The Hammer

The Hammer

Russell Harvard stars as the mixed martial artist Matt Hamill in THE HAMMER, a film directed by Oren Kaplan. Picture courtesy Fifth Year Productions and Film Harvest. All rights reserved.

The Hammer

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The Hammer (2010/2011)

Opened: 10/27/2011 Limited

Limited (90+)10/27/2011
AMC Empire 2510/27/2011 - 10/27/20111 day
Arclight/LA10/27/2011 - 10/27/20111 day

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Biographical Sports Drama

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual material.


Based on the life of UFC fighter Matt Hamill, The Hammer is a coming-of-age sports drama about the journey of the first deaf wrestler to win a National Collegiate Championship. Raised among those with the ability to hear but being denied the tool of sign language, Matt finds himself a lonely outsider amidst both the hearing and Deaf communities. But through relentless determination and ultimate self-acceptance, he turns his disability into an asset and serves as an inspiration for the hearing and Deaf alike.

About the Production

Matt Hamill, the first Deaf National Collegiate Wrestling Champion and UFC fighter, has achieved incredible success through hard work, determination, and an unwavering belief in himself. The Hammer the movie tells the inspirational true story of Matt's hardships, his victories, and his triumph over adversity and perceived disability. However, The Hammer is more than just a motivational sports film. The Hammer offers both hearing and deaf audiences an unprecedented, simultaneous theatrical experience, one that bridges the gap between the two worlds while inspiring, informing and uniting both deaf and hearing audiences in the process.

After five painstaking years in development, the film was shot over 29 days in the Autumn of 2009 in Rochester, NY, with a production team comprised of both deaf and hearing individuals. All deaf roles in the film went to deaf actors, including the lead role of Matt Hamill, played by Russell Harvard. The Hammer is the first non-foreign language film to incorporate open captioning, so that both audiences can simultaneously enjoy the film.

In addition to telling this exciting, inspiring true story, the goal of the filmmakers was to educate the hearing public about Deaf Culture, while uniting deaf and hearing audiences in the process. The result is a moving, groundbreaking, exciting film that will educate and entertain audiences the world over.

Director's Statement

Having spent a year as the caretaker of my uncle, a quadriplegic software engineer, I have developed a sincere and personal connection with the story of Matt Hamill. Seeing perfectly mentally-abled citizens of society spoken down to has always been difficult. But seeing them defy their expectations and become incredibly successful has always been an inspiration to me.

'The Hammer', the true story of a deaf collegiate wrestler, is a movie about turning your limitations into your advantages, about being creative with the hand you're dealt. Matt Hamill was born as a foreigner; the only deaf person in his family and his town, in a time when deaf education was almost non-existent. By putting his entire focus on wrestling, he managed to earn the acceptance of his peers, but still lacked personal connection with his community. Like Matt, many of us have similarly struggled to gain acceptance in our own lives. Specifically in the creative industries, we often depend so much on our work, we forget about our relationships. 'The Hammer', on its surface, is a movie that explores the balance between accomplishment and self-worth.

But 'The Hammer' also goes deeper. After a full immersion into the Deaf world, I've realized that there is an entire side of our society that has their own amazing and visual way of communication through sign language. With this project, I wanted to bring this culture to life on the screen and introduce it to the hearing community. And while the film reveals this hidden society, I also want to ask the question of how separate these worlds should be. Should deaf and hearing communities live apart? This question can manifest itself anywhere two differing groups meet -- should old and young be separated? Republicans and Democrats? Black and White? Jew and Muslim? Through the world of 'The Hammer', we will explore the virtues of separation, and the advantages of assimilation.

Accomplishing this on our modest budget took both creativity and assimilation into the community of Rochester, who welcomed our production with open arms. Shooting in Rochester, home to the largest concentration of deaf people in the world, was tremendously helpful for me. This experience can be seen in the film through the use of deaf points-of-view and a sparse soundtrack. In addition, I used many wide angles to help mirror an enhanced peripheral view, which is common among deaf people who communicate 100% through visuals. These techniques, combined with the use of subtitles and sign language, will bring this story to the screen in a brand new sensory manner.

With millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans, the accurate portrayal of Matt Hamill and the members of his deaf world is of the utmost importance. This is why we have been unwavering on the decision to cast all of the deaf roles in this film with talented deaf actors. They brought realism to the roles that can only be present in people that have lived through the challenges of surviving in a hearing world.

I'm incredibly excited about this movie -- a film that deaf and hearing audiences can experience together, truly a first of its kind. Working side-by-side with a deaf and hearing cast and crew, 'The Hammer' will help prove that two communities can work together to produce a film that not only means a lot to me, personally, but to an entire culture that deserves to be known."

-- Oren Kaplan

Director's Q&A

Talk about the inspiration behind Hamill, and why you chose to make this film.

The story of Hamill is based on the true-life story of Deaf UFC Fighter Matt Hamill. Not only is he a rising star in the ranks of the fastest growing (and somewhat controversial) sport in the world, but his story of overcoming his differences is fascinating to me. One of the elements that inspired me to become a part of this project was the idea that we can enter into a world with no sound, and make it relevant in today's society. When you talk about filmmaking, you have two things to work with: images and sound. And to have the opportunity to work on a true story that completely skews one of those elements is thrilling.

The other facet that truly inspired me is the notion that Matt's perseverance really is what got him to the top of his field. It's so easy for us to give up on our dreams because people think something is too difficult to achieve, and Matt literally tuned out those negative voices and achieved his dream regardless. Not only can we relate to that quite closely in the film industry, one of those industries that parents never want their kids to get into, but anyone that just ignores the naysayers and works hard, they can make it in anything they want. I love that message.

Can you talk about the process of filming with deaf actors?

Working with deaf actors was a ton of fun. All of our actors were incredibly experienced and great at reading lips, which made things pretty easy. I also learned a good amount of sign language. We had signs for action, cut, rolling, back to one, again. A lot of our crew was deaf as well, so we really had a bilingual set. One funny story is that during the filming of the final championship scene, our lead actor, Russell, was getting exhausted from all the wrestling, so he told a PA that he was going to lay down behind the bleachers until he was needed. Of course that PA disappeared a few minutes later and when we needed Russell, he was nowhere to be found. You could yell all you want, but he wasn't going to hear you. So we had to use a double for three shots because we couldn't find him. The crazy thing was, he was literally only 10 feet away napping behind the bleachers!

What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in making Hamill?

Like all low-budget independent films, we had to stretch our money like you wouldn't believe. We had hundreds of extras and dozens of locations that we had to get all for free. And on top of that, we were making a period piece! We couldn't have the wrong cars or wardrobe in any of our shots, but we had close to no money to control our environment. One thing that made our crowd scenes easier, was hiring The Inflatable Crowd Company to bring 250 inflatable dolls to plant in the crowd. Even with those, though, you have to make sure they're wearing the correct wardrobe. What's funny is that even when there were only ten of us in the gym, you constantly feel like hundreds of people are staring at you. Dolls are scary sometimes.

You shot Rochester for Purdue, R.I.T, and Loveland, Ohio. What was filming like in these different locations?

Shooting in Upstate New York was amazing! It could pass for so many places. We shot Purdue at the University of Rochester. We shot Loveland, Ohio in the rural parts of suburban Rochester. And we shot RIT at... RIT. And the coolest part was that we never got any permits. The police officers heard we were shooting a movie about Matt Hamill and let us do anything we wanted -- close down streets, climb inside waterfalls, mount lights onto public buses. The only catch was that they got to watch. And a few of them wanted Matt's autograph.

We also shot the UFC segment in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay. That was a crazy experience. What's amazing about the UFC telecast is that they have absolutely no idea how long each fight will last, but they still need to fit the strict regimented 44-minute format of television. This means that they play everything by ear, and we didn't know what, when, or for how long we'd get to shoot there. We ended up doing all sorts of magic in the editing room to make it look like our actor was really the center of attention of a UFC event. When, in reality, we were just walking by ourselves, behind other fighters, in a mostly empty arena.

Why was it important for you to capture the juxtaposition of a world with sound, and a world of silence in the film?

Most of us hearing people take for granted how much information we get from sounds. It's not just speaking that we hear; it's environments, music, traffic, danger, emotions, and a lot of other information we are subconsciously processing. For a long time I had decided I wanted a lot of periods of complete silence in the film, to really bring the audience into that world. But believe it or not, it was too jarring for people. They all thought there was something wrong with the movie. They could hear themselves breathe and laugh and scratch their head, and it became uncomfortable. So we ended up having to keep some base ambience throughout the entire film, because of how uncomfortable total silence was for people.

At the end of the day, movies should transport you into a new world. That's what we attempted to do with Hamill. And to get you into the deaf world, you have to play with the sound.

The film gets into the struggle of being different, but it also brings forth the struggles that are the common thread between us all. Talk about what it is like to be different for Hamill, and how the film shows we are actually not so different after all.

One of the things that really connected me to this story was the idea that we all become obsessed with some skill or talent that we have to prove to the world that we're valuable. So many people are motivated by being the most popular person in school, or getting some girl or boy to like you, or proving to the bullies that you're better than them. In a way, it's a revenge story. People made fun of Matt, and he had to prove to them that he was better than anyone could guess. But, like with all people, the success only truly comes once you realize that motivations of revenge are meaningless, and that turning yourself into a better person, for yourself, is ultimately the most satisfying goal.

As cliche as it sounds, we are all individuals. We are all different. But that's a good thing. That's part of what being an American is all about. I read once that there are cultures where people highly value homogeny. So much so, that as a sign of respect at a restaurant, everyone might order the same thing to show that they agree with what the first person ordered. In the US, we're constantly trying to stick out and be different. And when you realize how powerful this can make you (for most people, a few years after they graduate from high school), your differences can make you not only unstoppable, but irreplaceable. This is what Matt learned at an early age, and what should inspire everyone that watches the movie to make his or her own differences their advantages.

The music is beautiful in the film. Talk about the music and your approach to it.

The score to Hamill was composed by iZLER, an amazing talent that will no doubt make it big in the film industry in the years to come. His attention to detail and quality are very high, and I think that's evident when you watch the movie. Live musicians recorded all the music, and iZLER managed to make an epic score on a miniscule budget.

The most interesting parts of the score to me are during the wrestling scenes. Since so many people have no idea what the rules of wrestling entail, the score really needs to guide you through the ups and downs of the match. iZLER did a great job of turning some scenes of guys rolling around on the ground with each other into nail-biting tension-building life-or-death events. I love the power of music in film.

One other interesting note is that we have always been conscious of including a lot of bass in our score, especially during the more tense scenes. Although many deaf people have trouble hearing the higher frequencies of traditional music, everyone can feel the rumblings of the bass. And I would venture to say that most deaf people are more sensitive to those sounds than hearing people.

What was your communication like with Matt Hamill in the process of making the film?

Matt came to visit the set often and really helped us shape the characters and emotions of the events. Eben and Joe wrote the script after hours upon hours of interviews with Matt. One of the first things I did when I met Russell Harvard was give him the videos of interviews with Matt. It was also really important for me to have Russell hang out with Matt before the filming. I'm really excited about the results, as Matt, his family, and Russell all felt like the performance was as close to Matt as anyone could get.

What is it about Matt Hamill's story that is so relatable to everyone?

Matt's story is about acceptance. All he wanted was for people to accept him for who he was, but that didn't happen until he accepted himself. I think that goes for everyone -- people will like you, once you've learned to like yourself.

What do you want for people to take away from this film?

I've always said that regardless of whether you're a fan of the genre, this film will teach you about the Deaf community. I, personally, had never met a deaf person before making this movie. And it just floored me to find out how active and vibrant and fascinating of a community there was out there -- a community that communicated solely through visuals. How cool is that? If you take anything away from this film, it should be that there are fascinating people out there that are worth knowing. And by knowing them better you'll know yourself better.

Also, while we're at it, believe in yourself. I don't care what your limitations are, they're only limitations if you see them that way.


Oren Kaplan (Director)

Oren Kaplan has been directing for a variety of media over the past several years. For the past two years, he's worked at Disney's Take180, where he directed four shows for teenagers. His series, Electric Spoofaloo, surpassed a million views per episode online and has been featured everywhere from MTV and G4 TV to Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide magazines. While at Disney he also developed and directed a number of award winning shows, garnering two Webby Awards and three Telly Awards for his work. His series, My Alibi, was picked up by ABC Family and featured on their hit show, Secret Life of an American Teenager.

Outside of Disney, Oren recently directed a short-form series for Comedy Central called Modern Day Jesus. The show is currently being developed as a half-hour program with CAA, who discovered him after he made a video about the Writer's Guild Strike with writer Allan Loeb.

His body of work includes directing shows and videos for Turner Networks, Fremantle Media, Comcast, MySpace, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Julianne Hough, and an assortment of other companies and artists. He has also directed the 2nd unit on the theatrically-released Lionsgate film, The Hamiltons. His YouTube videos have been featured in Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune and hundreds of online portals.

Eben Kostbar (Writer/Producer)

Eben Kostbar is an actor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.? Kostbar directed, produced and starred in the short film KARMA CAFE in 2007, KARMA CAFE went on to win multiple awards at festivals that year. In 2009 Kostbar and Producer Joseph McKelheer formed the company Film Harvest.

With Film Harvest, Kostbar co-produced GODSPEED, winner of the CineVegas special jury prize and most recently was the writer/producer on the film, THE HAMMER based on the life of Deaf UFC fighter Matt Hamill, which premiered at AFI Fest 2010 winning The Breakthrough Award. THE HAMMER has since won seven more high profile film festivals awards and is slated for a late 2011 theatrical release. Eben is currently working on the films: FREE SAMPLES (starring Jess Weixler and Jesse Eisenberg), THE THOMPSONS, THE AGGRESSION SCALE and FIGHT CHURCH (directed by Oscar and Emmy Nominated, Daniel Junge).

Joseph McKelheer (Writer/Producer)

Joseph McKelheer is no stranger to hard work. Having grown up in Alaska, he would return during the summer from Colorado State University to work at a gold mine to finance his degree in none other than finance. Upon graduation, he made his way to Los Angeles, where work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit go a long way, or should anyway.

As an actor he is best known for his performance in the Lion Gate cult favorite THE HAMILTONS. He acted along side Cuba Gooding Jr. and Clifton Collins in DIRTY, worked with Mary Tyler Moore and Eliot Gould in the television series GOOD AS GOLD, and made his directorial debut with GELDERSMA, a festival favorite that McKelheer wrote, directed, and starred in alongside Tamara Feldman (DIRTY SEXY MONEY) and Dan Butler (FRAZIER).

Amidst his work as an actor, he applied his knowledge of business to producing music videos for Warner Brothers and gradually progressed to independent film with KARMA CAFE, THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG IN KANSAS, and most recently the psychological thriller, GODSPEED, in which he also played the lead and was awarded the Jury Award for Artistic Achievement at the CineVegas Film Festival. His latest film, due for a fall release, is titled THE HAMMER, the inspiring true story of Deaf UFC fighter Matt Hamill. McKelheer is currently working on the films: FREE SAMPLES, THE THOMPSONS, THE AGGRESSION SCALE and FIGHT CHURCH.

