5 Things I Learned Making ‘Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story’

Ross Whitaker’s latest film, Unbreakable, tells the story of Mark Pollack’s rehabilitation from an accident that left him paralysed from the waist down, his search for groundbreaking cures in the worlds of robotics and science, and his unbreakable spirit.


Here Ross shares with Film Ireland some lessons he learned making the incredible film.


Taking this film from start to finish was a six-year struggle and I learned a lot of things along the way:


Love Rejection
I’m going to call bullshit on this straightaway. Rejection is horrible and who could ever love it? But in this game there is plenty of it. This film was rejected by funders a number of times before it was financed. It has been rejected by festivals and left unreviewed by newspaper critics. It’s a punch to the gut every time you don’t get what you need to make your film work out and it’s extra work to figure out what to do next. So, you must accept rejection and keep going and don’t let it drown you. Stay creative and stay committed to making your film as good as you can because…


The Audience is Everything
The response to this film from audiences has been overwhelming and surprising. I think it might be because the audience is maybe starved of real, truthful experiences at the cinema. Maybe filmmaking has got a little too slick. Maybe that’s why Ken Wardrop’s His & Hers was such a giant and deserved hit – simple, beautiful storytelling. We’re finding that audiences are really connecting to this story. The most important relationship is between the audience and the film and if you make something real and truthful then audiences will react positively. And the amazing thing is that an engaged audience will tell their friends and act as your best publicity. The boundary between audience and filmmaker is smaller than ever because…


The Internet has Changed Everything
My first feature – Saviours – was released in 2008 and back then Facebook was still really in its infancy and Twitter didn’t exist. The world has changed immeasurably since then and the fact that you can speak directly to your audience makes a big difference. Also, your audience can talk directly to each other and recommendations on Facebook, Twitter and through email are very helpful. In addition, if you’re not getting the newspaper coverage you want, maybe it’s time to start thinking a little differently. Online publishers like The Journal and RTE Ten actually have a massive audience and can be extremely useful in getting the word out. It’s important to have a strategy and to go as wide as you can. When we released our trailer we had a call to action for people to go ahead and buy a ticket and we put it out as far and as wide as we could. Within a few days our opening night was pretty much sold out, which in itself created buzz.


Hold On To Your Kitchen Sink
Watching the film now on the big screen, I’m glad to have had such a good editor in Andrew Hearne. There were times in the edit when I wanted to throw the kitchen sink at it, hire copter cams and do timelapse shots but Andrew felt it was better to keep things more focused on the story and not distract the audience with unnecessary visual flourishes. There’s a constant pressure to ‘be cinematic’ but there’s nothing more cinematic than a good story that sustains the duration of the film and keeps you engaged. So, sometimes it’s best if you don’t throw everything at it.


The End is Just the Start
“The end is just the start” is a line from the film but it could also describe the process of finishing the film and then beginning the new job of getting it out there into the world! It’s not easy and we’re learning a lot but I think the big thing is having a plan and implementing it. Our plan was to really get out there and meet people and hope to create enthusiasm around the experience so that the audience would get involved and recommend it to their friends. We are touring the country and doing Q&As almost every night. We’re meeting people and talking to them about their experiences and their lives. And we’re being extremely open with people about our experiences and the background to the film, giving them a unique understanding of the story and our motivations. It seems to be going well and it provides audiences with a real, tangible experience. At a later date we’ll reflect on what we’ve done right and wrong but for now we’ll just keep moving on to the next screening and Q&A. Maybe we’ll meet you somewhere along the way.


Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story is currently screening in the Light House Cinema in Dublin and touring the country. Screening information at www.markpollockfilm.com/screenings



Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story



DIR: Ross Whitaker • CAST: Mark Pollock, Simone George

Struck by blindness at the age of 22 in 1998, Mark Pollack went on to become an elite athlete, winning bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Rowing Championships and running six marathons in seven days the following year with a sighted partner across the Gobi Desert. In 2004, he completed the North Pole Arctic Marathon and succeeded in becoming the first blind man to reach the South Pole. Such achievements themselves make for a remarkable story, but in this case they are the background to an even more astounding story of achievement.

In July 2010 Mark was left paralysed from the waist down after he broke his back in three places falling from a second-story window. Ross Whitaker’s latest documentary takes its lead from here on in and follows Mark’s arduous road to recovery as he rebuilds his life and battles to walk again.

