Cameras instead of soap-box cars will roll April 7 at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio, as the filming of “25 Hill,” Corbin Bernsen’s All American Soap Box Derby-themed movie, officially commences.
After a short press conference at 8:30 a.m., Bernsen will hand over his director’s role temporarily to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic who will call “action.”
The first scene to be shot stars actors Nathan Gamble (“Marley & Me,” “The Dark Knight”) and Ralph Waite (“The Waltons”), as they swap stories of Derby dreams.
“25 Hill” is about 11 year-old Trey Caldwell (Gamble) whose dreams of Derby victory fade when his father Thomas, played by Tim Ormundson (“Psych,” “Judging Amy”) is killed fighting in Afghanistan. But Trey begins to rebuild those dreams with the help of a reluctant hero, a one-time derby champ Roy (Bernsen), who is contending with his own terrible heartbreak. A deep friendship is forged and wounds are healed under the dim light of a backyard garage, but the duos hopes are threatened when the Derby’s demise appears imminent.
Bernsen was inspired to write the screenplay after reading a story in USA Today in September about the All American Soap Box Derby’s financial difficulties. Since then, Bernsen not only wrote the script but raised $500,000, primarily out of Akron, to fund the film, a venture of Bernsen’s independent film company, Team Cherokee Productions. Although additional funding is needed to complete the movie as planned, Bernsen has faith the money will come through in time to shoot the final scenes at the Derby’s international race weekend in Akron in July. The Derby gets 10 percent of the film’s budget as a licensing fee, as well as a portion of future revenues
Bernsen hopes the film will help keep the Derby alive for generations to come.
“The Derby is a place for kids to dream, to learn, to connect with their families and each other. We need to fight for America, right now –fight for our traditions,” said Bernsen, of his motivation for the film. “The Derby has a rich history rooted deeply in the American values of simplicity, hard work and limitless vision. We can’t lose it.”
Despite a record number of racers (ages 8 to 17), the Derby has lost money three out of the past five years and has been without a title sponsor for three. The Derby was created during the Great Depression when kids– desperate for cheap entertainment –built cars out of soap boxes and raced them on neighborhood hills.
In addition to Nathan Gamble, Bernsen and Ormundson, the cast features Meg Foster (“Coming Up Easy,” “Xena”) as Roy’s wife, Audrey; Ralph Waite (“The Waltons”) as a seasoned Derby pro; Maureen Flannigan (“90210,” “7th Heaven”) as Trey’s mom; Rolanda Watts (“Return to Babylon,” “Days of Our Lives”) as Trey’s school principal; and Michael Tucker (“L.A. Law,” “D2: Mighty Ducks”) as an Akron banker. A handful of Northeast Ohio actors will have speaking roles and numerous area residents have been cast as extras.
The title “25 Hill” comes from a hill in Taft, Calif., where Bernsen’s mother, actress Jeanne Cooper, grew up. Part of the story takes place in Taft, but most of the film will be shot in Akron.
Akron, Ohio-headquartered All-American Soap Box Derby, founded in 1933, is one of the most established grassroots youth and family organizations in the United States. The Soap Box Derby sanctions races year round in over 150 cities and communities in the U.S. and in six foreign countries. The annual world championship is held each July at Derby Downs in Akron.
Los Angeles-based Team Cherokee Productions is engaged in the development, production and marketing of both film and television for specifically targeted audiences.
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