Joe Amman is a 70-year old small town banker who suffers a great tragedy in his life. Having just lost his son-in-law and four-year old granddaughter in an accident, Joe makes the painful decision that he no longer believes in God. And even if the Almighty does exist, under no uncertain terms does Joe continue to want to have a relationship with Him.
But then, something strange happens to Joe. God contacts him directly and says He has a great mission for him, one that will not only inspire the world in a tremendous way, but will lead Joe to trust and believe in Him again. There’s only one slight problem … God wants Joe to play in a world championship golf tournament, even though he hasn’t swung a golf club in 35 years! Through this life-changing experience, our humbled servant learns that the seemingly impossible is possible through faith and a second chance.
Walking with Herb is a new Fathom Movie event set to make its debut in theaters nationwide on April 30th, with subsequent screenings on May 1st and May 3rd. Starring Academy Award nominees Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver) and Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13), the much anticipated comedic sports film also features George Lopez (George Lopez) as a rather unorthodox but endearing golf caddy.
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I recently spoke with Walking with Herb director Ross Marks about the movie, why God never gives up on us, and how He shows us what is possible in life if we are open to it.
What attracted you to want to take this on and direct this film? What brought you close up to it?
I had read the novel and it really resonated with me. It was about two things that I love: God and golf. So, that was appealing to me, but I also love the message of the film that no matter what your age, no matter how old you are, your best days are now. They are right in front of you. You can still hope and believe. Anything is possible. And what I’ve seen so often with faith based-films is they lean toward a much younger audience where typically a child is contacted by God, or a child experiences a miracle. It usually happens to a much younger person than a 70 year old. So, I thought it would be nice to make the film for an older generation. To me, we neglect our elderly so often, that I think it is possible that no matter what your age is, you can still be actively involved. The tagline for the movies is, ‘Never lose hope.’ No matter what your age, you can still have that hope, faith, and belief, and great things can happen for you. It’s never too late to dream.
Your main character, Joe, is not unlike a lot of people today. He’s struggling with his faith and struggling with his purpose in life. Most of that’s due to this unexpected tragedy that you mentioned where he subsequently loses part of his family. But he hears from God, who tells him that he needs to inspire the world by playing golf. Most people would walk away from that notion either because they think they’re personally crazy or the idea just seems too radical. Why does Joe decide to listen to all this?
In the movie, God literally contacts him and reaches out to him saying, “I have a mission for you.” And He does some kind of supernatural thing to show that He is real and is present. God actually sends his own messenger, an angel to guide him. But it’s a movie, not real life. And I believe in life. I know for me personally; I think God reaches out to all of us. And I think God plants a dream in us. I think God contacts us where we are at in our time of need. For me, I had come out of a very, very dark place (in my life). Then I felt God had contacted me and said, “I need you to make this movie.” Making a movie is as hard as winning a major golf tournament. It’s very difficult. You need to write a good screenplay. You’ve got to raise the money. You’ve got to cast it. You’ve got to shoot it. You’ve got to edit it. You’ve got to distribute it. It’s very, very difficult, but I think God reaches out in context to all of us. It’s whether we choose to listen, follow through and believe in that truth, that God puts in our hearts.
Very true. So Joe, the main character played by Edward James Olmos is in his late sixties. For so many people, once they get into their sixties, they believe that life is starting to slow down for them. Plus, they may feel like they’re not needed as much anymore. Joe seems to represent what is possible for people as they age. Is 65, truly the new 35?
That’s certainly one of the messages of the movie, because Edward’s character is 70 years old and seemingly his best days are behind him. His relationship with his wife has suffered as a result of his lack of faith. His wife is very faithful. She believes (in God) and prays. She’s the one, because of the tragedy who says, “Hey, if you turn to God during times of tragedy, He will guide you.” And Joe responds with, “No way, I’ve turned away from that.” So, there’s a rift between Joe and his wife. One of the good things that happens as a result of him regaining his faith is not just the accomplishment of his personal dream, but also his relationship with his wife grows.
We are currently living in a world that I would say is less than optimistic. Yet this movie seems to be a breath of fresh air. It’s one that uplifts and it’s one that entertains. Why is it so important to have a movie these days that reminds us and shows us what is possible in life?
I think that the message of the movie is exactly the message we need right now. This is exactly what we’re going through with the pandemic with all of the death and all of the suffering economically and socially. It makes you really question, why would God do this to us? Why would God unleash this pandemic and this virus upon humanity? And if God did this and there is a God, then I question our relationship. And that’s exactly what happens in the movie. Joe suffers a tragedy and questions the relationship, but he still trusts, believes, and comes out of it even better. So, never losing hope is exactly what we need to have now, coming out of the pandemic. We have to trust and believe that God has a plan and that better days are in front of us. There’s a reason for everything and to still have that faith and trust in God is very important. The main character in this movie has that. I believe that if we all have that attitude coming out of this challenging time, it will end really well for all of us.
This movie has a very good cast as we’ve been discussing. It includes Edward James Olmos, George Lopez, and Kathleen Quinlan, just to name three. Having such good talent to work with, as a director, does this make your job more challenging or does it make it easier?
It makes it infinitely easier. I was very blessed as a young director to have Garry Marshall, who was a great director, writer, and producer, to mentor me. He hired me to direct a movie called The Twilight of the Golds and really taught me so much about being a film director. And one of the things that Garry told me was, “Cast really well and then keep your mouth shut.” So, that was great advice because when you cast an Edward James Olmos, an Academy Award nominee, and you cast Kathleen Quinlan an Academy Award nominee, you’re getting a really high caliber actor. Periodically, I would step in and kind of guide them and maybe remind them of some things happening in the story. But there was very little I had to do; it was nearly effortless on my part. And George Lopez, by the way, I believe, is one of the most under-appreciated actors that we have. He can do drama, he can do comedy, he can really do it all. He is so talented and has such a powerful charisma. He was a real blessing. So when you cast really well it makes the directing job a lot easier.
After people have seen Walking with Herb, what’s the one thing that you’d like to see audiences take away from the viewing experience? What’s your greatest hope for the film?
The late Mark Madoff, who wrote the movie said to me, “If you can touch one person with your work you’ve been successful.” So, if one person goes and sees “Walking with Herb” and they leave the film inspired and say, “You know what? I have this dream and I’m going to pursue it now,” or, “I didn’t think I could accomplish what I wanted to do, but now I’m going to. I’m going to try it. I believe that I can.” If that one person leaves the theater truly inspired enough to make a difference in their lives then it’s been a successful film for me.
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Watch a movie trailer for Walking with Herb: