Striving to always embrace the underlying positive attributes in every aspect of life, no matter how difficult the circumstances appear to be, is an admirable trait that not all people possess. But the linemen who risk their lives by working on the electrical lines during even the most dangerous storms are one such group of people who deserve more praise by the public. The workers are finally receiving their much deserved recognition in the new action drama, ‘Life on the Line,’ which was released this weekend in select theaters and On Demand by Lionsgate Premiere.
‘Life on the Line’ follows a group of hard-working Texas linemen led by Beau Ginner (John Travolta), a by-the-book and dedicated foreman who demands the same devotion from both his new and experienced workers. The supervisor learned the harrowing consequences of his job years earlier, when his brother, who was also a lineman, died after he tried to fix one of Beau’s mistakes. Since the accident, Beau has left behind his previously free-spirited ways to raise his late brother’s orphaned daughter, Bailey (Kate Bosworth).
After deciding not to pursue higher education after graduating high school, and instead stay close to her uncle, the book smart Bailey is now thinking about finally attending college. Bailey also receives some encouragement from her new neighbor, Carline (Julie Benz), who she soon becomes friends with as they get to know each other. But Carline is secretly experiencing some challenges of her own, as her husband,
Eugene (Ryan Robbins), who’s an Iraq veteran, is no longer emotionally available to her and their children. He takes on a job at the electric company to support their family, which only alienates him even more.
As Bailey becomes friends with her new neighbor, her uncle encourages her to further her education, as he’s desperate to offer her a brighter future. In his quest to improve his niece’s life, Beau also repeatedly expresses his dislike for her most recent boyfriend, Duncan (Sawa), for whom Bailey still has romantic feelings. So when Duncan is hired at the local electric company and is assigned to work with his estranged girlfriend’s uncle, Beau becomes even more upset.
Duncan also receives grief about taking the job from his alcoholic mother (Sharon Stone). She’s still bitter about the fact that her husband, who also worked as a lineman, died while working, and left her with very little means to support herself. But when a widespread storm affects their region of Texas, Duncan must learn how to overcome the questions of doubt about him accepting his new position, so that he can help Beau and the rest of their team protect their town from any further damage.
While promoting the action drama recently, Hackl and Sawa generously took the time to talk about the experience of directing, and starring in, ‘Life on the Line.’ Among other things, the filmmaker and actor discussed how they were both intrigued to bring the linemen’s story to the screen, as they feel it’s important for the public to understand the dedicated work the crews continuously do in such harsh conditions. Hackl and Sawa also expressed their appreciation for the cast being able to train with an actual linemen crew in Texas before filming began, as it helped the actors better connect with their characters.
In honor of the action drama’s release, Shockya is also premiering an exclusive clip from the film, titled ‘Am I Allowed to Say That?’ The clip features Sawa’s character of Duncan explaining to a video crew that’s making a documentary about his team what he believes it means to be a lineman.
Hackl initially explained why he was interested in directing the drama, and how he become involved in the project. He shared that his agent had sent him the script “about a year before we started working on it. At the time, I was busy working on other things, so I wasn’t able to take it on. Then he called back in March of the year we started working on it, and said, ‘Do you remember the linemen project? They’re calling about you again, and want you to direct it.'”
So Hackl asked his agent if he could see the screenplay again, and after reading it, thought there was a great story he could adapt for the screen. “It was a very working class hero story, and was something that I believed in. My father was a working class guy; he worked in a factory his whole life, as he was a cabinet maker. So (the story) was a world I could relate to, and was also something that I thought should be told.
“I think we take for granted that our electricity is just there in our houses and on our devices,” the director also emphasized. “But we never think about how it gets there. So I thought it would be an interesting world to show in a movie.”
Sawa then discussed what interested him in taking part in the film, and how he became involved in portraying the character of Duncan. The actor explained that he had previously worked with one of ‘Life on the Line’s producers on another project. “He actually approached me about playing a different role in this film. But when I read the original script, I was into Duncan a lot more. So I begged and pleaded with the producers and David, and I eventually won the part that way.”
Much like the drama’s director, Sawa also comes “from a very blue collar family. My father was a refrigerator mechanic, and my grandfather was a security guard at an apartment building, so I was into that blue collar story.” The actor added that “Much like David said, we never really think about those guys who are out there in the storms, who go out of their way to make sure we have the little things, like our TVs and toasters. So this story was really appealing to me.”
