Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/21/22

Just in time. As National First Responders Day (10/28) approaches, the film First Responders shines a cinematic spotlight on the police, firefighters, and medical professionals who put their lives on the line for the rest of us every day. The movie releases in theaters as a two-night-only Fathom Event on Monday, October 24th and Tuesday October 25th. My conversation with executive producer Rick Eldridge follows the trailer.

JWK: Tell me about First Responders. What made you decide to do this movie?

Rick Eldridge: Looking at our world today with a lot of the counterculture and all that’s happening in our world, we saw First Responders as people (who) were being defunded. There’s all kinds of dialogue going on around that. We were actually shooting another movie and some of us were sitting around talking about this and we said “You know, we should do a story on it.” That was the birthing of this about two years ago and it’s now come to fruition.

We went ahead and (set our tentative) date which is First Responder Week – which is next week. We made a film that’s a dramatic feature that humanizes the story of these men and women that sacrifice themselves for us every day and deals with some of the things that they deal with on a daily basis and then some of the ramifications of that as well – some tough subject matters like PTSD which we deal with. We felt like it was a very timely movie…We felt it’s a good time to do it. We’re very excited about it. It’s something that will honor and give dignity to these men and women that do so much for us every day – as well as their families and the sacrifices they make.

JWK: That’s what interested me in doing this interview. Next week, as you said, is First Responders Week and October 28th is actually First Responders Day. You know it strikes me that there should actually be a national holiday like we have Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Not to take away from those days – which are important – but I think the people who risk their lives for us at home are also very worthy of a day of honor and respect. I think that would be a good thing.

RE: I think that would be a great thing…You’re absolutely right. We need to take a moment and think about the sacrifices these families make and these individuals make for our safety, for our security, for what we take for granted many days as we go through our normal life.

JWK: Especially in recent years and, I guess, particularly on the police side, they’ve gotten a lot flack.

RE: Yeah, absolutely. Of course, I live in Florida and we just went through a major hurricane. It’s remarkable to see these folks from actually multiple states that come into an area. You know, we’re evacuating and they’re heading in. They’re going into it! They’re gonna be there to be with the people that couldn’t get away and to help with recovery. It’s just absolutely remarkable the things that they do.

JWK: It’s amazing. They literally run into the fire when other people are running away from it.

RE: Yeah. One of the things that we deal with that I think is a very timely message – and something people are just in the last couple of years beginning to talk about more – is the PTSD and the things that these guys deal with that are even beyond their profession and what they do. You know, it’s hard to roll up on a crash and see what you see or maybe go into a fire and have to carry somebody out. It’s implanted in your mind. You can’t just shove that on a shelf and go home and not let it bother you.

So, we talk about the struggles of that in the film and we deal with that and actually layer that with what I think is really the only answer which is a comfort and a peace that comes from a Higher Power. That being our God. We have even a situation where one of the fellas is dealing with this. He has a situation…that causes him to want to retire from what he’s doing. He can’t function properly. He’s having nightmares. At one point when it gets at its highest peak he says “If this is what it’s like I don’t if I can take this anymore! I don’t know if I want to live anymore!” We see where his wife is at the end of her rope.

Many times we take things and we hold things in and we carry things on our back and then eventually we realize this is beyond us – just as she does. She kinda goes away from the house, sits in the car and literally cries out to God and says “God, we can’t do this! We need your help!” How many times to do we do that? We kinda say “God, I think I’ve got this one. I’ll take this one” and then it gets to a point where we have to call on Him.

So, we show that element in the movie too with the sequences with some of these characters. I think it’s very real. We used (real) first responders to kinda help us along each element of production to make sure we were authentic. We didn’t want to Hollywoodize anything…We wanted it to be real and so we’re proud of that – the production values and all and then the authenticity that these guys were able to give us in the process of making the movie.

JWK: So, you’ve had a good response from actual first responders?

RE: Yeah, we have. It’s been fantastic. We’ve got a couple of national organizations that are supporting it, getting behind it, creating an awareness for it. One organization, The Bridge, which works specifically with trauma and with some of these folks that have dealt with those kinds of issues (is) one of the main partners with us on the film as well. We’re excited about that…we’ll be doing a release at the American Film Market in LA and actually giving a donation back to this first responder organization that does so much to help people as they deal with trauma.

JWK: It seems to me that there are a lot of potential stories here. Have you considered extending the film into a TV series?

