You may be wondering what would bring record/movie producer Dave Moody, screenwriter Rusty Whitener, and well known actor John Schneider together for a common purpose. It’s the love of baseball and the chance to change people’s hearts about a disability that is dear to their hearts—Autism. The film is called Season of Miracles.
It all started in the heart of Rusty Whitener, a pastor who recently began writing and acting. His first novel, A Season of Miracles, which is a story about an autistic boy who steals the hearts of a baseball team, earned two Christy Award Nominations. His screenplay adaptation of this novel called Touched won the L.A. Movieguide Award’s Kairos Prize (Second Place) and First Place at the Gideon Media Arts Conference.
Whitener showed the script to Dave Moody at a luncheon Torry Martin arranged for several Nashville film professionals. Moody got back to Whitener the next day, expressing real interest in possibly producing the movie.
Dave Moody of Lamon Records has led the Moody family band to national and international acclaim earning two Grammy Award Nominations and three International Country Music Awards. Six years ago, he began Elevating Entertainment with his son, Josh Moody, and they are already winning numerous awards as Christian Filmmakers. Their goal is to make family-friendly, uplifting, life-inspiring films.
Once Moody read Whitener’s script, he knew it was a story Elevating Entertainment wanted to tell. He admits, “I laughed and cried a lot reading it.”
Season of Miracles follows an underdog baseball team through their 1974 season in rural Alabama. The story begins as Zack, a middle-aged man, reflects back on his days as a 12-year old Little Leaguer and the season an autistic boy changed his priorities. It’s a heartwarming story about sportsmanship, friendship, courage, and the importance of valuing the abilities of those with disabilities.
Dave Moody was delighted when John Schneider (who starred in October Baby and Dukes of Hazzard) agreed to take the role as the coach of the Robins in this movie. John does a superb job as coach and teaches them, “If you show heart, anything is possible.” John himself believes, “Coaches are influential as mentors who teach more than just a sport—they teach life.”
According to Moody, “John was both coach on and off the set which really added to the team spirit.” But his role in this film is far more personal than most films he’s done before. John Schneider has a passion for Autism causes because his son, Chasen, has a form of Autism called Asperger’s. And Chasen loves baseball. He has a gift of memory and can rattle off facts about baseball that most people don’t know.
Although Schneider is best known for his role as Bo from the “Dukes of Hazzard,” he is also well known for his volunteer work with Autism Speaks. Their mission is to promote understanding and to change the future for all who struggle with Autism disorders.
John speaks on behalf of Autism Speaks and helps to raise funds in hopes of finding a cure and furthering research. “It was a boost for me,” he said, “to work in this film that gives insight into this condition.” John admits his proudest day was the day his son, Chasen, graduated from college.
A recent health study indicates that the Autism Spectrum Disorder now affects one in every 50 children, which is up from one in 88 recently quoted last year. It is a complex disorder that affects brain development and a person’s ability to communicate, form social relationships, and learn. In Season of Miracles, Rafer has another common characteristic, repetitive behaviors.
Zack (played by Andrew Wilson Williams of We are Marshall ) and the Robin’s Baseball team go from making fun of Rafer (played by Grayson Russell from Diary from a Wimpy Kid and Talladega Nights) and calling him “touched” and “retarded” to admiring his talents when they pitch him a baseball and find he can hit like Babe Ruth.
Zack and the team eventually form a bond of true friendship with Rafer and grow over time to appreciating his value as a person more than what he can do for their team. They become his defenders against bullies and others who make fun of him. Although some may be offended at the initial name-calling, the film honestly portrays the plight of autistic children during the 1970’s and the transformation of an entire baseball team from a field of insensitivity to overwhelming acceptance.
Season of Miracles is a movie the entire family can enjoy together. Although difficult to achieve, this movie has received both a G-rating and the “Dove Family Seal of Approval for all Ages.” Not many movies these days can brag about that. It’s a great movie for baseball fans and for those who champion the causes for the disabled and the fight against bullying.
The storyline is more about living and dying than it is about winning and losing. The message encourages all to focus on the abilities rather than disabilities of others. Matt Diaz, an outfielder for The Atlanta Braves, calls it:
A touching, challenging and beautiful story about how God can use the unlikeliest among us to draw us to Him.
Oren Aviv, President of Walt Disney Studio Motion Productions, calls Season of Miracles, “A uniquely compelling drama.” And Ray Blackston, author of Flabbergasted, praises Whitener’s skill for, “weaving a deft tale of young friendship and the curve balls of faith, while seasoning the story with sunshine and the leathery scent of baseball gloves!”
Sonoma contributor Ginny Dent Brant recently spoke with both Dave Moody and Rusty Whitener about their united endeavor to touch the world with this message.
Questions for Dave Moody:
SCH – After many successful years in the music industry, what made you decide to transition into making films?
Dave Moody – I’ve always been a story teller—a “modern day troubadour” willing to sing you a song with a message at the drop of a hat. It’s a part of who I am. I was asked to compose some music for a film in 2007, and through that experience, my son Josh and I really became intrigued by the whole movie making process. Within a few short months, we were producing our first film. For me, it was a revival of my creative side. I had grown up in the music business performing with my parents and brothers since I was 4 years old. So, filmmaking was a whole new canvas in which we could work and explore.
SCH – How does your faith play into your role as director?
Dave Moody – I grew up a preacher’s kid. My earliest childhood memories are ringing the church bell on Sunday morning. In those days, people in the community stopped long enough to recognize God. Today, Sunday is often just another shopping day. Still, I believe we have a “bell to ring.” But that bell might be a song, or film, or novel or some other act of kindness for us to reach out into our community with the Good News of Christ.
Jesus was a great story teller. And as a director, I often think of that. He used stories relevant to the day in order to spread His message of love and grace. As filmmakers, we’ve got to tell the story in a way that allows the audience to relate to the characters and story we’re telling.
SCH – What was it like to work together on this film with your entire family?
Dave Moody – From day one, it’s always been a family affair for us. My wife Susan, the perfect helper, has always been supportive and very involved in facilitating what we do. On our first film, my daughter Rebecca was just 15 years old. She was young with no experience and probably more interested in the community of set that developed during the shoot. But to watch her on the set of Season of Miracles, she’s now seasoned as a professional Assistant Director. We couldn’t have made the film without her.
Josh has grown so much over the past 5 years in his filmmaking skills and he’s truly the future of our company. He also met his fiancée Jena, who is a very gifted costumer and producer, on the set. So Season of Miracles will always be an important piece of our family’s history.
Questions for Rusty Whitener:
SCH - What made you decide to craft a story that would address bullying and draw attention to awareness and acceptance of those who are Autistic?
Rusty Whitener – Honestly, it was never my intention to craft a story that addresses bullying. To my mind, the (physical) bullying episode is simply one of many episodes in the story line. I DID want to write something that drew attention to those who have a form of Autism or other disability. And I definitely wanted to encourage all of us to see the beauty and grace that such persons offer us, given they have a gift we don’t have. We often view things like Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome as disabilities when I believe they are more like special gifts. And those gifts help the rest of us see into realities and grace that we are often blind to.
SCH – Do the characters in this screenplay represent you, anyone in your family, or any friends?
Rusty Whitener – Not really. I wish I had been more like “Zack” when I was a kid. Zack is braver, stronger, wiser, and more gracious than I was. A lot of the kids are based on kids I knew when I played Little League baseball. Donnie is loosely based on my real first cousin Donnie Hornbuckle. I borrowed names from real people I know in my extended family, but their characters in the novel and movie are not reflective of their characters in life. I also simply called the girl Rebecca because my wife’s name is Rebecca.
SCH – What made you decide to transition from being a fulltime pastor to free lance writer?
Rusty Whitener – It was a decision based on sensing a “call” to write and to act in movies. The call seemed to be confirmed to me when I won the Kairos Prize (1st Runner-up) from Movieguide for my screenplay, and I was one of four finalists in the Operation First Novel Contest with Christian Writers Guild the same year. I needed some strong affirmation to get me to shift my calling from pastoring (which I greatly enjoyed) to writing and acting. Although I realize God calls us to do different things at different times in our lives, I must always be open to change in response to His call for that particular season in my life.
SCH – I would call those awards clear confirmation from God. What do you want viewers to take away from this story?
Rusty Whitener – I want viewers to see that we can learn so much from persons who are different from us, and perhaps appear weaker or stranger than us. I also want people to recognize the thin line between this world and the next. I want people to recognize spiritual truth, and embrace the reality that the spiritual world is of more lasting substance than this material, physical world. “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
SCH - What was it like to portray the character in your own screenplay who changed the most?
Rusty Whitener - It was very gratifying to play the role of Mr. Forrester. All actors love playing characters who go through a serious transformational arc. But it was challenging because his “change” can look as though it happens too fast when you have to portray it in the middle of an 80-90 minute movie. It’s tougher to make it ring true on screen than in the novel. But of course, I like that challenge.
Season of Miracles will be available on DVD beginning October 1, 2013 at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and on amazon.com and christianbook.com.
You can also buy directly from Elevating Entertainment
Click here to view movie trailer for Season of Miracles
This movie is a great one to show in schools and churches. I you want to show SEASON OF MIRACLES at your church, camp and school, contact Elevating Entertainment for more information on their Public View Licensing Program.
Pictures are courtesy of Rusty Whitener and Dave Moody.
Read Ginny’s latest interview with Stephen Kendrick
Don’t miss Ginny’s exciting interview with Roy Costner on Valedictorian Roy Costner Goes Rogue with a Pound of Courage