From surgery to the big screen


From surgery to the big screen

While he was in the pre-op room awaiting surgery, Clay Beabout fired orders at his mom to get the camera, so she could photograph him with the gas mask on for his movie poster. He did not need medicine to relax him before he went under; he needed the perfect photo for his poster.

The poster was his first priority for a couple of reasons: one, he had undergone over 40 surgeries, and he was in the process of creating his $1 million Hollywood movie, Deep Blue Breath.    

Clay, senior, has had VACTERL syndrome his entire life, which is characterized by abnormalities of a number of body parts, including the vertebrae. He has had 45 surgeries in his lifetime, including multiple spinal surgeries, open heart surgery and an eye surgery due to the complications of his disease.

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what he wanted in the fifth grade, he responded “I want to be rich and famous.” According to his mother, Amy Beabout, he first wanted to be in an episode of “Drake and Josh,” but Nickelodeon had just finished filming the series at that point. Then they were going to give him a minor role in the sequel to the movie Eragon, but that did not work out either. Then the Make A Wish Foundation partnered with the Make a Film Foundation to make Clay’s wish come true.

Make-A-Wish first told him Clay was going to get to write his own movie. However, this soon became more than writing a movie, Amy said. Clay wrote the movie and starred as the leading role. He was a part of nearly every step of the movie-making process. Prior to creating the movie, he was mentored by actor Elisha Wood and met Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, directors of the movie Little Miss Sunshine.

The writing of the movie took about a year, according to Amy. From sixth to seventh grade, the movie was filmed, and in eighth grade, it premiered in Hollywood. They have had premiers in various locations since and it is scheduled to premiere May 3 in St. Louis. His mother organized these premiers, in order to raise money to give back to the Make A Film Foundation.

“The films these kids make are really interesting, and inspiring, and [making my film] was just a really cool experience,” Clay said. “We’re just trying to give back money to Tamika Lamison [founder of Make a Film] so that she can take this money and make more films for kids.”

Deep Blue Breath stars Sean Astin and Ernie Hudson and cost around $1 million to make. Most notably, it has been featured in 30 film festivals in the short film category according to Amy.

In addition to success, Amy said the filmmaking experience enabled Clay to think long term and have balance in his life. She said most kids would think about what they want to be when they grow up, and where they want to go to college, but Beabout never had that option; he could only think of the next surgery.

“Clay was living his life every six months, and here you do a project that takes two to three years, and so I think it really helped him to experienced the longevity that other people just experience naturally,” Amy said. “It was an interesting way of creating balance.”

Clay said making the film was an eye opening experience. He said it not only gave him a new perspective on film making but a new perspective of his own illness.

“[The movie] has improved how I see myself,” Beabout said. “I was a kid going to surgery back and forth down to San Antonio over and over again, and that would have been it. With this movie, I could express how I felt about that situation, and other people could see it.”

He said he would try to explain his disease to people, but he could never explain everything. The movie allowed people to understand what his surgeries were really like, and to see himself from an outsider’s perspective. He said making the film made his life more enjoyable. Every six months through the creation of his movie, he would have surgery, recover, go to Hollywood to work on the movie, and come back for another surgery.

“People would always tell me ‘You’re such a strong guy. You’re awesome’ but I don’t think that,” Clay said. “I think I’m going into surgeries just because I have to do it; I don’t think I’m tough or anything. The way people viewed me after this was a lot different. People were more optimistic. They treated me as more of a person and less of a person with a disease.”

To hear more about Clay’s movie, click this link: