* Spoiler alert *
In the new movie, Different Drummers, hyperactive Lyle Hatcher teaches a lesson that can be heard at any age. Based on the true story of an unlikely friendship between two fourth graders growing up in Spokane during the 1960s, the film follows the adventures of Lyle and his best friend David, who is wheelchair-bound by muscular dystrophy. This movie makes the audience believe that friendship, no matter at what age, can make a life-changing difference. I sat down with directors Lyle Hatcher and Don Caron to take a closer look at the long, but rewarding, journey they have embarked on.
What have these past few weeks been like with the opening of the movie? Have they been crazy?
DC: “It hasn’t really been crazy; I mean we knew we would be busy. We were just relieved that people responded the way that they did. There have been a lot of really good movies made that don’t do well in the theater and over the years they become classics and that sort of thing, but we didn’t want one of those. We were just really relieved initially that it wasn’t a so-so response from the theater going audience. [We] just [went into] high gear, interacting with people coming into the theater, trying to let people know [about the film] who don’t know about it, selling books and signing books; it keeps us busy.”
LH: To me the craziness is not what you would think; the craziness is the two of us day to day going ‘OK now we’re going to learn about distribution.’ Through this process, learning how to make the movie [and] film the movie, I mean Don has a great deal of experience but in one particular area. Now we’ve become experts in directing, producing and everything that goes with it. That’s the craziness — constantly trying to educate yourself at lightning speed because this isn’t something you take six months to work on; you have six days.
How and when did you two first come together on this project and what has the journey been like?
DC: 2004. I was working at Northwest back then as the sound supervisor and he came in to record his story, he had sort of a five-page version of it typed out and he wanted to record it onto a CD and add music to it as a starting point. Just to get something tangible that you can hand to someone. So I recorded that for him and the story immediately caught my attention [and] two days later we were business partners [who] started on the screenplay within a week. It’s really the money though that’s the impediment. The lighting and the actual shooting and producing of the movie [are] all doable [things], but you can’t do anything without the money. The amount of money it takes to do a movie like this has changed over the past nine years. The first budget we had put together was $8 million and we didn’t know any different. That was sort of an old school, Hollywood budget and there were going to be a lot of people making a lot of money for doing nothing on that budget.
LH: It’s been an adventure. At the end of it, whether you have a movie that makes $10 million or a movie that makes $100 million, you want to make sure that those who deserve it and earned it are rewarded.
DC: Of course, 10 or 15 years ago, two guys couldn’t self-distribute a movie in the theaters, that would never happen. But once you get your foot in the door, which [happened when] AMC allowed us into a theater, then you have an opportunity to prove yourself; you have an opportunity to go as far with it as you want, and that’s a new world. We feel like we’ve got a big opportunity here, which essentially no one’s ever had before, [and] which we don’t have to deal with a big studio or give all of our profits away to somebody. We have a lot of control but we also have a ridiculous amount of work to do.
LH: It’s one of those things that comes along once in a generation where everyone can go. We had all [of] these kids coming out of the theater with a retirement group [headed] in, and as they came out the girls were crying and the boys were standing there just not really knowing what to do. The retirees were in wheelchairs and walkers and the two of them in their own way, collided. It was a visual where the kids were interacting with the older people saying ‘Did you bring a Kleenex?’ or ‘Be ready because things happen.’ And the older people just kept going ‘Well don’t tell us.’ They were talking to them as if they were their great-grandchildren. It’s a rare thing to do; it’s a really rare thing.
What has it been like to see your childhood memory up on the big screen?
LH: During the filming there was only one moment that impacted me. I was just lucky. Someone told me the other day, ‘You have lived a very unusual life.’ And yeah, it’s been unusual and I feel really lucky, but I think it all leads to this. I think you have life experiences that you’re bombarded with, whatever they are, and then one day there’s a reason that this all happened and this is now the time. Then you have to realize it, and as Don and I have said many times, then you better get really lucky that you find somebody that has that gigantic piece of the puzzle that without it, you’ll be sitting there with nothing. It’s not like there’s a happy medium in this project. There is no happy medium. It’s either it works or it absolutely is not going to work and I think that’s what makes it such a great project. I just look at the whole story of my childhood; I don’t even see it that way anymore. What I see is a story about friendship that has carried for decades regardless of where it comes from, and I’m just really glad that it happened. I’m grateful for it.
How have other people that were a part of this memory, like David’s mom, reacted to the movie?
LH: When David passed away she was the one who was with him. His two sisters and his brother weren’t there. When Don and I finished the project I took over a DVD and I just let them watch it as a family. When it got to the end I could see that it was not my place to be there and I just quietly slipped out, and they grieved greatly. For them, they finally got a chance to say goodbye to their brother and I think it was very cathartic for them, and you know, they helped us deliver his story true to the way it happened. So for Gloria Dahlke, it took her 46 years, but she did cry and let it go; 46 years later she said, ‘I can let my son go.’
What have the challenges been in taking the story from the book to the movie?
DC: So we started with the screenplay, [but] we decided to use the book as a marketing tool because handing a screenplay to potential investors you know, they don’t know how to read it and it’s pretty dry compared to a book. So really the process of adapting it into a book was more a concept of fleshing out all the plot lines and the character arts and really making it a stronger, more powerful story. So when we re-adapted it back into a screenplay at the other end, it was really easy because it had come from a screenplay and I had kept it in the same style and format in the book. So now I had a really strong story that I hadn’t had before that I could now whittle away and see what I could get [to fit into] the screenplay. It was actually a pretty enjoyable process. The initial screenplay writing was the struggle. To somehow make that story work visually, it’s a soft story and it’s character driven, we had to somehow make one scene go to another. But once that had happened, [making] the book [into] the screenplay was really kind of an enjoyable process, pretty straightforward.
What do you guys see yourselves doing now?
DC: We see [ourselves] somehow figuring out how to get this thing on every screen in the country by the end of the year.
LH: Which is utterly and completely impossible so we’re going to do it. That’s our motto. People go, ‘Well that’s impossible.’ And we go, ‘Yes, thank you,’ and now we know we should go do it. We’ve been joking for the past week that for the first eight years we [heard] ‘No, no, no, no,’ and for the last year it’s been, ‘Yes.’ In a way we have been weaned and trained on ‘No one does that,’ and ‘That’s not gonna happen.’ I think we’ve gotten to the point now where we’re starting to get it right. We’ve done it enough times that we know what works and the response from people has been nothing short of mind-boggling.