SHU professors with Kessler consult on major motion picture

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Seton Hall University professor Lauren Snowdon and adjunct faculty member Maggie McNiece, both of whom also work at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, were presented with the opportunity to work on “The Upside,” a major motion picture, after giving a tour of Kessler to the movie’s producers and actor Bryan Cranston.

Snowdon and McNiece, of Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences, served as primary clinical consultants for the movie, which stars Academy Award nominee Bryan Cranston and People’s Choice Award winner Kevin Hart. The film tells the story of the unlikely relationship between a wealthy businessman who has a spinal cord injury and the recent parolee who becomes his caregiver.

Snowdon noted that the movie’s team had toured multiple rehabilitation centers, yet chose Kessler for its specialization in spinal cord injuries.

The producers needed medical consultants who would aid in teaching the actors about SCI as well as the caretaking process. The expertise of Snowdon and McNiece in physical and occupational therapy, respectively, combined with their experience as teachers, made the two a perfect fit. Snowdon and McNiece were hired the very same day they gave the tour and were even asked to participate in the movie’s filming.

“We are proud that people turn to us not only for our care excellence, but also for the clinical expertise and experience we provide,” Bonnie A. Evans, CEO of Kessler’s West Orange campus, said. “Of course, it was exciting to have Hollywood come calling and have Lauren and Maggie help to ensure the authenticity of this film by serving as consultants. But it’s the work that they and their colleagues do every day that really makes all the difference in the lives of our patients and their families.”

“It is wonderful to see Lauren and Maggie using the knowledge they provide to our students in a forum that will reach and educate millions of people about spinal cord injuries,” School of Health and Medical Sciences Dean Brian B. Shulman said. “Their participation in this movie is truly a testament to their level of skill and the world-class education our students receive here in the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall.”

In their roles as medical consultants to the movie, Snowdon and McNiece educated and directed Hart on how to properly care for someone with SCI and assisted Cranston with understanding the movements he could and could not perform as someone with an injury of this caliber. The professors were given the ability to communicate with the actors on set to point out any actions they deemed inaccurate.

“What I respected most about the producers is that they filmed the movie in such a way that it would be as true as possible to someone with a spinal cord injury,” Snowdon said. “As a therapist who has worked within that population my entire career, it meant a lot to me that they were so adamant about doing well by the SCI community.”

“Both Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart took the responsibility of portraying a person with spinal cord injury and a person who is a caregiver very seriously,” McNiece said. “They were engaged when learning from us and were receptive to feedback. It made the experience even more memorable.”

After witnessing their time and dedication to the filmmaking process, the producers asked Snowdon and McNiece to be extras in the film. In the movie there is a birthday party for Cranston’s character, and both women can be seen among the party-goers.

“Each day, we spent 12 to 14 hours for scenes that would only run about two minutes,” McNiece said. “Seeing the behind-the-scenes of the movie-making process, coupled with their commitment to authenticity, gave me a new appreciation for filmmakers.”

Both Snowdon and McNiece have since been presented with other creative consulting opportunities regarding paraplegia and wheelchair assistance. The Luna Stage Theatre Company in West Orange contacted Kessler in search of help for a play titled “Tranquil,” involving a female lead who is paralyzed from the waist down. Kessler provided the wheelchair and Snowdon and McNiece again provided their expertise.

“SCI is a misunderstood injury. People don’t understand the significant deficits that come with it,” Snowdon said. “Through this creative work, maybe we can help teach them.”