Interview: Maria Awes of ABC’s New Series “In an Instant”

Posted on March 18, 2015 at 3:47 pm

A grizzly bear attack; a bridge collapse; a plane crash… It can happen anywhere at any time — in an instant, life can change forever and that moment will define who you are. “In an Instant” does more than just re-tell heart pounding first-person accounts of the world’s most harrowing tales of survival, it brings them to life with breathtaking dramatizations of the moment before and after life was forever changed. The powerful new series features the trials and triumphs from every angle, and includes gripping first person interviews with the people who lived to tell their stories – and those who were instrumental in helping them survive.  Ordinary people who have watched their lives flash before their eyes, stared certain death in the face and overcame it. What key decisions did they make to save their lives?   “In an Instant” is a new series on ABC that tells these real-life stories.  

I spoke to producer Maria Awes about what she has learned about courage and the will to survive from telling these stories.

What quality do you find in those who are able to survive the most dire circumstances?

I would say that based on everything we have learned in talking to some of these amazing people it has a lot to do with your own will to survive. How you feel this need to make it through and that carries you through. I guess that is kind of what I would say.

How do they get changed by these experiences?

I think that the various events change people in very different ways. I think that they are cathartic experience for sure for these people. Some of the folks for example from the bridge collapse episode dealt with PTSD other people look back on it and just reflect. I think absolutely everybody has changed by their experience but what that change is varies from person to person.

What do they experience as they re-live some of what happened to them for your show?

Oh, it is emotional.  Seeing people describe the horrific events that they went through, some of them have expressed to us it’s really good to talk about these things again. They may not have talked about them, certainly to as large as an audience as this. You know I think that it is touching to see them discuss how much their loved ones mean to them. That’s definitely something that comes across in every episode no matter what the story was.  As a journalist, to have one interview as striking as these are in your whole life would be amazing. To have as many interviews with amazing people as we do for In An Instant is just unreal. Everybody is so well spoken and so good at putting you in their position at the time these event occurred.

The very earliest stories that we know going back to the Iliad and the Odyssey are about people surviving or sometimes not surviving great danger. What is it that we look for in those stories?

I think that all of these stories make us ask questions of ourselves. Would I have survived? Could I have done it? What would I have done? It offers you the chance to take a look at yourself and see what you know about yourself, how would you react in these different situations? I think it’s always appealing to see how people persevere. This is a very inspirational show. This is not a show that is just gloom and doom and horrible events. This is about what it takes to rise above something that is tragic in some way.  And it’s really a little bit genre breaking I think, in terms of combining scripted reenactments with first-person interviews for two hours. It’s like a movie that plays out with real people interspersed in there telling you what’s happening. So I think it’s a unique way to blend entertainment and journalism in a really compelling new way.  It is a very different kinds of storytelling that really deals with factual events in a factual way but with the cinematic style has never been given to this type of content. It’s very, very different from other shows whether it’s Dateline or 48 Hours or shows that may deal with real life events. It is very different because we’re still doing it differently, to bring these things to life in a new way.  Viewers will definitely want to talk about the people themselves, the survivors of these things because they are truly amazing people.

How do you put the re-enactments together in a way that is sensitive and authentic?

We did countless hours of pre-interviewing, interviewing the people who would be participating in the show to make sure we had all of the facts as they went down before we planned our reenactments.  We also looked through police reports if that was pertinent or rescue reports, different files that were created as parts of these events, photos, for the bridge collapse in particular we painstakingly went through the process of making sure the shots matched the photos of the bridge as it collapsed that day. So we really did as good of a job I think as possible to make these scenarios appear as they did, made them as real as they were for the people who were living through these events.

Have any of these stories changed your own thoughts about how you might respond in a crisis?

That’s a good question; I mean I think we all would like to think we have what it takes to power through and to do everything we can to survive. I think that it is inspiring for me to see how everyday people have managed to become heroes, how everyday people managed to survive things that seem impossible, to beat impossible odds. And I would like to think that if I was in their situation I could do the same.

How do you find the stories?

We go through quite a process to find the stories. We work with ABC to have them take a look as well and we are looking for everything from events that received a lot of coverage perhaps in the news to events that received little to no coverage but are no less compelling. We are looking for both the known and unknown stories to share with people because they all speak to different aspects of humanity and how we are able to persevere.


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