“Snowmen” star Bobby Coleman with Writer/Director Robert Kirbyson. (Courtesy of Mpower Pictures © 2009)
“It was going to be the most amazing winter ever … the year that I died.”
So opens the new family film “Snowmen,” a happy – yes, happy – adventure starring Bobby Coleman as 10-year-old Billy Kirkfield, Ray Liotta as his father Reggie and a cast of endearing characters played by Christopher Lloyd, Christian Martyn, Doug E. Doug, Bobb’e J. Thomson, Josh Flitter and Demi Peterson.
“Snowmen” is the first feature film by Canadian writer and director Robert Kirbyson, who pays homage to his father, his brother and his boyhood friends.
The film is produced by Mpower Pictures, the movie company of Stephen McEveety, who also produced “The Passion of the Christ,” “We Were Soldiers,” “Braveheart” and many other films for Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions.
As WND reported, “Snowmen” had a very limited run in movie theaters. John Shepherd, a producer and co-founder of Mpower Pictures, described “Snowmen” as “Braveheart for kids,” and this brand new family classic is available on DVD from WND.
It’s almost impossible to describe this totally surprising movie without spoilers.
Thus, Kirbyson told WND, “The movie’s kind of a tough sell when you first describe it. One spoiler that I do want people to know is that ‘Snowmen’ has a happy ending. I want parents to know there are some things that sensitive kids might struggle with, but hang in there because there’s a very happy ending.”
Happy ending and all, production of “Snowmen” seemed to be a series of tests for Kirbyson.
“We almost didn’t make the movie because we couldn’t find the right lead actor,” he said.
Many had auditioned, Coleman was last, and when he burst into the room the producers “instantaneously” knew he was Billy.
The cast, crew and producers of “Snowmen” (Courtesy of Mpower Pictures © 2009)
“I remember McEveety turning around and saying, ‘We’re making a movie!’” Kirbyson recalled. “Bobby’s acting and his personality told us ‘This is Billy Kirkfield.’ He’s just such a joy that kid.”
Coleman told WND, “When I first read the script, I read it with my mom, and when we were finished, we were both crying. … It’s like a diamond in the dirt. It’s just really rare right now. So, I really hope this movie will bring up more movies like it.”
“Snowmen” is set in a snowy Colorado town. We meet Billy in his front yard, where he and his best friends, the gentle Lucas Lamb (Martyn) and the feisty Jamaican Howard Garvey (Thomson), dream big while building a snow fort. However, when the boys discover that an old man has seemingly died alone, everything changes. Billy thinks he must do something great to make sure he is never forgotten. And so the boys choose their monumental task: They must break the Guinness World Record for making the most snowmen in one day.
Along the way, Jason Bound (Flitter) and his gang of bullies push the threesome around. Lovely Gwen Nowakowski (Peterson) encourages Billy to live his dreams. But the boys’ quest for greatness makes adults and kids laugh out loud.
So why is death in this kids’ film? As Kirbyson tells it, when he was Billy’s age his father died from leukemia, but death introduced him to the meaning of life.
“We went to a United Church of Canada, but it was sporadic. More towards the end of my dad’s life we started going because that’s what started to become important to him. It was a tradition for me; it wasn’t personal, so when he passed away it got me asking the questions that the character Billy asks: ‘Why am I here? Does my life matter?’ And that got me on a quest to figure out the answers, which eventually led me to the church and a very personal choice and now I am a Christian,” said Kirbyson
“It’s hard because people say ‘Oh, that’s so tragic!’ It is, but from that tragedy the greatest thing that could ever happen to me resulted; which was finding my faith.”
And there is more to the story. In “Snowmen,” the character Howard is named after Kirbyson’s boyhood next-door neighbor and friend, whose early death from a brain aneurism moved the whole community, even a tough kid who became the model for Jason. Finally, the most heroic act in the movie was inspired by Kirbyson’s brother.
“I’ve worked mostly with children in my career, especially directing,” Kirbyson explained, “and the things that they ask would seem so inappropriate if they were adults. I wish they weren’t inappropriate. Too bad we grow out of asking huge and difficult questions.
“All the producers and everyone at Mpower is Christian,” said Kirbyson. “We didn’t want to tell people what to believe, we just wanted to get people asking the questions. If you ask those questions, if you seek the truth, you’ll end up finding what we found.”
Ray Liotta, (“Goodfellas,” “Field of Dreams”) and comedian/actor Doug E. Doug (“Cosby,” “Justified”) play the loving and unique fathers of Billy and Howard, respectively. Liotta was so taken with “Snowmen” he signed on as an executive producer and brought his daughter, Carson, to a play a small part.
Randy Jackson of “American Idol” fame produced a kid-friendly cover of the Modern English hit “I Melt with You” as the movie’s theme song and also became an executive producer.
On the movie sets, Kirbyson said McEveety and Shepherd had great influence. McEveety, especially, wanted all children to have hope about this life and the next.
“There were so many scenes that could have gone wrong and the worse things got, the more John Shepherd prayed,” said Kirbyson.
For example, the climax of the movie takes place on a frozen lake. Because of the film’s low budget, they had only three days to shoot all of the lake scenes. The first two days were so warm the lake was melting and almost nothing could be filmed. The third day was freezing cold, but when the crew and actors arrived, a blizzard made it impossible to shoot.
“You know, for most of the movie I took every kind of shock in stride. But that was my moment of crisis in faith. That was the day that I broke. I thought maybe God didn’t want me to make this movie. There was no way we were going to finish the movie in half a day. So I went to John Shepherd and said, ‘There’s nothing I can do to make this movie.’”
Shepherd told Kirbyson, “OK, let’s pray.” As everyone else ate lunch, Shepherd remained in his trailer praying.
“Halfway through lunch,” said Kirbyson, “we could see that it was clearing up outside. The sun began to shine and everything shot on the lake was shot in half a day.”
Kirbyson’s debut feature was edited by his wife, Catherine. It won audience awards at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival; it was named Best Feature Film at the 2011 SPROCKETS Toronto International Film Festival for Children and Youth; and received the Heartland Film Festival’s Truly Moving Picture Award.
In a word, Christian Martyn’s character describes “Snowmen” best. “Profound!”