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Finding and Making The Way Home
Finding and Making The Way Home

Finding and Making The Way Home

Lance Dreesen's film credits have a few horror films in them, but that's not really the way he wanted to go as a filmmaker. "I look at myself as a storyteller first, and I happen to tell stories on film. You're always looking for very compelling and moving stories." He found one in southeast Georgia, which he turned into the recent release The Way Home, starring Dean Cain.

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Hearing the Story
Getting the Timing Right
In Production with Superman
The Final Rewrite
About the Film

"My favorite film is It's a Wonderful Life, and if that were made today, it would be called a faith-based film, because it's about an angel intervening in a man's life and showing him what's important."

What attracted Lance to The Way Home was the similarities between his favorite film and Randy Simpkins' story. "Here's a man who needed a message to show him what's important: his family, his faith and his community. The community rallied around one of their own in a time of need, and all of those elements combine to make a compelling story."

Hearing the Story
Lance lives in California but was in Georgia in 2007 for another film project. They needed a water truck and had to contact the county commissioner: Randy Simpkins. "He's a politician, but didn't seem like one, so we asked him how he got started," Lance said.

"He said he did it to give back to his community because his son went missing and all these people got involved. That story just sort of sat with me for a while, so even though we were working on another project, I went to him and told him I wanted to tell his story. I think it's moving and a message people need to hear – I needed to hear it. I have two young sons, and every time I've heard Randy tell it, it's had a great impact on people. So I thought we should turn it into a movie."

Creating a film out of a true event can be a challenging effort, so Lance took a very journalistic approach to his writing. "I interviewed everybody involved to find out their takes. I knew Randy's take, then sat down with Christel to find out about her experience that day. Then we went over and met with Ed Walker (the man who found Joey), which was a very emotional interview.

"Randy and Ed are neighbors and have stayed in touch over the years. The minute Ed saw Joe, he started crying. We all went inside and he starts telling his story, and so did his son and wife. At this point, nobody knew about Joe Walker, about that side of the story."

As the families talked, they learned about Ed's family, how he raised his younger brother Joe, who died in a car accident. "I don't think even Ed had put together in a conscious way that he had lost someone named Joe and found someone named Joe.
They're very much connected, but his wife told us it was the first time he's ever talked about Joe with anybody."

From Lance's perspective, that added another dimension beyond Randy's transformation, so he asked Ed's permission to include it in the story. "I'm in touch with him fairly regularly, and though it's been an emotional trip for him, it's also been a good trip for him."

Getting the Timing Right
Brett RiceAfter interviewing the families, Lance approached the rescue personnel involved that day. "Bud Benefield, the fire chief, was the only one who kept notes that day, and they were great. He told me what happened at what time and who arrived when, so that helped provide structure as I was piecing things together. Then I'd go back and show it to people and they agreed with it."

Getting events in the right order is one thing, it's another to craft compelling dialog that captures what might have been said that day in an authentic way. "I tried to have dialog that's compelling to move the story forward, but not seem too Hollywood. So I would write a draft and send it to Bud and to Randy and slowly it came together."

Another challenge is staying away from over-dramatization of an already dramatic story. "There were two approaches I could have taken. One was to use the story for inspiration and dramatize it. Maybe Joe falls in a lake or faces off with a snake. Or, in Hollywood fashion, have God lead Randy to find his son.

"The other option was to write it as close as I could get to the way it happened and see what people thought. Once I showed the draft around, not just to the participants, but to people I use for feedback on writing in the film industry, they all thought it worked really well." After starting the script in January, Lance had a completed script in May. "It flowed out of me faster than any script ever has. It felt like a hand was guiding me. I can't say that a light came down through the heavens a struck me and I started typing. But after I finished and looked back, I realized I hadn't struggled with the writing process.

"Randy will definitely tell you, 'That's a God thing.'"

In Production with Superman
Once the script was done, the team moved into fundraising mode to get the money together for the production. "That was done by about September, about the time we started into pre-production, and we were in production in September and filmed through October."

Dean CainA major factor in any film is the choice of actors for the cast, especially in lead roles. With a plethora of actors in southeast Georgia, Lance had no trouble finding good supporting cast members and filling out the extras with local community members. But when it came to Randy Simpkins, he wanted the best he could find.

"You're trying as an indie filmmaker to find a name for your roles, because if you can afford one and get one, it helps to go sell the film. We wanted one, but one that was right for the film, and as a director, I wanted a great actor. 80% of your job as a director is casting, and if you cast the right people, your job is so much easier.

"We made a list, Dean Cain was at the top of it, and we reached out to his agent, who sent it to him. He has a young son and it struck him the right way. We told him what kind of money we had, which is less than he normally makes, but still sizeable for us, and were able to reach accord. We also asked through back channels what kind of guy he was to work with, and everyone said he's a great guy.

"That's an understatement. Dean really is Superman. He is the nicest guy, and on top of that, he couldn't be more professional. That guy comes ready to work; you don’t have to do more than two takes with him. He comes prepared, he understands what you need, he knocks it out, and you're ready to move on."

Fans of other films by Christian filmmakers will recognize a lot of familiar faces, including Lori Beth Edgeman, Brett Rice and Tom Nowicki, both of whom were just in The Blind Side. "When any big studio feature comes through Georgia, those guys are both in them, because they're the go-to guys. When I wrote their parts, I kind of wrote with them in mind. They look like the real-life guys and I knew how good they were and could support the scenes I was writing."

Lori BethLori Beth is an actress from Georgia who has a recurring character in the TV show Army Wives. She's also been in several independent films, as well as the recent Robert Duvall release Get Low. "Lori Beth is a devout Christian, and it was a dream for her to do a Christian film in that area of Georgia. She and Christel could be like sisters; it was great."

The Final Rewrite
"I've heard it said that the last rewrite happens in editing," Lance said, "and that's what happened here." A 20-year veteran of the film industry, this is the first time Lance has personally edited a project. He's sat with his editors every step of the way on his last two films, but hadn't learned the software himself. So on this one, he decided it was time to do it himself.

"It's amazing how much you can hone and tighter, or even let things breathe, when you're editing. It's great to see how you can take a scene that's not really working and keep honing it, or cut to a different shot, or bring in something from somewhere else, and you find something that really works. I really enjoyed it.

"I also ended up editing the DVD extras, and went so far as to make a commercial for Lionsgate when they needed a 30-second commercial for the DVD."

Lance and his partner Clint Hutchison invited Randy Simpkins to join their team, and the three are now in partnership.

©2010 ChristianCinema.com

[ Read our interviews with Randy and Christel Simpkins and star Dean Cain ]

About the Film
Dean Cain stars as Randy Simpkins, a husband and father torn between the demands of his job and family. Asked by his wife to watch their two-year-old son Joe for a few minutes, he becomes distracted by work. When he returns, Joe is gone.

He and his wife search desperately for their missing son through the vast countryside. But as their fear grows, the community responds. Hundreds of supporters unite behind the family in a powerful spiritual journey that will test the couple's love and faith, and forever change a community.


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