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BEYOND NORMAL



In the exhilarating yet perilous world of professional surfing, Becca Speak has relentlessly pursued waves at the farthest corners of the globe. To her, the sport is both an unparalleled source of joy and the catalyst for profound struggles, including multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that have left her temporarily speechless. Despite the daunting challenges of recovering from these complex injuries, which often require individuals to abandon their passions, Becca refuses to surrender her livelihood to the unforgiving sea. The film Beyond Normal chronicles her arduous journey to reclaim her identity and mental well-being, as she embarks on a quest to unlock what she calls her "Beyond Normal" - an elusive state representing the pinnacle of mental and physical health that has thus far evaded her grasp.


This inspiring story is brought to life by co-directors Anna Wilder Burns and Jordyn Romero, combining their passions for the outdoors and stories of womanhood, identity, and the human spirit. With their shared love for adventure and commitment to storytelling, Burns and Romero have crafted a captivating portrait of resilience and determination in the face of overwhelming adversity.



What is the personal connection to this story? How did making this film come about? How long ago?


Anna: I knew of Becca Speak through mutual friends in the Northeast, and was continually drawn back to her story from her vulnerable posts on social media detailing her journey recovering from her most recent TBI, suffered at the Waco wave pool. Through a few DMs, a text to Jordyn Romero, and a Zoom call, the 3 of us launched into what would become a two year project and deep friendship. We all bonded through our personal connection to Becca and her story - All three of us are surfers (though the filmers are nowhere near to the shredder level of our subject). I was a d1 athlete who pushed my body far past injuries and pain for the sport I loved and still suffer the consequences today. Jordyn has firsthand experience with a severe concussion, in the days when few knew how serious they were. We all related to the feeling of pushing past what many would consider safe to do what we love - and the often intangible reasons for doing so."


Jordyn: This film began with a serendipitous connection to Becca Speak, a young surfer whose story of resilience and recovery following a traumatic brain injury deeply resonated with me. In high school, I hit a jump while snowboarding one day, and landed incorrectly, hitting my head - or so I've been told. That moment (and several days before and after) has been wiped from my memory. I suffered a significant concussion, yet went to cross country practice a week later, believing that I was healed. I still suffer from flare-ups from this brain injury. In a world where invisible injuries like concussions have often been overlooked, Beyond Normal challenges this misconception. This film serves as a poignant reminder of the critical importance of brain health, especially within the world of sports, and inspires a more empathetic approach toward those silently wrestling with hidden challenges.



Since your last films, To be Frank and We Are Like Waves what were lessons learned that helped you both in the production of your current film?


Anna: Similarly to Jordyn, To Be Frank, was shot on a much more limited timeline - it was also a profile piece vs. Beyond Normal being a follow-doc. The approaches were very different - but interestingly I was shooting To Be Frank during the same months as some of the filming of Beyond Normal. Working on a story with such a different tone was a great exercise creatively, and each project provided a nice reset from the other. Beyond Normal is also the longest film both of us have made - we learned a lot about pacing and the process of creating longer form stories.


Jordyn: Beyond Normal was shot over two years whereas We Are Like Waves was shot in less than 6 weeks. Naturally, the approach for these two stories looked very different. Beyond Normal follows Becca’s story in real time and you get to experience her growth as if you are with her. It’s very special that we got the amount of time we did to craft her story. Most shoots were scheduled last minute, due to the fact that Becca’s recovery was rarely predictable - which required us to be ready for anything all the time. It was a wild ride. 



How did you gather your team and what were the key considerations, budgets, timing, and securing any sponsors or funding? What equipment was utilized for filming? Additionally, what was the duration of the pre-production, principal photography, and post-production phases? Finally, can you share insights into incorporating music into the films?


Shortly after we met in 2021, we co-directed a film together called ‘Ability’ - and knew we wanted to collaborate again. Since Becca’s story was unfolding in real time, we knew that regardless of funding and other obstacles, we had to start just filming. We both Direct and DP for our jobs, so luckily own the necessary gear to get a film off the ground. We were approached by a Boston-based production company, Vagrants, who was also following Becca’s story on Instagram and wanted to help tell it. We partnered with them for their series, 'Made Back East', for the remainder of production and post. We raised funding through brand partners at DryRobe, Salt Gypsy, ParkIT Movement. Over the course of two years, we filmed with Becca at least once a month and were in constant communication with her about her progress. Music in the film is a mixture of licensed tracks, and also composition by Christopher Miller.


How did you build the Narrative Arc?


The narrative arc unfolds chronologically - following Becca over her 2 years as she recovers from her injury. Naturally, her recovery has many ups and downs - we were just along for the ride. The biggest challenge narratively was the unknown factor, and grappling with not knowing how the story would end or if Becca would ever surf again. That was also a really rewarding and exciting part of it as filmmakers. 



