(KGET) — The cast and crew of any TV or film production based on a true story goes into the project feeling pressure. They want to tell the story in a way that is entertaining while still being true to the subject.
That pressure is compounded in a production like the new Disney+ film “Clouds.” Those involved in making the film for the streaming service about a teen battling a rare bone cancer who writes an inspirational song didn’t want to add to the pain the family and friends of the young man had already faced.
The solution was to go directly to the source.
Cast members and director Justin Baldoni met with those who knew Zach Sobiech (played by Fin Argus in the original production that will be available starting Oct. 16). They got first-hand knowledge about how Zach was a fun-loving high school student with raw musical talent living with osteosarcoma.
At the start of his senior year, Zach is ready to take on the world. That changes when he learns the disease has spread. Zach and his best friend and songwriting partner, Sammy (Sabrina Carpenter), decide to spend Zach’s limited time following their dreams. With the help of Zach’s mentor and teacher, Mr. Weaver (Lil Rel Howery), Zach and Sammy are given the chance of a lifetime and are offered a record deal.
Carpenter says it would have been wrong not to have met before the filming with the people they were portraying.
“That is such an incredible tool to have as actors,” Carpenter says. “We got to spend time with them and ask them questions. We could find out all their little nuances and things about their personalities that made them who they were.
“And how much they loved Zach.”
She adds that playing a real person adds pressure because everyone wanted to live up to the expectations of doing justice to the characters. But, there is no way Carpenter would have wanted to be part of “Clouds” without meeting her real-life counterpart.
The film is about the creative spirit, determination, family and a person’s place in the world. “Clouds” is also a tender love story and much of that fell to Madsion Iseman who plays Amy, the love of Zach’s far-to-short life.
Iseman was equally happy to meet the real Amy because it helped her fully understand the love story. And what she learned was this was not just a love story between Zach and Amy but was also a love story between Zach and his family (played by Tom Everett Scott and Neve Campbell).
“It is also a love story about Zach and his music,” Iseman says. “The movie tells so many stories about the different aspects of Zach’s life. It is less a movie about a kid who is dying and more about how he lives.”
Telling all those stories while being sensitive to the family started with Baldoni. He knew making “Clouds” would mean walking the very thin line between the film ending a celebration of life or an overly melodramatic tale.
“My goal was to walk the razor’s edge throughout the entire movie to get the tone right,” Baldoni says. “I wanted the movie to be self-aware. I wanted it to be sincere. I didn’t want to fall into all the tropes you can fall into when you make a movie like this.
“This isn’t a sick kid movie. It’s not a cancer movie. It’s not a dying movie. It’s a movie about life and hope and love.”
Although Baldoni had directed only one feature film – “Five Feet Apart” – before “Clouds,” that production about two young people dealing with cystic fibrosis was a good preparation for the Disney+ project.
Originally, Baldoni was scheduled to direct “Clouds” before “Five Feet Apart.”
“Knowing Zach and how he influences my life from wherever he is, I think he wanted me to make ‘Five Feet Apart’ first,” Baldoni says. “The story was so different with ‘Five Feet Apart’ but when I got to the set (of “Clouds”) – with the script process and the shooting process – I already knew what the fine line was.
“Once I heard a line that could be potentially cheesy or tropey, it was gone. We cut it on the spot.”