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Interview: Randall Wallace on the Braveheart Life

Posted on September 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Randall Wallace tells his story, from seminarian to songwriter to screenwriter of the Oscar-winning “Braveheart” and other inspiring films in his new book, Living the Braveheart Life: Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart. It was a great pleasure to talk to him.

You write a lot about fathers in the book. Why are they so important?

I think in everybody’s male or female, we come to see our dads in a unique way. They represent a kind of strength or weakness. They represent a power. They are our first contract with the mystery of manhood. I heard years ago, I believe it was when I was in the seminary, that some psychologists say that the way we feel about God is almost always directly linked to the way we feel about our own earthly fathers. That if our dads were loving and kind and strong then we tend to think of God that way. If our dads were violent and brutal and unpredictable then we have that impression of God and we spend our lives dealing with that. I say in the book that I believe the father relationship is one of the pinnacles of the Braveheart life, and I mean that not even if it’s not your biological father, you need to find a man in your life you can respect and you need to find someone in your life that you can parent even if that’s not your biological child. And not necessarily mean to raise them from infancy but to have that kind of loving, caring relationship with.

Was there really a piano-playing pig you named Pigarache?

Absolutely true story Nell. I majored in religion and spent a year in seminary after that and got the opportunity then to go to Nashville to explore writing and writing songs like Kris Kristofferson. He encouraged me to go to Nashville and my first job manager at the animal shows at Opryland, USA. And one of the shows that I managed was called Barnyard Animal Opry. We had 8000 people a day who would see this show. The barnyard animals were trained to play musical instruments. We had a razorback who played the piano and I named him Pigerache and put a little bright, red sequin bow tie around his neck. He was a show stopper I tell you. You can imagine how proud my parents were.

You are great at creating strong female characters in your films, and in the book you talk about women warriors.

Copyright 2015 Thomas Nelson
Copyright 2015 Thomas Nelson

The first book I ever did, the first two books in fact, had women as the main characters and one of the greatest compliments I ever got was when an editor from New York who was not my editor said she thought Randall Wallace writes the strongest women characters in fiction today. I thought that was a really striking compliment particularly because I didn’t think of a particular difference. When people ask me how I write strong women characters I’ve always said I just imagine myself in the situation that they are in and I suppose that their feelings in that situation would be mine, that we all long for a reason to have faith, even in the darkness. The power of believing as opposed to knowing, meaning that when we know or we think we know we’re relying on what we take to be facts but when those facts are proven to be wrong then our knowing crumbles. When we believe we are acting on something that’s greater than knowledge, we’re acting on a hope and courage. Women I believe manifest that sometimes in a deeper way than even men do because women rely on their intuition more than their brute strength and intuition I think is one of the first steps on the road to faith.

You’re not ashamed to talk about faith but that’s very rare today. Why do you think that our culture makes it so difficult to acknowledge that?

I believe the difficulty arises from what we have all perceived to be the falseness of people who present themselves as having faith when what they’re trying to do is convince others of what they don’t believe themselves and that is manifested in the people who preach a certain morality and don’t live by it themselves. People who preach tolerance but are in fact intolerant. The strange thing about this is that intolerance is so often manifested by people who claim to be tolerant. That is the secular world is more hypocritical it seems to me than the faith based world is. We’ve entered the age of the thought police in which we want to say that it should be illegal to hate. And hatred is hateful. Hatred is heinous but we are free creatures and if we suppress the freedom of other people then I believe what we lose is their freedom to change and grow and love. I didn’t invent that way of being. I believe God did. That’s why we are creatures of free will. God created us I believe and I say this in the book for the purpose of love and that’s why we have the choice to love or not because if we don’t, it’s not love, its fear and God is the opposite of fear.

The word “freedom” of course is very important in “Braveheart” and which you have it carved on your mantle.

And carved into the stone of my heart.

Copyright 1995 Paramount
Copyright 1995 Paramount
And which you found that word and motto connected to your family when you first started researching your ancestry. So tell me a little bit more about what that means to you, freedom from what and for what?

Nell, all I have to use is metaphors. I don’t pretend that I have now figured out how to replace freedom with new rules of my own. I see freedom as the power to grow. Freedom from fear. Freedom to move into a life of faith, freedom to live a brave life. I think that the restriction on our lives is an idea that everything we do matters, that we are God. I think the fundamental problem is the violation of the first commandment and that all the other commandments are wrapped up in the first one, love God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, have no other God before me. If we are saying that God is our physical lives then we will be condemned to a life of fear and trying to hold on to what we can’t hold on to. Young people ask me a lot when I’m teaching it various schools. I’m frequently asked by sincere, ambitious, young Christians, “How do you hold onto your faith in a business and an atmosphere that is so hostile today?” And I tell them that I don’t hold on. Holding on is fear and I’m manifesting what you just described. If I am afraid that someone else’s expression of their belief or their disbelief in anything that I believe is going to make me crumble then I am rigid and dead. If I am alive and open and trusting that whatever challenge I encounter I don’t have to come up with the answer to that God will give me the strength, the wisdom, whatever it is that I need or even the silence whatever it is that I need to respond and to grow myself and I am the only one that I am really responsible for or. And I think I said in the book there was a rabbi who once said, “if you don’t see God in other people they’ll never see God in you. “And I try to do what Jesus saw, when Jesus saw in the outcasts of society people who were flawed in every way, he saw in them the love of God. And those people were the quickest to recognize that he was the son of God.

My favorite insight from the book, which I think you’ve put very beautifully, is when you say that prayers makes us listen. I think that’s something that is fundamentally misunderstood by many people about the purpose of prayer. So I’d like you to talk about that.

This comes from hard personal experience. I so often approach prayer out of fear. My fear is that whispering voice inside me that it says if you don’t say just the right words or if you don’t pray for everyone you love every single day then God is going to let those people be hurt and God is going to turn those words against you. This is not the voice of God. Jesus clearly teaches the Father knows what’s in your heart already and who of you has a son ask for a fish would give him a stone so don’t worry about the words. And then I think I’m always giving God advice: make these to do lists for God. “I know you’ve been waiting for instructions from me.” [Laughs} It goes to that humility that says God is God and God and I’m just trying to bring myself into hearing God and listening for God. And that’s part of what I need to tell myself every day in one of my prayerful meditations that I listen for God. I don’t hesitate to do that, to pray for others. I think the Bible teaches that we should intercede but it’s not my power or my responsibility that work there. It’s God. Clearly I don’t do very well in the rest of my life but I need to listen and I recognize it and prayer reminds me of that. That’s part of the majestic mystery of prayer.

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Interview Writers

Secretariat

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Profanity: Brief mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense scenes, family conflicts, sad death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 8, 2010
Date Released to DVD: January 25, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B004DK5CW4

This is the story of two champions. One is the most celebrated horse of the 20th century, the only non-human athlete to be included on Sport’s Illustrated’s 1999 list of the top 100 athletes of the last hundred years for achieving one of the most sought-after titles in sports, the racing triple crown, with records unbroken decades later.

The other was the housewife who won him by being on the losing side of a coin toss.

Secretariat, called “Red” by everyone but the officials and record-keepers, was a winner from his very first moments, when he astonished the small group who observed his birth by standing up more quickly than any foal they had ever seen.

His owner was a bit more of a long shot. Penny Chenery Tweedy was a housewife and full-time mother when she took over what she and her family thought of as temporary management of her ailing father’s farm. The farm was in trouble. Its one asset was the upcoming coin toss to determine which of two foals about to be born would remain with the farm, and which would go to the owner of the stud horse. Penny (Diane Lane) lost the coin toss but won the horse she wanted, bred for both speed and stamina. She called him Red.

Director Randall Wallace knows how to make an audience cheer (he wrote “Braveheart” and wrote and directed “We Were Soldiers”). By focusing on the least likely character to succeed and the challenges she faced, he adds some tension to the story. We know Secretariat is going to win, but do not know whether Penny will be able to keep him, or how her decision to take over the farm will affect her family. And he introduces us to Secretariat’s team, played by a superb supporting cast. John Malkcovich adds flair as Quebecois trainer Lucien Laurin, who “dresses like Superfly and is trying to retire.” Senator/”Law & Order” star Fred Dalton Thompson plays mentor Bull Hancock with just the right avuncular rumble. Margo Martindale, one of those know-her-face-but-don’t-know-her-name character actors, delivers the perfect combination of asperity and loyalty as the devoted assistant who came up with the name Secretariat. Newcomer Otto Thorwarth shows us why the right jockey matters so much, and “True Blood’s” Nelsan Ellis is enormously moving as the man who spent more time with the triple-crown-winner than anyone else. And what a pleasure, as always, to see the exquisite Diane Lane, at last in a role worthy of her talent and beauty. In this movie, she is the champion who gets to run the race she was born for.