Another aspect of the film that appealed to Sawa was that Travolta was also attached to portray Beau. “He was on on my bucket list of actors who I want to work with before I’m finished working in this business. He’s an absolute legend, and I wanted the opportunity to work with him.”
Speaking of working with Travolta and the rest of the cast, Hackl mentioned that he traveled to Florida, where the Academy Award-nominated actor lives, to speak with him in person. “We had dinner together, and discussed the film in great length. John was feeling like we were, in that he really wanted to tell the story of these unsung heroes. So he agreed to do it, and all the way through, we worked with John to develop the story into what it is, and into something that we can really believe in.”
The director added that “We also had this great opportunity where Devon, John, Kate Bosworth and I went to Texas to work with actual linemen for a bunch of days. (The actors) trained at an actual training facility, where Devon and John worked at climbing the poles and learning the techniques and equipment.” While the actors and crew were at the training facility, “We also set aside time for rehearsals, which were invaluable.”
Hackl also echoed Sawa’s sentiment that Travolta was one of the actors he had long wanted to work with on a film. “It was a dream come true as a director to work with John. The entire cast was amazing. As a director, I can’t say how fortunate I was that I had such a dream cast. Every single one of the actors brought a beautiful thing to the story.
“When you get to a high caliber cast like this one, the most remarkable thing for me to see is how collaborative, giving and humble they are with each other. We would sit through rehearsals and go through a scene, and they would all be fantastic,” the director also recalled. “When you work with actors of this quality, they have instincts that are so real that you just can’t help but get to these real places.”
In addition to appreciating the process of collaborating with his co-stars, Sawa also embraced the experience of being able to work with the real linemen at the facility in Texas. “We would work with the linemen all day long, and learn as much as we could about their industry. Afterward, we would go back to the hotel and go into the conference room so that we could go over scene, beat by beat.
“We would make sure that everything would feel real, which is something that I loved about this movie,” the actor revealed. “John has about 25 years on me in the business, so I was like a sponge the whole time. I wanted to absorb what he knew, and any advice he had. He was very open about his experiences, including on ‘Pulp Fiction,’ and all the way back to when he was a child actor.”
The chance to work with Stone was something Sawa also cherished. “She was only on the set for a couple of days, but she stayed in character the whole time. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had as an actor. She just stayed in the moment all day long. She had these really powerful scenes, so it was an amazing experience.” The actor also expressed his appreciation for being able to work with Hackl, as he “was the coach who kept everything together.”
In addition to visiting the facility in Texas, the director and actor did additional research into the linemen’s lives, as they felt an obligation to present the film’s story and character as accurately as possible. In order to better connect with Duncan, Sawa shared that he did “a lot of internet surfing. That’s a nice thing about the internet nowadays; as an actor, you have a lot of research right there. So I researched as much as I could about the industry online.
“But there wasn’t as much information (about linemen) as you would think; you really have to search for it. So that’s part of the reason why I wanted to be a part of this movie in the first place. We wanted to bring awareness to this particular industry,” Sawa also revealed.
“One of the film’s main financiers, Chad (Dubea), has been in this business for so long (he is a former utility-service contractor). So he had his guys around us all the time, and they would give us advice and show us how to do things properly. They made sure everything was legit and authentic,” the actor also divulged.
Hackl also shares Sawa’s approach to his projects, and noted that he starts every film by doing a lot of research. “My computer’s full of all the research and images files I compile. That’s one of the things I love about this business. I enjoy immersing myself in worlds where you don’t normally get to access the inside.
“So I also think it was great that we had access to Chad and all of his people who learned everything the right way. They knew what kind of issues these linemen have, and what kind of dangers they face everyday. It was pretty remarkable to hear some of their stories,” the director also stated. “I think without those guys (helping us), it would have been a lot harder to make a movie like this. You really had to have that inside access, including visiting the work sites and training at the training facilities,” to really understand the linemen’s world.
“I’ll never forget the day when John and Devon were strapping on the harnesses and climbing up the poles,” Hackl further shared. “They spent hours on the poles, even though it was the middle of summer in Texas. It was hot and sunny, so you would think that was the nice time for these linemen. Imagine when they’re working when it’s pouring rain with thunder and lightening, or it’s snowing.”
Sawa then also shared that “Another thing that was really eye-opening was on the last day of our training in Texas, they had a party for us. That’s when I really discovered the brotherhood. There’s a real family behind these guys.
