. "Jeremy was like 'I think it sounds like bullshit,'" laughs Zagar with Yaches clarifying, "That's not what I said! My first reaction was 'this sounds cool but how do we know if it's really gonna work and it's not just this one time thing?'" 

    So Jeremy did some research and called Cohn. "He's a great, great, great talker," says Yaches. "He's very good on the phone, very seductive. I called Jeremiah and said 'He's going to be a great interview, we should do this.'" Zagar chimes in: "He was also excited and one of the things we look for [in a subject] that makes me excited to do [a film] is if the subject is excited. It sucks when the subject is evasive. I don't know how people make those documentaries." When it is suggested to Zagar that those filmmakers might use a certain device invented by Errol Morris he laughs and says "Yeah, well we don't have an Interrotron." 

    By the way, for the record: it's Dr. Cohn who wears cowboy boots in the O.R. and Dr. Frazier is the Shakespeare buff

    Stay tuned for more "Behind the Scenes" looks at the Focus Forward Films!