RE: Yeah, we have thought about it. I mentioned we’re working with a couple of organizations that are national organizations that help and support first responders…It could very easily turn into that as we go forward…One of the things that Fathom allowed us to do is at the end of the dramatic feature we have three police/fire/rescue individuals that are high-level individuals that are career people. They’ve been professionals in that field all of their lives. They talk about these things and talk about how it relates to them and some of those that worked with them in their career and then what they did. It really validates a lot of the stories that we told in the dramatic feature. It’s easy to look at some of the things that happen – and, especially, some of the spectacular nightmares and things that one of our characters faces – and say “Aw, that doesn’t really happen, does it? They’re just kinda like dramatizing that.” Well, this definitely validates that (as the responders say) “No, it really does happen and these are the kind of things that people do deal with every day.” So, very powerful and emotional messages that happen from actual responders at the end of the movie. We’re so proud that they were able to come on board and be a part of it as well.

JWK: I’ve actually written for this blog about a lot of your movies in the past. Recently, for example, I spoke with Pat Boone and Eric Close recently about The Mulligan which was a nice movie they starred in together.

RE: I really try to do projects that can make a difference. We want them to (engage) at a high level. We want them to be able to stand up as stand-alone stories, obviously – but, for me, it’s not about genre. I mean it doesn’t have to be a sports movie. It doesn’t have to be a drama or comedy or anything. Whatever we do, the grid that I use is that it really can make a difference and inspire, challenge and motivate. I feel like it’s important that we take the time to make great stories but also great stories that can affect change and that can cause us to think deeply. So, the inspiration of it is important to me – and the redemption. All of those things we want to layer into the films that we do. As we evaluate projects, those are the kinds of things we try to find time to do. So, it’s very important to us.

JWK: I was actually at your website and I saw your three criteria for greenlighting a film are its prospects for ROI (Return on Investment) which, of course, is obvious, whether the storyline has redeeming value and whether there a “Giving Back Component.” I find that last one interesting. It makes you stand out from other companies. Can you talk about that?

RE: Yes, absolutely. I mentioned that earlier. That’s just what we’re getting ready to do when we go to American Film Market in LA just in a couple of weeks – to actually deliver a check to a first responder organization that’s working with some of these trauma organizations.

I really think there’s a a three-part ROI of the projects that we do. First of all, it has to have those components that I just discussed (starting with) a redemptive message, values and inspiration. Secondly, we want to do films (where) we can identify opportunities to give back…(With) The Mulligan movie, that we just finished and released earlier this year, we had two organizations that worked very closely with us there. They were College Golf Fellowship which deals specifically with faith around the game of golf for college players that are hopefully going into a pro career and also with the Payne Stewart Kids Golf Foundation teaching young individuals the values, virtues and the honor of the game – and helping them with life decisions and life goals and objectives. Payne Stewart was all about that. Those are a couple of the organizations that we supported around The Mulligan. Of course, (with) this one it’s very natural that we work with organizations like The Bridge and (other) first responder organizations. That’s an important component. Then the third ROI is we want to be able to be successful. We want to tell stories in a way that people will see them, buy tickets and we can keep doing it. We can be able to do it again. So, it’s a three-part Return on Investment that’s very important to us.

JWK: Also, I see from your  website that the letter R plays a big part in your life. Your production company is called ReelWorks Studios. Your name is Rick and then you have Randall, Roland and and Rodney Eldridge holding down important posts. This is like a family affair I guess, right?

RE: You know what? I grew up on a studio lot. In our earlier career, my company was contracted to Universal and Disney. I have six children. All of my kids grew up on the studio lot. It was kind of fun because I’d be working on a show and Nickelodeon, which was across the lot, would call and say “Rick, we need a bunch of extras! Can you help us?!” They knew I had six kids…With them and their friends, it was pretty easy to get 20 kids together. So, it was kind of a joke and kind of fun.

Our kids grew up in that world. They grew up in the entertainment business. So, it was kind of natural for them. A couple of our kids have kinda branched off and done other things but music, the arts, creativity and storytelling have all been a part of our lives. Our kids grew up in that. So, what a blessing that we’re able work alongside of them now and they can be part of the business and part of the storytelling process.

It’s funny. I did the movie The Mulligan and two of my kids actually helped write the screenplay and they actually have other jobs. They have other businesses that they’re involved in but they still have their toe in the entertainment business. One of them is a doctor, one is a corporate executive with a major funding organization but they stay very in tune with the things that they were growing up doing and love. It’s a real blessing to do that.

My daughter Kasey Brennan is a producer, writer and…has her own TV show here in Central Florida. So, it’s just kinda fun. It’s a blessing and honor to be able to work with my kids and see that next generation still doing it.

JWK: I guess the doctor and the corporate executive are probably pretty familiar with the game of golf.

RE: Yeah, that’s right.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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