Finding ‘Redemption’: Seeing script turn into film provides validation for Belshe-Toernblom
BULLHEAD CITY — Writing movies is a lot like writing songs — some of the best material ever written is sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere and never sees the light of day.
But every once in a while, destiny intervenes and shines a light on a project for one simple reason: it needs to be experienced, said casting director and producer Judy Belshe-Toernblom.
Her film, “Boonville Redemption,” will be shown at 4 p.m. Saturday during the Laughlin International Film Festival.
“I wrote the film about 10 years ago and for seven years, it sat there just winning festivals,” she said. “I thought, ‘well, this is good,’ it’s a lot of validation, it doesn’t come with a check, that’s for sure, but it’s still validation. People think you can write, they like your story-telling.”
The story centers around 13-year-old Melinda, born out of wedlock and scorned by many, who desperately wants to know what happened to her real father, but no one in town will tell her. Melinda’s mean stepfather, Maddox, is the richest man in the valley, and he lords his power over everyone, including her. Melinda’s mother is no help, having given up faith and reason in favor of superstition when Melinda’s real father went missing. Determined to find her father, Melinda’s bravery compels some of the townspeople to reveal the dark secrets that they have kept to themselves for years.
Belshe-Toernblom, who owns a home in Bullhead City and divides her time between the Tri-state and California, decided it was time to take her script to the next level.
“I decided to do some readings, to bring in some actors and do an actual stage reading, not a play, but a round reading,” she said. “We did two readings and people were moved emotionally by the story, and I thought, ‘wow, that was really interesting.’”
But film production is very expensive and Belshe-Toernblom didn’t have the financial backing to get the screenplay to production, she said.
One day, the casting director, writer and producer, took her cousins to see a film she had cast and they were dazzled by the business, Belshe-Toernblom said.
“That night my cousin was having a bit of back trouble and he couldn’t sleep... he asked me if he could read my screenplay,” she said. “Well, he really liked it and he had a lot of questions afterwards, like ‘how is this movie, did you get it made?’ I said, ‘Nope, it didn’t get made.’ ”
Her cousin took a copy of the screen play home and Belshe-Toernblom thought that would be the end of it.
“I told him, ‘sure, and along the way, if you find a millionaire that wants to make a movie, tell him we got one,’ ” she joked.
A couple of weeks later, she said, she got a phone call from her cousin asking how much money it would take to bring her script to life.
“It was an absolute miracle and he brought in two of his partners that work with him and my brother-in-law invested,” she added. “Then we presented the film to Pat Boone, to play the part of the doctor. He was in Hawaii at the time and he wrote me back and said, ