It began — as fights always seem to — in a bar.
“See” star Jason Momoa and Associate Producer and Blindness Consultant Joe Strechay were in the pub at Painter’s Lodge on Vancouver Island, the hotel the cast and crew were staying in as they filmed the Apple TV+ series wherein the world’s population has been reduced to 2 million after the outbreak of a devastating virus that left almost all of the survivors blind.
As Strechay recalls it, Momoa asked: “What would really mess with you, as a person who is blind, if you wanted to mess with someone else?”
Strechay’s answer can be seen in Episode 3 of “See,” when, in the middle of a gory, intense combat sequence, Momoa’s Baba Voss hurls his scimitar across the room, sending it clattering across the concrete floor and fatally distracting his bewildered opponent.
It’s an exhilarating scene, and one that’s the culmination of months of work for Strechay, who previously consulted on “Marvel’s Daredevil” and “The OA” for Netflix. From the outset, the producers of “See” were dedicated to making the sci-fi production accurate in its depiction of a world shaped by the blind, including the casting of blind or low-vision actors and immediate responsiveness to concerns raised on set by those in the community.
“There was an environment of accessibility and inclusion that I’d never seen in a television production,” Strechay told IndieWire in an interview. “[Showrunner] Dan Shotz really set the tone that everyone was going to treat everyone well.”
“We realized the first thing we needed to do was listen,” Shotz said. “And we listened to Joe, who was like our guidepost for this whole thing — and also is the greatest human being we’ve ever met in our lives. We didn’t want these characters to be defined by their disability. We wanted these characters to be defined by their will to survive, their passion, their heroism. And so we had to figure out how to tell the story, and it was tricky. But it was listening to people like Joe that made the difference.”
This began with the earliest brainstorming sessions to outline the show.
“We came up with this idea to hold a think-tank in London and brought a bunch of people in […] because the possibilities felt endless,” said executive producer and director Francis Lawrence. “There were some people who were blind, some people who became blind later in life, some people who were born blind. We had an evolutionary biologist, we had a survivalist, we had some scientists, just talking about what the world would look like with civilization greatly reduced… how this world would be organized because of the blindness aspect of evolution.”
So what did Strechay suggest? First off, the casting process was altered to make it more accessible for actors in the blind or low-vision community. Besides doing in-person auditions in several cities, actors self-taped submissions and sent them in for review. In both circumstances, Strechay offered more coaching than what is usually done in auditions to guide the actors through the process. “We wanted to give them the best opportunity possible,” he said. “[The production] hired talented people who are blind or low vision for the parts, and didn’t just hire them because they are blind or low vision.”
The scripts were then sent electronically to the blind or low vision actors — Strechay’s iPhone can read 500 words a minute, his desktop 800 — and the talent was offered a choice of what format they wanted their scripts in to better aid their chosen method of reading. It was that seemingly small question — Microsoft Word or PDF? — that signaled to many at the outset of the production’s dedication to inclusivity. “Some of the seasoned actors were like, ‘I’ve never had that offered to me,’” Strechay said.
Once on set, Strechay helped with everything from the mundane — things like telling the blind or low vision actors that the bathroom trailers required a step up to access, asking that marks be tactile so they were easier to hit — to the more complicated elements of daily filming.
Strechay admitted he pushed the cast and crew hard. “I would be standing next to the director as we blocked each scene, saying ‘I wonder about this?’ ‘I don’t think I would do that, make them do this,’” he recalled. “I’d go talk to the actor: ‘I think you should be listening for this, the water is on this side, listen for that sound.’”
And then there were the stunts. “Surprisingly, I’ve been in a few fights back in the day,” Stechay laughed. The key difference between how blind or low-vision individuals fight from those with sight is that combatants with vision are often mislead by what they anticipate is going to happen. Blind or low-vision fighters can sense the tactile response that’s coming, and that confident anticipation was incorporated into the stuntwork.
“If someone is holding me with their right arm and holding my left arm […] I can feel their body,” he said. “I can tell you if they’re pulling back their other arm to punch, I can tell you if they are pulling back their leg to kick you — all from that feeling in their body and that movement.”
Stechay says he’s proud of the collaboration that occurred on “See” and wishes that other productions would see how fundamentally easy it is to incorporate the blind and low-vision community into a set. “Realize that every actor is different, whether they have a disability or not, and take the time to ask what they need,” Strechay said. “What would make their life easier? What would make their work more successful? Take that time. And it’s often no big deal! There’s no more cost to it! Our customers are diverse, and the more diversity you use in any business, it only equals success.”
“See” is streaming now on Apple TV+. New Season 1 episodes will be released each Friday.