By Emily Manthei
Randall Wallace, whose previous credits include BRAVEHEART, WE WERE SOLDIERS and PEARL HARBOR, directs the new Disney release, SECRETARIAT this month. Besides writing and directing films, Wallace founded Wheelhouse Entertainment, with the goal of creating stories with classic values like honor, courage, love and sacrifice. Wallace seeks to portray these values in all of his films, and the other media content – books, video games and music, to name a few – that his company produces. I had the chance to ask Mr. Wallace about his spiritual background and the values that he wants to promote in his films.
DOVE: YOU WERE A RELIGIOUS STUDIES MAJOR IN COLLEGE. WHAT LED YOU IN THAT DIRECTION?
Randall: I grew up in a Christian home and we went to church regularly. I was baptized when I was 11, and all my life I related to the story of Christianity and identified myself as a follower of Jesus. I just always saw myself that way. The way I understood that was always different. I understood what that meant in different ways as I got older, but one thing was certain: it seemed impossible to do alone. It required faith, and a kind of surrender. When I went to college, I wanted to live my life for some greater purpose than satisfying my own human appetite: I wanted my life to matter. First of all, the only thing that makes my life important is that God gave me a life at all – it's not that I'm particularly important. But it means that what I should do with that life is to try to love people. When I was in divinity school, I was considering a career that would enable me to find my calling. And I was surrounded by others who wanted the same. I loved telling stories and writing songs, and the truth that stories convey. I was talking with our family pastor and he said “Are you interested in becoming a minister?” I said “I know that's the greatest calling, but I don't know if it's my calling.” The minister said to me, “It's a great calling, but the greatest calling is whatever God has in mind for you.” I asked my friends in seminary about it, and they said “If we could do what you do, which is writing stories and songs, we would do it. We want you to go do that. You're being true to us.” And that meant a lot to me: I knew I wasn't letting them down.
DOVE: AND YOU WENT ON TO BE A SONG-WRITER FROM THERE?
Randall: I had a job in Nashville working at a theme park working 60-70 hours a week and writing songs in my spare time. Some of them are published, but the first song that I really had any exposure with was the one I wrote with my composer, Nick, for We Were Soldiers called “Mansions of the Lord.”
DOVE: YOU'VE WRITTEN (AND DIRECTED) SOME POPULAR, SIGNIFICANT WAR FILMS. WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN MORE OF A DOMESTIC STORY LIKE SECRETARIAT? AND WHAT DOES IT HAVE IN COMMON WITH YOUR PREVIOUS FILMS?
Randall: Often-times people ask me why I do war movies; but I don't, I do love stories. I just put them in a war-like context. With this story [Secretariat], I had those same themes, but with an additional element: the affirmation that life is freer than we imagine it to be. It's one thing to be told, but I think there's a greater miracle, and it can only come with faith: the openness to the idea that God is greater than we are. One of my professors in college once said: “If you want God to laugh, just tell God your plans, because God's plan is greater than ours.” The fact that I make movies is one of those plans. The things I was trying to do were not nearly as great as what God had in mind for me. The story of Secretariat affirms that notion: that life can be wonderful. I want the audience to have a sense of joy and celebration at the end of the film.
One of the most exciting things about Secretariat is that it is the kind of movie that a family can watch together. There are so few things that move us that we can share like a great movie experience. All my stories have dealt with themes of courage, sacrifice, honor, love, but there was an element of tragedy in my other films that I would not have wanted an extremely young child to see. And with this film, I believe children from 7 to 8 and adults to 100 could enjoy this movie together.
DOVE: I LIKED THE MOTTO OF YOUR COMPANY: TO MAKE MEDIA CONTENT WITH CLASSIC VALUES OF LOVE, HONOR AND COURAGE. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO START A COMPANY?
Randall: When you're a writer, it's such a solitary profession. I spend all my writing time by myself. When you're directing, you're with other people and working for a common purpose – which is wonderful. After Braveheart, I felt my life extremely isolated. It doesn't make sense that after a great success, it can really isolate you from other people, but it does. So I got involved with creating Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity. I needed something like that and I thought others would too. Part of what I wanted my company to do was help that organization grow. We did do that. That was a wonderful thing of our company: now Hollywood Habitat has built hundreds of houses. Then we [Wheelhouse Entertainment] did We Were Soldiers and we're working on video games and books. We have a new arrangement with Tyndale and I'm writing a novel, “Touch” which will be out next year. My thought is to create entertainment that is in the same realm as Secretariat, Braveheart, We Were Soldiers – and that it will inspire.
DOVE: YOU ALSO WROTE THE END CREDIT SONG FOR SECRETARIAT. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION? IT'S SOMEHOW HYMN-LIKE.
Randall: I wanted to understand what the true heart of the story was. Often a song is 3 minutes long, but it's aimed at the soul of the story. I was thinking of the soul of the story, and that is when the song came to me. In Braveheart, the most famous line is, “Every man dies; not every man really lives.” I felt that same theme moved me to write that song. That's the essence of the story. That helps me figure out how I want to tell a tale and which scenes are important.
DOVE: I LIKE WHAT YOU SAID IN THE PRESS NOTES ABOUT TRANSFORMING THE STORY OF SECRETARIAT INTO THE MOVIE SECRETARIAT: “LET'S NOT LET THE FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF TELLING THE TRUTH.” IT SOUNDS A BIT LIKE C.S. LEWIS, WHO ALSO TALKS ABOUT STORIES HAVING THE POWER TO REVEAL A GREATER TRUTH THROUGH MYTH – SOMETHING THAT CAN'T REALLY BE EXPRESSED IN WORDS, BUT IS CARVED ON OUR HEARTS. HOW IS THIS TRUE OF SECRETARIAT'S STORY?
Randall: Let's be clear, first: I'm not trying to mislead or to change things. I want to find the truth and tell it in the most effective way. There may be a lot of statistics that surround a person's life, but if you clutter up an explanation of life with statistics, you really don't get to the heart of who someone is. If you asked me to talk about my father, I wouldn't start talking about how tall he was, how much he weighed; I would tell a story about something that he said to me when I was 6 or 7, or an experience. That is what a movie does. It's hard. You can have all of the facts, but you have not conveyed the truth, necessarily. Storytellers have to put themselves on the line and say, “These are the events that move me, and this touches my heart, and I hope it will touch yours too.” In Secretariat, there is a moment in which Eddie, the groom, shouts to the world that Secretariat is eating his breakfast. It's like he's shouting from the rooftops. At almost every screening, people have cheered when he says that. He didn't actually say that, but that is how he felt; that is true. I have seen pictures of this man, crying after Secretariat's death. That's how he felt about this horse. Even though the moment didn't really happen, I created that scene to capture how he felt.
John Malkovich, Diane Lane, Randall Wallace
Randall Wallace is currently working on releasing an album of some of the songs he has written, has a book called “Touch” coming out next summer, and is working on a film adaptation of his novel, “Love and Honor.”