Turns out Scott Sandsberry was serious about this whole movie thing.
When he took time off from his sportswriting job at the Yakima Herald-Republic to make a movie this summer, he was, you know, actually making a movie. A real one called “Runaway Hearts,” with a budget, respected professional actors, and an experienced director. It’s not some vanity project; it’s an honest-to-god feature film that he and his co-producer wife, Rhonda, will spend the next year pitching at festivals, hoping to find distribution.
According to the film’s tagline, it’s the story of “two kids on the run from their present who meet two adults who can’t escape their past.” Sandsberry, who has had another feature in pre-production for years, wrote the script in early 2010, spurred by a dinner conversation with friends. It’s essentially a redemption story — kids with a bad home life, a compassionate caseworker, a broken man who owns a bike shop and a charming cafe owner, figuring out that they can help each other, and in the process, help themselves find meaning in life.
“The idea was basically five minutes’ work,” he says. “I got up, said, ‘I’ll be right back.’ I knew who these characters were.”
Sandsberry spent about two months finishing the script, then started pitching it to investors. He won’t talk about the budget, because producers looking to sell a film don’t do that. He’ll only say it’s less than $5 million and that much of it came from local investors, with another large chunk coming from an old friend, Garrth Jackson, who’s now an investment manager in New Mexico.
Whatever the figure is, it was big enough that he was able to enlist director Keith Alan Morris, who has several features to his credit. And Morris was able to cast some reasonably well-known actors including “Dukes of Hazzard” star John Schneider, Super Bowl Dorito’s commercial star Ali Landry, and Wendell Pierce, who stood out as Bunk Moreland on HBO’s acclaimed series “The Wire” and plays Antoine Batiste in HBO’s “Treme.” The film also features soap opera heartthrob Jay Kenneth Johnson and Nick Gomez, who was just in “Looper” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
That’s heady company for a pair of first-time producers from Yakima.
“It’s weird for little people like us,” Rhonda Sandsberry said. “Like, they’d ask us, ‘What’s your background?’ Well, I’ve worked in offices for years, and he’s at the newspaper.”
Unlike the standard voice-on-the-phone Hollywood producers, who basically just hold the purse-strings, the Sandsberrys were on set for the nine-week shoot, working 14-hour days just like everyone else. They had final say on matters related to the film, such as salary negotiation, but they also did things like hauling equipment and setting up the craft-services table.
“We rolled up our sleeves and worked long, long days,” Rhonda said. “We had people tell us, ‘I really respect the way you produce.’”
And now, with the rough cut of the film just about done and a trailer expected to be ready around year’s end, they’re getting ready to hit the festival circuit with Morris and sell the thing. It’s important to the Sandsberrys that they be able to return the money they got from the investors. If this picture makes money, they’ll get back to work on Scott’s other project, the one that’s closest to his heart, “Iron Lyncs,” the story of the Lynden Christian High School boys basketball team that won the Class A state title in 1976.
In 2001, he wrote a two-part Herald-Republic feature about that team, which won after half of its players were suspended for smoking marijuana. The story will focus not only on the remaining players’ heroics but on those who were suspended and what their lives were like in the aftermath.
“I really feel like everything in my life has been moving toward telling the Lyncs story. ... I want to sell (‘Runaway Hearts’) because I want these people to make their money back. I want them all to say, ‘Wow, this is great. Let’s make ‘Lyncs’ now,’” he said.
Still, Sandsberry doesn’t think he’ll ever become a big-shot Hollywood producer. He just has a few stories he wants to tell. And he’s going to tell them.
“The reason this movie is being made is because there are people in this community that were able to listen to our passion and say, ‘I’m going to believe in you,’” he said.
• On the web: www.imdb.com/title/tt2367680/
• Pat Muir can be reached at 509-577-7693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.