by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation
Corbin Bernsen has some impressive credits behind him, including acting in L.A. Law, Touched By An Angel, Nash Bridges and Suing the Devil. Now the successful actor has turned filmmaker and his recent family-oriented film, 25 Hill, which he wrote, directed and also stars in, has received the Dove “Family-Approved” Seal for all ages.
The Dove Foundation spoke by phone with Mr. Bernsen recently and his enthusiasm about the reception 25 Hill is receiving was evident. The film focuses on a young boy named Trey Caldwell (Nathan Gamble) whose father died in Afghanistan. He had been working on a Soap Box Derby car with his father and hoped to finish the project with his dad. Enter local fire Chief Roy Gibbs (Bernsen) who works with Trey on the car and on the finer points of racing. Trey, in turn, is good for Gibbs, getting on him about his constant drinking which in large part is due to losing his son during 9/11.
Dove: Corbin, you wrote this film and directed it and acted in it. You practically did it all.
Corbin: “Yeah, you know we’re trying to carve our little niche here.”
Dove: With your successes in acting, what prompted you into filmmaking?
Corbin: “My Master’s degree in college was in playwriting. I’ve always written, I’ve written screenplays and tried to sell them. I’ve wanted to direct at times. But you know, I waited, I waited and I waited. It’s interesting because I’m fifty seven now and I really sort of ventured into making films if you will. Obviously I’ve been around filmmaking.”
Corbin added that it was interesting and different for him to now be the source of the material for his films to be made, with his writing and directing and doing behind-the-scenes work.
Dove: With the Soap Box Derby being a big part of this film did you purposely include that theme so as to give people interested in the sport a chance to cheer?
Corbin: “It started out that yes I wanted to bring recognition to the Derby. I wanted to bring revenue to the Derby. It’s interesting the way things unfold once you put your heart into it. Looking around at the core of the Derby what I’ve discovered is this notion of teamwork and respect, the family and community which is what the Derby’s all about. While I took it on as a project to help the Derby it started becoming a bigger picture for me, the Derby and what it represents. The fact that it’s disappearing is a mere reflection of society losing those values of teamwork and respect and family and community, certainly as far as teamwork and respect in Washington—we see the erosion of that. If you lose the Derby you lose the metaphor, you lose the country. So although it started out for the Soap Box Derby, it has become much more for me.”
Dove: Did the writing and thinking evolve a lot during the process of making this film?
Corbin: “The writing came very quickly; I’ll be honest with you. The promotion of the movie now is actually what is evolving. It’s not just about the Derby, it’s about the country. I think the movie to some degree plays on a larger level than a good sports movie that’s got a few tear-jerker moments and ‘save the derby’; I think this is what’s happening in the country. You know you’re guided to do certain things and after my dad died I just sort of opened my heart to all of it and it’s something that feels right.”
Corbin went on to say that he saw an article about the Soap Box Derby while sitting on a plane and the picture of making this film became clearer as time went on.
Dove: Sometimes the purpose we have changes and yet it becomes a purpose even more noble than we originally intended.
Corbin: “That’s one of the beauties of life. I don’t think the purpose or plan, no matter how much you plan it’s not what it appears to be.”
Dove: What’s some of the pluses of having made this film?
Corbin: “Some of the pluses on a personal level are that some of the people in the Derbies have shared incredible stories. Some of the comments made are like, ‘Thank you for making a movie about the life that we live’”.
Corbin said that the film has helped local derbies raise money for the sport. He added that a track in Culpepper, Virginia is building a premiere track and the movie has helped their fundraising efforts as it has heightened awareness of the Derby. He has been showing the movie on what he calls a “derby tour” and he targets areas which have derbies and invites people new to the sport to come see the film. “Watching their faces has been one of the highlights of the filmmaking process” he said.
In closing Corbin said the film was made in Akron, Ohio, and he loves the community feel of filmmaking and in future projects wants to keep his films community-involved. “I love the notion of community,” he said. “I love making films about community, for community, by community.”