The first time Jeff Bauman watched "Stronger," a Roadside Attractions movie based on the life of the Boston Marathon bombing survivor, it was hard. Hard to take in how his life was changed forever when two homemade bombs detonated 12 seconds apart near the finish line of Boston's signature sporting event on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and several hundred others were injured, including Bauman, who lost his legs.
Front and center to the biographical drama film is Bauman adjusting to his new life and the outpouring of love that helped make him a symbol of the "Boston Strong" campaign that surfaced hours after the bombing and helped bring a city ripped by tragedy closer together. A key scene, shot on the first day of filming, was a reenactment of when the Boston Bruins honored Bauman as their banner captain, when he waved a Boston Strong flag prior to the start of Game 2 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.
Like Bauman on the night of May 4, 2013, actor Jake Gyllenhaal showcased a wave of emotions during filming that occurred following the Bruins' 2-1 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on April 5, 2016, when 5,000 fans served as extras to help recreate one of the more powerful moments in Boston sports history.
For Bauman, who's seen "Stronger" five times since it was released in the United States on Sept. 22, reliving it took some time to sink in.
"It took me about a week to digest it all, just what happened, how they did it and what they covered," Bauman said. "I didn't really know if I was cool with it. It shows a lot."
Director David Gordon Green, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and grew up in Richardson, Texas, was nervous about how Boston would perceive the story with an outside filmmaker stepping into a personal space cherished by the community. Those nerves were quickly allayed by the response of the fans and the success of a scene made possible with the cooperation between Roadside Attractions, the Bruins and the NHL.
"Seeing so many people so vibrant it was an incredible energy," Green said. "I get goosebumps thinking about it. Seeing the support of sports enthusiasts meeting with film enthusiasts, meeting with survivors and Jeff's family, it was an immediate connection I had with so many people that were valuable to the story we were trying to tell. And to get the enthusiastic vocal and physical response from everybody was the highlight of my life."
Susan Cohig, the League's senior vice president, business affairs and integrated marketing, led the team that reviewed the script and coordinated the shoot. Telling the story of Bauman, his engagement with the Bruins and the story central to Boston was important to the film's producers. Ensuring accuracy of the portrayal with every detail was critical to Cohig and the League.
"It's always helpful when it's a producer that's experienced in the sport," Cohig said. "It makes it easier for us to make sure is this authentic and how much are they willing to work with us to make sure it's authentic. We didn't want to tell a story that was different than what it was.
"In this case it was really important because the story was so central to the experience not only for Boston but what sports and what the Bruins … it's such a significant story for Boston. We wanted to make sure they did it right."
One example of the League doing its diligence was when it reviewed the timeline of Bauman's appearance as banner captain. The scene was initially filmed with Gyllenhaal waving the flag on ice after a large Bruins flag started its journey around the arena. The actual sequence, however, is the banner captain on ice before the Bruins flag circles the lower bowl.
The League requested the edit to the production team, who delivered.
"For a major film production to do that and not question our role and our ability to do that is really important for us from a brand standpoint," Cohig said. "It was a synergy of the importance of wanting to get it right because of the significance of the story.
"If you're a Bruins fan and you watch the movie, you're going to go, 'Yeah, that's what it is,' as opposed to sometimes when a production company will shoot at a sports game and you know when it's not right."
The essence of Boston and how it healed were tied together at TD Garden and the movie in its entirety. What fills Bauman with the most pride is how everyone integral to his recovery and new way of life was involved, and how the spirit of Boston Strong was made stronger.
"It shows everybody gathering around each other and community," Bauman said. "I think that's what the movie is about. It's about bringing people together rather than dividing us. That's what I love about the movie. As much as I want to isolate -- and I did, when you go through something traumatic and live in your bubble and not connect -- the movie shows eventually how I get out of that bubble and I connect. That's Boston Strong. We all have to gather around and connect to each other.