One of the happiest surprises of the year on television so far is “Secrets of the Mountain,” an excellent movie for the whole family that premiered on April 16, 2010 on NBC. I interviewed the executive producer, Brian Wells, who talked about his commitment to making something that was both “great” and “good,” the films that inspired him, and his hope for making more films that families can enjoy together. For DVD giveaway info, see below.
Your movie inspired a lot of enthusiasm from audiences. How do you achieve that?
It’s always exciting when something’s kind of birthed in your heart and then connects with other people. This movie, like all the other projects we’re working on, it comes from the heart, it’s not a bunch of creatives that say, “Oh, I think this would be interesting.” We start with sitting down with moms, sitting down with kids, sitting down with teens, understanding what motivates them, understanding the kind of challenges they’re facing with their families. Maybe that entertainment could even help. It was birthed in the heart of a father and has been by the same kind of people that watched the movie.
The person who came up with the original concept is Dante Amodeo, a father down in Jacksonville Florida, and he came up with the idea of the family dealing with some challenges and going on an adventure, and by going through the adventure they come to understand that when families go through bad times they are not supposed to run away from each other; they are supposed to run toward each other.
How do you bring that spirit to the screen?
This also came out of sitting down and talking to families around the country. We talked about it in terms of “great and good.” Every element of the story from the writing to the filming to the casting to the special effects had to be great and good. “Greatness” is how we think of entertainment — is it exciting? If it’s a comedy does the humor flow from the characters or is it just somebody slipping on a rug? If it’s a drama, do I care about these people? If it’s adventure, does it keep me on the edge of my seat? What’s the production value of the whole thing? It’s got to be great to engage us. But we can’t stop there. We all know that there’s a lot of entertainment out there that achieves its greatness of entertainment value by preying on what’s worst in the human condition. And there’s enough of those stories out there.
What was your goal in making this film?
We were looking for stories that achieve greatness by calling out what is best in us. And so at every point of the way, we asked ourselves, “Is this both great and good?” A lot of people settle for the idea that it can’t be both. But it can. Our constant drive at every point of development was to do both. As a father, my constant litmus test was: could I sit on a couch with my 11 year old daughter and my 14 year old son and my wife and have each of us enjoy it equally?
Was it difficult to get backing for this film?
it is challenging to get any movie made. But to try to say we’re setting the bar that a 40-something will want to watch this like a 10 year old. But we were fortunate to have a couple of sponsors, Wall-Mart and Proctor & Gamble that were behind it because they believe we need to see more content that the whole family can watch together. The challenge along the way was the execution, but all the details, everything, wardrobe, music, we had to get a team together where everyone believed in this great/good concept.
On the outside there’s a conception that a movie is made because of the singular vision of a director but while that is a really big part of it, there’s at least 100 people that make these things happen. If you can surround yourself with people who are talented and who believe in making great/good stories, it’s a lot easier to make.
We look for people who are great actors and for people who have voted with their talent to show they’re interested in the things we’re interested in. Paige Turco brought such nuance to her role as a mom, dealing the the tension of being a sole parent and provider, dealing with some pain from her past, she was outstanding. Barry Bostwick is the kind of guy as a kid I would want to hang out with. People who’ve watched it, in the industry and people who watched in their homes, everyone has a different favorite.
What are some of the movies that inspired you to become a film-maker?
The movies that have really moved me, I’m dating myself here, but I am a fan of the old Hitchcock movies, “North by Northwest.” The movie “Rain Man” with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise — the emotional journey that it took me on is amazing. My all-time favorite movie is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” If I could ever make a movie like that I would have fulfilled my purpose.
What are you working on next?
We won the night on April 16, meaning we got the most viewers of any show that night, so that should make it easier for us. We already have another movie coming up on July 16. It’s called “The Jensen Project” and it is a high-tech thriller about a secret society of geniuses. A mom and dad and son get sucked into this adventure. There will be more and we’re hoping some of these might get picked up as series as well.
Great news! I have FIVE DVDs to give away and there is a very special extra: it includes a bonus CD with eleven songs inspired by the film, some used on the soundtrack. The first five people to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your favorite family movie will get the prize.
NOTE: Prizes provided by the studio; all opinions are my own.