“They got together and threw us a party of congratulations and good luck. You just felt the bond. One guy was playing the guitar, and there was a barbecue going on. So you felt that brotherhood bond, which was really helpful,” the actor also shared.
Since the film is based on the real-life experiences of linemen, the cast and crew felt that to some degree, they had an obligation to present the workers’ stories as accurate as possible. “We really tried to stick to the facts as much as possible. For the scenarios that play out in the film that deal the technical world of linemen, we tried to stick as close to their world as possible. But there are always things that make it difficult when you’re writing a film to stay completely accurate, so you have to edit certain parts of the story,” Hackl also explained.
“So what we tried to do was show the moments of high danger, and the struggles they go through, both emotionally and physically on the job. When these guys have to confront when they’re away for a long time, their families also have to deal with that. When they have to race out during the middle of the night during a storm, in order to deal with power outages, that’s where the real danger is,” the director also explained. “So that’s something very real that we wanted to portray.”
In terms of the technical element of the story, “we had people on set everyday, who helped us make sure that aspect was as accurate as possible. I don’t know if there are any moments in the story that aren’t real in that respect,” Hackl then noted.
“We really stayed true to the world of linemen,” Sawa also shared. “We planted these beautiful stories in it, and one of those stories is the relationship between the father figure and the hot-shot love interest. John and I tried to play that as real as possible.”
One of the ways the ever-evolving relationship between the two linemen was explored in the action drama was through the video documentary that was being shot in the feature film’s narrative. Duncan is shown giving an on-camera interview about his job as a lineman, including his connection with Beau. “The video interview wasn’t in the original movie,” Sawa revealed. “We got together at the end, and knew we had to put something in the beginning to introduce the story.
“We actually improvised that all. We shot the sequence at the end, and I made it all up. That all felt right and real,” Sawa continued. “We tried it a few different ways, and I said, ‘What about this way?'”
Hackl also chimed in on why he felt the video interview was important to telling the linemen’s story in ‘Life on the Line.’ During the interview, Duncan reflects in part on how Beau objected to his niece rekindling her romantic relationship with her former boyfriend. “It’s not that Beau didn’t want to accept this young man; it’s that he didn’t want to put Bailey, the person he lives the most, through the life that he had. That was something that made the story more complex and interesting to me, as a filmmaker.”
Sawa agreed with his director, adding that Beau was afraid that Bailey “was going to be with a guy like him. Duncan’s essentially the same hot-shot rookie guy” that Beau once was, “who did thinks before he thought about it.”
In addition to improvising Duncan’s interview for the documentary, the cast had some creative flexibility to provide their own ideas for the overall feature. Due to the strength of the cast, “the producers gave us the freedom to improvise when we needed to,” Hackl revealed. “It was really about taking the time to rehearse” and come up with ideas that weren’t in the script. “Sometimes during blocking, we would come up with interesting ideas, because something we had didn’t feel totally right.
“I think the most powerful moment during that process was with Sharon Stone and Devon. Duncan goes to his mother and tells her that he has a great job as a lineman, so their whole world is going to be better. He sits in front of her with all of the happiness and hope in the world, and she reaches forward and smacks him in the face,” the director shared. “In that moment, you realize that she’s never going to change. But this is a moment where he becomes a man, and is able to separate himself from the tragic life he had in the past. He’s now able to move into his new life.”
The cast and crew were blocked the scene between Sawa and Stone “in the morning, as we were on the set in this double wide trailer that Sharon stayed in for pretty much the entire day. At that particular moment, there was a feeling where we had to finish this conversation on the right tone. So I asked Sharon, ‘What do you feel when he sits in front of you like this?’ She said, ‘I feel like I just want to smack him in the face.’ So Devon and I looked at each other, and said, ‘Oh yeah.’ I asked him if he was okay with that, and he said, ‘Let’s do it,'” Hackl also divulged.
“But by about take 15, I was like, ‘I don’t know about this,'” Sawa chimed in with a laugh. Hackl added that as he was watching the actor film the scene with Stone, “there were people crying behind me. I had to ask, ‘Can you guys hold down the sobbing a little bit?’ It was so tragic and heartbreaking in this moment as Devon sat down in front of her. There was happiness in his step and voice, and she just shut it all down in that instance. It was amazing. But poor Devon was wearing an ice pack on his face later in the day. It was one of the highlights of my filmmaking career, though-it was beautiful.”
