answered by Producer | Director Megan Smith-Harris

Why did you choose to make a documentary on burn survivors?
Prior to making this film I had never met a burn survivor. Like most people, I have a fear of fire and experience a visceral response at the mere suggestion of being burned. In the past, when occasionally confronted with burn survivors through images in the media, I was filled with a vague sense of pity and personal discomfort. I mentally changed channels because the thought of anything like that ever happening to me was too painful, too terrifying to contemplate.

I never considered what it would be like to wake up from a medically-induced coma to discover that my life had been forever changed by fire. But one day, while leafing through a magazine in an airport departure lounge, I saw a picture of three burn survivors and my heart flipped over.

Fire can destroy your life in the blink of an eye but I wanted to know what happened after the fire when lives were rebuilt. I wanted to focus on that process – how people reimagine their dreams and re-forge their lives after a devastating event. I also wanted to honor the courage and strength of burn survivors to show the world how truly inspirational they are

As a filmmaker sometimes you choose your subjects but in this case, the subject definitely chose me and I feel very honored to have made this film.

Is this film just about burn survivors?
Yes and no. The film primarily features the personal journeys of burn survivors, but burns don’t just happen to individuals, they also affect friends and families, and reverberate throughout communities. The people featured in TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged are highly relatable – we are all mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. We all have scars, just not always on the outside.

We also want to showcase the critical role that firefighters, first-responders, doctors, nurses, reconstructive surgeons and therapists, play in helping burn survivors re-forge their lives.

During private previews of the films audience members thrilled us again and again when they said, “This film isn’t just about burn survivors, it’s really about human resilience and anyone who has overcome adversity.” To which we would enthusiastically reply, “YES!”

You keep saying “burn survivors,” not “burn victims.” Why?
Imagine trying to live your life with the word “victim” attached to you like a barnacle. No one wants to be a victim. All of us are the sum of our life experiences; we are not defined by one characteristic or event.

One of our interview subjects said, “You’re a burn victim at the time of the accident and a burn patient while you’re in the hospital, but the moment you re-enter society, you become a burn survivor.”

Some people embrace the term “burn survivor” whereas others prefer to describe themselves as, “a person who sustained a burn injury.” Some individuals do not wish to reference their injuries at all. It’s a personal choice.

How long have you been working on TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged and what challenges did you face during production?
I have been working on this film for two and a half years. Unlike other productions, everything about making this film has been fabulous – we encountered no tornadoes, blizzards, defective camera equipment, TSA shakedowns, recalcitrant interview subjects or dog bites. Every interview was heart-wrenching and inspiring which sounds far-fetched but it’s true.

If I had to admit to a personal challenge, it would be the agony of having to cut incredibly moving moments out of the film due to time constraints. The film still makes me cry every time – but in a good way.

The only production challenge we encountered was – and is – securing adequate funding. Don’t get me started…

How was the film funded?

TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged was and is a non profit 501 (c)(3) production. To date we have received contributions both big and small, from individuals, corporations, and foundations but we still need more to cover production expenses and further develop our educational outreach campaign.

What’s the main message or take away?

Your mom was right – ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ As much as survivors wear their burn scars as a badge of honor and courage, they don’t want to be defined by them. They are regular people who go to school, get jobs, have mortgages, and start families. They have hopes and dreams like everybody else. Period.

No one should be discriminated against, marginalized, or defined by the way they look. We need judge people by their character and not their appearance. Beyond engendering a greater sensitivity and understanding of what burn survivors endure we hope to leave audiences with a greater sense of compassion for all human beings.

How common are burn injuries in America?

It is estimated that one million people suffer burns every year from fires in homes, schools and workplaces as well as burns from auto accidents, chemicals, scalds, and heat contact.

Not all accidents are preventable, but many are. Fire awareness and prevention really can save the lives of those you love. Another important underlying message of TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged is to always exercise caution because fire is not discriminatory. Burn injuries can happen to anyone at any time. And they do.

If after seeing this film, people do nothing more than incorporate a few fire safety practices into their lifestyles, we would be incredibly happy. Things as simple as getting into the habit of checking/replacing your smoke detector battery, turning pot handles to the back of the stove, adjusting water heater temperatures, regularly cleaning out dryer lint, using covered cups when drinking hot beverages around young children, and having (and rehearsing) a fire escape plan. These practices cost nothing and can prevent a tragedy.

We are developing an educational outreach campaign targeted at high school seniors and college students. We run “A Detector in every Home” campaign and arrange for smoke detectors to be donated to fire stations around the country. To date I believe we have given away close to 2,000 smoke detectors.

What have you learned from making this film?

I have learned that I have nothing to complain about ever.

One of the most surprising revelations we had while making this documentary is that the majority of burn survivors we interviewed told us they would not change what happened to them even if they could. They feel the experience of being burned has transformed their lives in ways they could not possibly have fathomed. Many believe they have accomplished greater things in their lives than they would have had they not been burned.

The people you will meet in TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged remind us to never, ever let go of our dreams because even at the bleakest times, after the most horrific trauma, anything is possible if you persevere. It is time to give a voice – and a face – to burn survivors. Their stories are unforgettable and I cannot wait to share the film with a larger audience.

Did the TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged turn out the way you originally envisioned?
No, thanks to the collaboration with my creative team, it turned out much better. Originally I planned to punctuate the personal stories of the burn survivors with expert interviews including doctors, nurses, therapists and firefighters. I thought the audience would need a little time to mentally regroup because some of the material can be emotionally demanding.

But when we started to assemble the rough cut – and I shot about a hundred hours of footage – my editor and I realized we wanted to stay focused on the burn survivors because their stories were so absorbing. The other material seemed like a distraction so we cut it out. I realize now that I was using those expert interviews as kind of a security blanket, which was totally unnecessary. I didn’t need to baby or underestimate the audience. Admittedly parts of the film can be tough for some people, but they are essential elements and once you turn the corner emotionally, the film is ultimately uplifting and inspiring.


As filmmakers, our role is to document aspects of life experiences to provide informed perspective in an artistic expression. With TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged, in particular, we have an added responsibility to remain not only respectful, but also protective of those in the burn community, many of whom have opened their hearts to share their stories and who we consider to be good friends. From time-to-time we are approached by others who support or serve the burn community -often with great motivation or promising innovation- for support, sponsorship, alliance, introduction or endorsement of their product, service or outreach.

As well-intended as these efforts are, it is our policy not to become involved, associated or related with any specific product, treatment, personality or facility in any way that benefits any individual, company or organization on a profit-making basis. Nor do we allow any part of the TRIAL BY FIRE brand, its imagery, content or reputation to be utilized in any unauthorized infringement or potentially disparaging, damaging or libelous way. In addition, we do disavow any statement, public or private, which might misleadingly represent, confuse or assert unauthorized association with the brand expression or creative content of TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged.

We are happy to re-post information and links to press articles appearing in respectable, reputable publically-sourced news outlets reporting on services and technological breakthroughs, but do so with no business interest, editorial insight, factual understanding or advocacy on our part to be considered or construed. Obviously, we are supported by a number of well-known and well-established world-class organizations and support their missions, dedication and service to the burn community and/or fire safety programs. While we endorse their overall goals to promote burn and fire awareness, and improve the level of healthcare and rehabilitation available to burn survivors, for the avoidance of any doubt, we do not market, promote or represent or otherwise benefit from anything other than the film, TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged, and it’s directly related community and educational outreach.