Why the Title Beyond Normal? 


Becca wanted this to be the title from the very beginning. After realizing she was living with multiple head injuries, she was motivated to figure out what her "normal" was and surpass that in her recovery. It became a theme of the film - what does “normal” even mean? And is that goal realistic for her? You’ll have to watch the film to find out :)



"Love Your Brain" Retreat in Maine

What did you learn about Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)?


We learned a lot about the treatment options available and how many there are today vs. just 5 years ago. Becca does so many different methodologies throughout the film and exposes the audience to the wealth of research and advancements being made. There is more hope now than ever for people suffering with TBIs - but also, these are serious injuries that are often invisible. We learned and saw firsthand how hard TBIs are on mental health, and how important it is to have communities and support systems. 


Where is Becca now? 


Becca is living and surfing in Encinitas, CA. Something she has had to come to terms with is there may never be an "end date" to her recovery. It is a constant fight and something she will be dealing with for a long time - she is taking it day by day and continuing to fight for what she loves.


From Becca:

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve been working with an incredible team to tell my story and I am so excited to get to share it with you. 'Beyond Normal' is a documentary film that shares my story of battling multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). After my last TBI, I realized that I’ve suffered from concussion symptoms my entire life. I couldn’t just set my sights on getting back to normal, because I didn’t know what normal even was. So, I decided I was going to do everything in my power to get Beyond Normal, which became a mantra for me throughout my recovery and still is today. A massive thank you to Anna and Jordyn for being by my side and telling my story through many ups and downs.


I had no idea when Anna and Jordyn reached out back in 2021 just how much they would put into telling my story. We quickly developed a close friendship that allowed me to feel comfortable letting them in on everything. They were fully committed the whole way, from dropping everything to come to a treatment center in Utah when my brain totally crashed, to trekking through a high tide surge fully clothed with all their camera gear in Canada, we had some crazy times together and I’m so excited to share all our hard

work with the world.”


Never in a million years would I have thought this would be and still be my path. But I wouldn’t change it. I accept it and I trust it. Growth comes from adversity and I’m grateful I have been able to learn so much about myself, life, and the brain, find purpose, and happiness, and help others. Still, most days are uncomfortable, frustrating, and exhausting, but I'm learning that all I can do is my best, and that’s okay because I’m just happy to be here! I hope my story will inspire others to be more kind to one another and push through when it feels like giving up is the only option because that’s when you find out how strong you are and what you are capable of.



Where can people watch the film?

We are kicking off our festival run this Spring - follow us on Instagram for updates on when the film is available to the public!

Palm Springs AmDocs Film Festival, 4:30 PM 3/23 Camelot Theatre.

The next festival is 5 Point Film Festival in Carbondale, CO - no official schedule yet


Anna + Jordy playlist for WITHITGIRL!


 

Anna Wilder Burns (Co-Director/DP) is an award-winning Cinematographer, Director, and Photographer focused on impactful stories of athletes, adventurers, and activists. With a background in Journalism and as a 2-sport D1 athlete, she combines her passion for the outdoors and athletics to tell stories spanning adventure, conservation, and sports that inspire change. Anna has worked with brands including Nike, The North Face, and Red Bull, created festival-winning films, and has work featured in The New York Times, Outside Magazine, and The Player’s Tribune. Her most recent film To Be Frank was distributed with OutsideTV and was selected to screen at two of the most prestigious outdoor film festivals in the US, MountainFilm and 5Point.


Jordyn Romero (Co-Director) is an award-winning director known for creating powerful, globally resonant films. Hailing from the Rocky Mountains of Santa Fe, Jordyn's upbringing ignited her deep love for the outdoors. Armed with a BFA in documentary filmmaking from Chapman University, she has produced work internationally in over 12 countries. Amplifying voices that need to be heard, she explores stories of womanhood, identity, and the human spirit. Her acclaimed film, We Are Like Waves (2022), tells the story of one of the first female surfers in Sri Lanka. The film achieved distribution by The Los Angeles Times, received awards at numerous festivals, and propelled Jordyn to be recognized as an Oscar-Qualifying director. She's directed work for brands like Patagonia, Salomon, The North Face, Oakley and Specialized.


All photos courtesy of Beyond Normal, thank you.


Additional Information

Love Your Brain: @loveyourbrain

@heyitstoph Sound Track by Christopher Miller


VAGRANTS is a boutique production company rooted in the vibrant city of Boston. Their core mission revolves around the art of weaving compelling narratives into visually captivating content. Embracing the ethos of forging deep connections and seizing life's opportunities head-on, they boldly challenge the norms of the industry. VAGRANTS' works have reached audiences across the nation through national broadcasts and have garnered recognition at film festivals spanning the globe.


Made Back East is a branch of VAGRANTS, that connects like-minded filmmakers and brands to help craft stories inspired by life in the Northeast. 



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