Besides embracing the creation of the emotional elements between the characters, Sawa also enjoyed working on Duncan’s physicality. “We did the stunts as much as we possibly could. We went up those poles in Texas, and by the end of the week (of training), we were climbing up the biggest poles. We were also cutting wires, and learning how to legitimately do everything.
“Then when we arrived in Vancouver,” where the drama was filmed, “we were climbing up the real poles again. But then they brought in the wind and rain machines. John was up there as much as he could be, and so was I. It was a blast to do.”
“These guys went through hell,” Hackl also noted. “I also have to give a big shout-out to the Vancouver crew, who was fantastic, as well. They never complained or hesitated to follow us into the most heinous situations and weather conditions that you could imagine. We shot in late fall, so it wasn’t always warm.”
The director added with a laugh that it was always wet on the set. “These guys were wearing wet suits underneath their costumes on some days, because the rain towers were so strong. When there wasn’t actual rain, there were rain towers; when it stopped raining, they would introduce the rain towers,” he explained with a laugh.
Hackl also pointed out that there were numerous scenes that take place “30 feet off the ground. These guys would climb up these poles” in the harsh weather conditions, “which wasn’t easy. They would climb up the poles and be up there for long periods of time; they would sometimes be up there for hours, which was difficult and dangerous…So we had to be very careful, and go through extensive training and planning, to make sure everyone was safe all the time.”
Further speaking of filming ‘Life on the Line’ on location in Canada, Sawa noted that he truly embraced the experience. “I’ve been living in Los Angeles for the past 15 or 20 years, but I’m originally from Vancouver, and all my family’s still up there. I think we were originally going to shoot in Toronto, but then it got moved to Vancouver, which was great.
“Canadian crews are spectacular. They’re not just nice people, but they’re also very talented at what they do. Some of the best crews in the world are Canadian. So overall, it was an amazing experience for me,” the actor added.
Hackl also shared his appreciation for the dedication of the crew who worked on the action drama in Vancouver. But he added that “One of the challenges for me was to make Vancouver look like Texas. Texas doesn’t have the big mountains that Vancouver does,” the director pointed out with a laugh. “So when you’re composing a shot, you have to consider that you can only do it one way. A lot of times the cinematographer will say, ‘I want the sun to come around everyone.’ Yes, you want the sun to be behind everybody, but then so would be the mountains. So we would have to find another way to shoot the scene.
“So we used some of the lower levels of Vancouver and the surrounding areas, like Delta and Mission. We also had the cover of night, as well as rain, fog and bad weather, to hide the mountains. So it wasn’t really too difficult to make the film look like it was actually shot in Texas. We tried to choose locations that have a Texas feel,” Hackl further explained. “But whenever you go to a location that isn’t the place where the film’s set, you have to make some very clever decisions.”
With ‘Life on the Line’s production completed, and the drama now playing in theaters and On Demand, the helmer discussed the dual distribution process. “I think the day-and-date release is an interesting way to put a film out. So many people don’t go to the theaters anymore, which I think is very unfortunate. I’m a huge fan of the theater, and as filmmakers, that’s the way we intend them to be seen. But the way the world’s going, movies are now being watched more often on smaller screens,” Hackl noted. “I’ve caught my kids watching entire movies on their phones too many times, and they get in trouble, since I’m a filmmaker,” he added with a laugh.
“But at the same time, I’d rather have people watch films anyway possible than not at all. Some people like to watch movies on small screens, but I’d never understand that myself. But more exposure is always great for something that people have worked so dedicatedly on,” Hackl added.
Sawa also stated that he hopes that “people who have the ability to see the film on the big screen do see it that way. I’ve seen it on the big screen, and it really plays like one of these big Hollywood movies that feels great. But David’s right; people are also going to watch the film on their TVs, as the way of the film world is changing. Unless it’s a superhero movie or something like that, many films go straight to Video On Demand. People like to stay home!”
Before receiving its official release in theaters and On Demand, the action drama premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival earlier this month. Sawa shared that a group of linemen attended the movie’s premiere at the festival, “and they responded really well to it. I’ve also gotten tweets from people that say things like, ‘My husband’s a lineman, and we love the film.’ From what I’ve seen, people have really loved it.”
Hackl also chimed in the response the drama has received so far. “Since we’ve finished making the movie, I received multiple emails from linemen unions and linemen and utility companies, and they’ve asked how they can possibly see it. So I really hope that we can make them proud.”
Watch ‘Am I Allowed to Say That?,’ Shockya’s exclusive clip from ‘Life on the Line,’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello