[Interview] Pam Bales & Naomi Watts for INFINITE STORM

[Interview] Pam Bales & Naomi Watts for INFINITE STORM
Courtesy Bleecker Street
Many find solitude in nature whether it’s through taking a short hike in the woods or scaling the side of a treacherous mountain. But Mother Nature is a fickle beast. In the case of Pam Bales, a real-life search and rescue volunteer in New Hampshire, she encountered the brunt force of Mother Nature before encountering a stranded man shivering in the snow without any resources to survive. At times, the film can be harrowing to watch but the message outshines the terror by shining a much-needed light on how one person can be the positive catalyst to change the life of someone else.

In INFINITE STORM, experienced climber Pam Bales (played by Naomi Watts) ascends Mt. Washington but turns back before reaching the summit as a huge blizzard approaches. But on her way back down, she encounters a lone, stranded man, and takes it upon herself to get them both down the mountain before nightfall arrives and they succumb to the storm.

For the release of INFINITE STORM, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with both the real-life Pam Bales as well as Naomi Watts where they discussed everything from what it was like for Bales to see her story brought to life to the most difficult scenes Watts had to shoot, and wrapping with what the duo hoped people would take away from INFINITE STORM.

*Trigger Warning: this interview contains discussions around suicide*

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me for INFINITE STORM. Pam, to start things off how was it seeing your story come to life and to have Naomi Watts play you?

Pam Bales: I’m such a simple person and to even have attention to it is very mind-blowing for me. To see it on-screen with Naomi filling my boots, I’m going gaga [Laughs]. It is definitely a privilege to have the publicity out there about the message of the movie and that, in a way, when somebody comes across a situation, it doesn’t have to be as extreme as this, one person can make a difference. That’s part of the message. And to have Naomi just pull everything she had from the bottom of her boots to put it out there, it blew my mind, too. As I watched it, I’m going, oh, that is me [Laughs]. It’s just a beautiful scenario of getting a very well-meaning message out.

Courtesy Bleecker Street

For you Naomi, how did this unimaginable and inspiring story come your way?

Naomi Watts: Director Malgorzata Szumowska, who I had sat on the Venice jury with, sent me the screenplay and I read it right away. I love Malgo and was very drawn in by this story. Then I heard a conversation between the screenwriter, Joshua Rollins, and Pam, and I was just completely drawn in by hearing from Pam. So, it was what I saw on the page but also hearing from her personally was incredible. I went on to have a bunch of other calls and it was clear to me that this was a woman I wanted to understand more and get to know.

How collaborative or how closely did you two work together to make sure that this “Pam” was shown as accurately as possible?

Naomi Watts: It was very important to me to get to know Pam. With some of our conversations, I certainly made sure that some of the things she said to me like, “The mountains are cheaper than therapy and they never talk back” was something that came straight from her mouth.

Pam, from this experience that you lived through, what did you most look forward to seeing play out on screen?

Pam Bales: There were definitely things I wanted to see. And again, Josh, his screenwriting was spectacular. There were a few things that I would’ve liked to have seen, but there was always that “I know it’s Hollywood,” so I understand that. But what was in the film is everything that happened to me at one point or another. Naomi, she went with it and I think those black and blues were real [Laughs]. She was probably exhausted at the end of the day just like all of us rescuers are. [We have to] get that person down alive and it’s not always the way, but this time it was. It is physical. It is spiritual in the natural spiritualness, especially because there are energies and lost people up there either by suicide or by accidents. The reference that Naomi just said of yeah, the mountains are always listening, they don’t talk back, and I listened because they do talk back to me in their way. Showing me the pole holes I’m like, oh, thank you that’s what I needed, now how am I going to get off this mountain? And so, it talked to me.

Courtesy Bleecker Street

Piggybacking off of that Naomi, for you what was the most difficult scene to shoot?

Naomi Watts: There were many. In fact, we had one day where there was quite a dramatic storm going on, and the mountaineers who were there were checking our safety all the time, which parts we were shooting on, which parts we were taking, and they told us to get off the mountain immediately. And it was a moment where I was like, oh, I wish Pam was here. It was an electrical storm and they were worried that if we didn’t get struck, a piece of the mountain might, and there could be all kinds of chaos. We raced to the chairlift and the chairlift was not working because there was a power cut. We were like, oh, okay we may be spending the night here. And I thought well, at least there’s enough people that we can create some good body warmth. It was definitely nerve-wracking for a moment there. I’m pretty athletic but there were moments where I felt like my body was not going to be able to do the things that I needed it to do. I have back issues and so yeah, there were lots of moments that were quite hairy.

What would you like viewers to take away from this film upon watching it?

Naomi Watts: I know from speaking with Pam I asked her on, I think our first call, why do you want this story to be told? What is the meaning for you? And she told me that was her main purpose for sharing, if she can just help one person. I literally teared up and said, Okay, I’m doing this movie. I’m telling this story because that is a strong element that I feel and there is a spirituality to this and she taught me that. Her courage is not just for herself but to share with others.

Pam Bales: Beautifully put. John could have gone to the other side of the mountain that day and tried again. One person saying something, any kind gesture, you may not know you’ve made a difference but you might’ve made a huge difference in their life.

INFINITE STORM is now in theaters.

Shannon McGrew
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