You know hard it must be to run a four-minute mile? Now imagine doing it when you're still in high school, nobody supports you doing it and track isn't your sport in the first place.
That's the scenario we've set up for Cam Stiles in our Hallmark Channel film, "Chasing a Dream" which airs this Saturday at 9pm (8pm in Central time). It's about a high school senior who runs a "sub-four" when nobody thinks he can or should, but he does it anyway. It stars Treat Williams as the reluctant father/coach and Andrew Lawrence as the obsessed athlete/son.
Jackie and I wrote it originally as a project I would direct as an indie film but the WGA strike intervened and we sold it instead. So, with the caveat that we wrote it, but did not direct, cast or produce it, we still think it came out as a very decent piece of family entertainment.
Here's a great article from Runner's World, written by long-time editor (and Boston Marathon winner) Amby Burfoot. It includes the text of an interview he conducted this month with both Jackie and me and shows incredible respect for writers. Go, Amby!
Here's a look at the promotional video from the film.
Sub-fours in high school actually happened a few times in the 60s, then not again until Alan Webb did it in 2001, and not since then. Over many years and incarnations, "Chasing a Dream" evolved from "Sub-Four" to "Finish Line" to "Miles from Nowhere" to its final Hallmark title. One thing that always stayed the same was that the original runner was named John Van Horn in tribute to Bryce's close high school friend who died at the age of 18 in a car crash but is still remembered and missed.
Finally, because things always change (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse) from "the page to the stage," here's a draft of our original screenplay, when it was known by its original title, "MILES FROM NOWHERE."
For fun, if any of your runners would like to vote in our Movie Smackdown! poll pitting "Prefontaine" against "Without Limits," then CLICK HERE.
Hallmark TV Movie 'Chasing A Dream' Debuts Saturday, April 25: High School Kid Chases a 4-Minute Mile
By Amby Burfoot
On the face of it, you'd have a hard time imagining a more improbable plot than that of "Chasing A Dream," a Hallmark Channel feature movie presentation that debuts on Saturday, April 25. (Check local listings for time and channel.) Here goes: High school football star rebels against his father-coach, quits the team, and dedicates himself to running a sub-4:00 mile. Oh, sure! Happens every day.
But then the little details start coming together: The kid played wide receiver; those dude's are fast. And maybe the lessons Dad taught on the gridiron can translate to running--honor, every-day consistency, hard work. Plus there's the indefinable power of inspiration. This kid, Cam, has plenty. (And be sure to take note of his 3-letter name, like a certain legend from Oregon.)
The film also makes good use of one of running's favorite quotations - one that probably adorns the bedroom wall of more runners than any other quote. At any rate, you'll recognize the quote immediately, and it makes two strong appearances in the film. Plus, the name of Cam's big rival, Seneca Keflezi, has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it?
So it's obvious that the people who wrote the script behind "Chasing A Dream" know a thing or two about running. To find out more about them and how the movie came to life, I recently spoke with the co-script-writers, the husband and wife team of Bryce and Jackie Zabel.
Why a running movie?
Bryce: This isn't something new; it's something we've lived with for 20 years. We started the project in the mid-1980s as a labor of love, but other stuff came along. In 2004, after the Writer's Guild strike, the screenplay finally emerged. We needed a way to make some money, and Hallmark responded to the family aspects of the movie. It's funny, that changed over the history of the project. When we were working on it in the 1990s, no high schooler had broken 4:00 for decades, and the story was more focused on that quest. Then Alan Webb came along with his breakthrough, and a sub-4:00 wasn't this impossible thing any more.
Jackie: I think that actually helped us. It forced us to focus more on the Cam's character, his struggle, the tension with his father, and the resources he needed to pull together. It's a coming of age movie. We wanted to challenge some of the conventional cliche that kids are so distracted by video games and stuff that they don't achieve anything any more. Kids still make decisions about who they want to be, and they can still learn from things their fathers drill into them: The lessons and vision are still important.
Why the mile? Most movies are about the marathon these days.
Bryce: Well, no one's ever done a movie about a high school miler. I've always thought the mile is the perfect distance in terms of the time it takes, the fast running, the drama. Four minutes is a great amount of time to sustain a viewer's interest. You know if someone shoots a sprint, they're going to resort to slow motion at some point. And if they film a marathon, the whole thing is going to be compressed; you're not going to see two hours of continuous marathon running. But with the mile, the four-minute time span is just right. The mile is right in the sweet spot for filming. And the event has such great history. Roger Bannister ran his famous sub-4:00 just 11 days from when I was born.
What's your running background?
Bryce: I attended the University of Oregon during the Pre era. I'm not saying I was on the track team, but I was there, doing a little running of my own. Pre was a very big man on campus, of course. We all followed him. After I graduated, I became a news reporter, and I covered his death. Since then I've probably run 100 or 150 5Ks and 10Ks. I figured you'd ask me about this, so I dusted off my records last night. My best is about a 24:30 for 5K. My brother has run about 40 marathons, but I've never put together enough training for the marathon.
How do you think the Hallmark movie reflects your screenplay and your vision?
Bryce: We're not here to be 100 percent spinmeisters. We know some of your readers are going to say the story is impossible. But Alan Webb's story was impossible too, until he did it. The lead actor is stocky looking for a fast miler; we know that. But everyone at Oregon knew that Pre looked a little different, stockier, than the other runners. The filming of the race scenes doesn't look the way they would look if you had Steven Spielberg and $100 million behind them. But this is Hallmark movie, and they were more interested in the family story. As a screen writer, you come to accept that your vision isn't going to be what you see on the screen unless you get to direct the film yourself.
What's your favorite part of the movie?
Bryce: I like Cam's rivalry with Seneca Keflezi. They both need each other. Neither could achieve his dreams without having the other one there to push him. We all know this is the way it is in running. It's not about winning vs. losing. It's not a zero sum game. In a competitive race, the whole is greater than the parts. That's one of the things I like best about running. It's one of the things that makes running so powerful. You don't run to beat the other guy; you run to get the most you can out of yourself.
Jackie: I think the film does a good job of representing how we all cope with tough times. It's not just about sports. These are tough economic times now for a lot of people. We had to endure with this project for 20 years before we got it done. We all get dinged up one way or another. That's what life does to us. We're all damaged goods to some extent. But we're also all capable of reaching out and doing extraordinary things. We can especially do this if we find a higher calling. Cam didn't run the mile for himself. It wasn't for the glory, it was for something else. And that's why he succeeded. Bryce and I believe that if you get the heart of the movie right, then the audience will be on your side, and it won't sweat the small stuff. And we think we got the heart right.
How do you hope serious runners will react to your movie?
Bryce: I hope they'll enjoy it, even if they don't think every detail is just right. I hope they'll think we got the essence of achievement and competition right. I hope they'll recognize the process: Setting a goal, committing to the goal, making a plan, working at the plan, hitting some bumps, re-working the plan, re-working it again, and never giving up. I hope they'll enjoy watching the process unfold, and they'll feel uplifted by it.