For the creators of the faith-based baseball drama “Home Run,” making a movie that was real meant more than ensuring their lead actor looked right swinging a bat and running the bases.
“It's in the faith genre but it's a true life story,” Tulsa-based producer Carol Spann Mathews said.
“It's about not only addiction and recoveries, but it's about past hurt and how that passes down from generation to generation. It's about fathers and sons; it's about single parents. When people watch the film, we hear over and over again that they relate to a character, and it's different for everybody.”
The movie, filmed in Okmulgee and Tulsa in 2011, opened in theaters nationwide Friday.
Mathews, an award-winning television and film producer whose work has been featured on Trinity Broadcast Network, The Family Channel and ESPN, co-produced and worked as executive producer on “Home Run” with fellow Tulsan Tom Newman, whose credits include the Max Lucado adaptations “Resurrection” and “Christmas Child” as well as the 2005 missionary drama “End of the Spear.”
“That's really his passion ... telling positive, life-affirming messages and Gospel-oriented messages through movies,” Mathews said in a phone interview from New York, where she was promoting “Home Run.” “We just began to pray and consider what topics would be important. If you're going to spend the time to do a movie, let's make it worthwhile. Do something good for the world.”
“Home Run” focuses on fictional professional baseball star Cory Brand (Scott Elrod, who had a small role in the Oscar-winning drama “Argo”), whose alcohol abuse upends his life and career. After he is arrested for driving under the influence and suspended from his team for eight weeks, his agent (Vivica A. Fox, of the “Kill Bill” movies) ships him off to his hometown of Okmulgee, where he reluctantly enters a 12-step Celebrate Recovery program and takes over coaching a local youth baseball team.
Celebrate Recovery is a “biblical and balanced” program that helps people overcome their “hurts, hang-ups, and habits.” Offered in more than 19,000 churches nationwide, it is based on the words of Jesus rather than psychological theory.
“On Sunday mornings, every now and then somebody from that 12-step program would come up to our pulpit and share their story of recovery, and it was always so powerful. So I thought how interesting that it would be to have those kinds of stories in a film and those stories moving our main character along,” said Mathews, who attends Believers Church in Tulsa.
Taking the steps
As they embarked on the project, Mathews, Newman and associate producer Micah Barnard, along with two of the movie's screenwriters, decided to go through Celebrate Recovery themselves, which gave them invaluable insight into the program.
“We just got a lot out of it, walking through the 12 steps and personally kind of inventorying our own lives. It was a really positive thing for us. And it highly influenced the story and the trajectory of the character,” she said.
“I think it created a very honest script. We put it in front of people who've had similar struggles like our main character, and they said it looked exactly like them. They could really relate.”
For Mathews, making a movie that was honest about the real-life struggles Christians often face was vital. Programs such as Celebrate Recovery maintain strict confidentiality because “we're only as sick as our secrets,” she said.
“We tend to sometimes think that just because we've made a decision in our faith journey that everything needs to be neat and tidy. So we're embarrassed or ashamed if something in our lives isn't quite right, and we kind of hide. I'm hoping that this movie gets church people to begin to talk to each other more honestly about things that are plaguing them, so that they don't have to kind of live in shame and disappointment but can get better,” she said.
“It's important in the Christian church that we begin to talk about our real issues and that things don't get better all the sudden just because you become a Christian. That everybody — even Jesus' followers — still have issues in their lives that they need to work out.”