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Sports

Interview: Randall Wallace of ‘Secretariat’

Posted on October 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Randall Wallace, seminarian-turned-film-maker, knows how to raise the spirits and fill the hearts of the audience. In “Braveheart” and “We Were Soldiers,” he gave us some of the most inspiring screen heroes of our time. And now, as director of “Secretariat,” he takes one of the greatest 20th century stories of faith, determination, and unmatched achievement with the saga of the Triple Crown champion owned by a self-described “housewife” named Penny Tweedy who won him on a coin toss.IMG_8677.JPG
What makes a champion?
The victory occurs inside the champion before it occurs outside the champion. The task before the story-teller is to inspire and you can’t do that unless you are inspired. You have to change the story until it inspires you, until you have to shout it from the rooftops. Every warrior wants a battle worth his blood and Penny found that for herself. That’s what I love about being a story-teller, finding those defining moments. There are stories I heard as a child about a deceased ancestor that told me everything I needed to know about who they were and who I was supposed to be. That’s what you look for in a story. In this one, Penny not only declares who she is, she discovers who she is. Everything logical around her was saying, “You must do this” and she said, “No, I will do that.” It gave me goosebumps!
It is such fun to get a glimpse of the real Penny in the film.
She’s one of the people I not only admire the most but am most captivated by. She is really striking and uplifting. You can’t take your eyes off her. She’s magic. And she puts up with no nonsense. She’ll tell you exactly the way it is. Part of her was, “If this is done, I want to be around to see it, and have my say.” What she told me is that the right people finally came along and were willing to put the money into it to make it right.
I was very happy to see such a terrific movie with a family-friendly PG rating.
“Family movie” sometimes means mediocre. But this is a story that will speak to a person of any age or gender and confront you with the power and excitement and force you to consider what courage means. I found myself writing in my own journal “Belief is a stronger word than no.”
There’s a prevalent attitude in movie-making, politics, religion, education, certainly in entertainment that’s a sort of contempt for the audience. So many movies by the approach they choose to have indicate a lack of faith in the audience and assume they are attention-deficient. No they’re not! They’re craving something that matters, and you’re not giving it to them. When you just turn up the volume and substitute noise for excitement, you are admitting defeat and you’ve broken the covenant.
How did you make the film exciting when you had to show so many different races, all with the outcomes already known?
That is exactly what the challenge was. The audience says “I’m here, show me.” We can’t show them the same events from the same perspective over and over. I had to structure the architecture of the events. The first race is a build-up and we cut away from the moment to a freeze-frame. The next is the first time we’ve ever seen him run and he is so far behind and then he wins. Then there was the one that was 1000 frames a second as the horse has all four of his legs off the ground at once. That shot replaced a whole montage sequence. It’s far more fascinating to see it articulated in this way. That stood for six different victories. And then the Derby and the Belmont each had their own structure. The Derby we build up forever, slower and slower, and then there’s the silence which is in a way the loudest moment in the movie. And then the Belmont was going to go the other way, slow leading up to the race and then boom, what’s he doing?
You took a risk showing one race from the perspective of the people watching at home on television.
The Preakness was problematic. How is it going to look different? I had two enormous advantages. I had the actual footage which looked good. But the greater one to me was that the story was screaming for an answer to the question about the family. In the beginning, Penny makes a choice that seems to be moving away from family. Her family was there; she was somewhere else. And as a person who’s gotten on a family knowing I would not see my family for months. On my first film, I kissed them goodbye as they were sleeping at 4:30 and then again after they were in bed asleep at night. I only saw them asleep for months.
The pull you feel to show my sons as hard as it is for me and for them that a man takes care of business. I am loving them and that is defined by how I do it, not what I do but why I do. The most powerful thing I could show is what the family is feeling at home when they are watching this, to see her husband “as if the scales have fallen from his eyes.” And I got to show that in a scene that was about a horse race.
What do you look for in your projects?
People want to work on a movie that matters. And they look to the director. The speech I gave everybody was this: I’ve seen all your resumes and there are might be five films, there might be fifty. But the ones that stand out, the movies like “Chariots of Fire” or “Dances with Wolves,” this is one of those. We had a limited budget but what we did not lack was passion and imagination. We had the finest people in the world working on this film because it mattered to them.
What makes the story of Secretariat so captivating?
The story, ultimately, is about transcendence, about going beyond what anyone thought was possible, even the horse. His commitment to run that fast, and it was his choice, was what made it possible, and also what made it dangerous. He was running not against the horses in the race, but about every horse who ever ran, and then, after he rounded that corner, for the glory.

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