Russell Harvard (Matt Hamill)

Russell Harvard was born April 16, 1981 in Pasadena, Texas. When Russell was old enough to start school, he and his family moved to Austin, Texas so he could attend Texas School for the Deaf (TSD). Russell attended TSD from kindergarten through twelfth grade where he discovered his passion for being on stage. After graduating at the top of his class in 1999, he enrolled at Gallaudet University but there was something out there he wanted to see and explore. His adventurous spirit called him to leave the university and move to Anchorage, Alaska to work with deaf students. Three years later, he decided to return to Gallaudet and graduated in 2008 with a degree in Theatre Arts.

Russell pursues the things he loves, his strong will and passionate heart has led him to many great opportunities throughout the years. He has always had a deep passion for sharing Deaf Culture and the art of theatre with others. Throughout his high school and college years, he was involved in about twelve different stage productions including Shakespeare's "Mucho Ado About Nothing," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Sleeping Beauty Wakes." He has also acted in the feature films, "There Will Be Blood," "Words" and "Claustrophobia." Furthermore, he has appeared on the television shows, "CSI: New York" and "Fringe."

Raymond J. Barry (Stanley Leroy McCoy)

Raymond J. Barry was born in New York, and attended Brown Unive rsity, where he was a star athlete in football, basketball, and track. While there, he earned his degree in Philosophy and as a senior, was cast in the stage production of "Picnic," where he played a football player. He then entered the Yale Drama School and after completing, acted in the Broadway play "The Leaf People."

After he moved to New York in the 1960s, his involvement with experimental theatre included work with Julian Beck at the Living Theatre and with John Vaccaro at the Theatre of the Ridiculous. Barry appeared in 17 productions of the New York Shakespeare Festival and by 1968, was touring Europe with Joseph Chaikin's Open Theatre.

Before moving into film, Raymond J. Barry appeared in more than 75 stage productions, winning two Obie Awards for "Leaf People" and "Molly's Dream." Barry is also actively writing stage projects. He co-directed the Puerto Rican Writer's Workshop in New York, and his play "Once In Doubt" won the 1990 Drama Critic's Circle Award. He has appeared in over 100 plays and has starred in such films as Dead Man Walking, Sudden Death, and The Chamber.

Shoshannah Stern (Kristi Jones)

Shoshannah Stern is a graduate of Gallaudet, the world's only Liberal Arts College for the deaf. She recently played the role of Sarah i n "Children of a Lesser God" and was nominated for a Best Actress Award by the LA Weekly Theater.

She starred in, "Adventures in Power," which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. She was a series regular on "Jericho," had a recurring role on "Weeds," and was a Guest Star on numerous shows, including "Lie to Me," "Cold Case" and "ER."

Her film credits also include, "The Last Shot," "Justice" and "The Auteur Theory."

Production Companies

Film Harvest is an independent film production company, established in 2008. Our mission is to produce cost efficient films that challenge and inspire audiences.

The company's first film, GODSPEED, a psychological thriller was awarded the Jury Prize for Artistic Achievement at the Cinevags Film Festival and is currently available on DVD, Netflix and itunes. Film Harvest's most recent feature, THE HAMMER, the inspirational story of Deaf UFC fighter Matt The Hammer won the Audience Award at the AFI Film Festival and will be release theatrically later this year.

Currently the company is producing three more narrative features, FREE SAMPLES (starring Jess Weixler, with supporting roles from Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Ritter), THE THOMPSONS (The long awaited Lionsgate sequel to the cult hit, "The Hamiltons"), THE AGGRESSION SCALE and the documentary FIGHT CHURCH (Directed by Oscar and Emmy Nominated, Daniel Junge).

Fifth Year Productons is a Rochester, New York-based production company founded in 2009 by filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly, and CGI Communications CEO Bob Bartosiewicz. Fifth Year is committed to the production and development of groundbreaking new entertainment properties.

From feature film production to innovative new distribution initiatives and groundbreaking media properties, Fifth Year is working to create the next generation of entertainment. Through a network of talents in different artistic and business mediums, Fifth Year creates innovative productions and unique revenue models.