‘Inspirational’ is a word that gets bandied about as a one-size fits all adjective about stories of human endeavour but in this case it is deserved – Mark’s courage and conviction is truly something to be in awe of as he ploughs a route towards spinal cord injury recovery through aggressive physical therapy and robotic technology. There are moments of incredible insight into his essence as a human being such as when he talks about his wanting his recovery not to be about him and sets out on a mission to campaign, educate and promote research into spinal injury recovery.

Director Ross Whitaker has weaved six years of work into a spellbinding narrative that is driven along by Mark’s incredible fight against the odds and the steadfast support and love of his fiancée, Simone. As a director Whitaker lets the subject become the film rather than the film be about the subject. It is to the director’s credit that his role as messenger makes for a particular level of contact between subject and audience that opens up the experience of the viewer to the everyday struggles that Mark faces. Rather than ramp up the storytelling with predictable big narrative moments it is the minutia of the everyday that makes this film so compelling. It is in this small detail that the story is crafted and a hero is made.


G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story is released 3rd October 2014

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story  – Official Website




‘Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story’ Opens at Light House


Filmed over six years Unbreakable is the story of blind athlete Mark Pollock’s tragic fall that left him paralysed and how he found his courage again

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story, directed by award winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker, will open exclusively at the Light House Cinema, Dublin on Friday 3rd October 2014 for a limited run, followed by a national tour. Most screenings during the tour will feature a Q&A with Mark Pollock.

The film follows the almost unbelievable tragedies that life has thrown at Mark and his resolve to move beyond them. Unbroken by blindness at 22, Mark was a Commonwealth Games medal winner and competed in ultra endurance races across deserts, mountains, and the polar ice caps and ten years after losing his sight he became the first blind person to race to the South Pole, a race that allowed him to finally put the demons of blindness behind him. But then, just four weeks from the day of his planned wedding to fiancée Simone, a fall 25 feet from a second story window left Mark near death and paralysed from the waist down.

Directed by Ross Whitaker (When Ali Came to Ireland; Saviours), this moving, fascinating film brings the audience to Mark’s bedside in the acute ward of a spinal hospital; blind, now paralysed and broken. The close friendship between Mark and the filmmaker has produced a delicate, deeply personal, intimate film. Six years in the making it tells the story of Mark’s eventual rehabilitation and his mission to find and connect people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis, a mission which gives the audience a glimpse of the frontiers of robotics and medical science.

Unbreakable is ultimately a testament to the power of human relationships. It follows Mark and Simone as they use their combined force to challenge their fate and how the support of thousands of people around the world has carried them on.

A special preview screening will take place at the Light House Cinema on October 2nd, with the film opening at the cinema on October 3rd. The national tour of the film commences on Sunday 5th October in Killarney, and will take in locations including Cork, Waterford, Thurles, Offaly, Galway, Portlaoise, Kilkenny and Athlone, with a number of other venues to be confirmed. accessCINEMA have partnered with the producers to help bring the film to a national audience at these venues. The film will also have schools’ screenings in association with Science Foundation Ireland to raise awareness of how science can have a positive impact on people’s lives, as reflected in Mark’s rehabilitation. The schools’ screenings will take place at locations including Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Westport, Naas, Dunboyne and Drogheda, with others to be announced shortly.

Mark’s fall happened on the 2nd of July 2010 and he was in hospital for 16 months. The film follows him as he learns if he can meet this challenge and as he finds a balance between accepting this second disability and hoping for a cure as he looks for innovators around the world who are challenging conventional wisdom.

Director Ross Whitaker said, “To be given such incredible access to a compelling story is a huge privilege and opportunity as a filmmaker. At times it was heartbreaking to be so close to Mark and Simone as they struggled in the wake of Mark’s fall. In the end though, watching them became an uplifting experience as these amazing people built a new life that will no doubt help many people with spinal cord injuries in the future.”

Unbreakable follows how the Mark Pollock Trust and its fundraising event, Run in the Dark has allowed Mark to follow an aggressive physical therapy regime and to become the first person in the world to own a personal set of robotic legs made by Ekso Bionics. Both Mark and Simone are now board members of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, named after the actor who played Superman and his wife. Commenting on his mission to fast track a cure for spinal cord injury, Mark says, “I want a cure for movement if we can have that and I want a cure for the secondary problems too.”

One of the sequences in the film shows Mark speaking at an event. “One of the main things I talk about is the dichotomy of acceptance and hope. When I broke my back, I was advised to accept my situation and move on, but unless we have hope how can we ever change things. Without acceptance there is no start line, but without hope there is no finish line. Somewhere in the middle we will make important progress.”

Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story was produced with the participation of the Irish Film Board / Bord Scannán na hÉireann; RTÉ and Rehab.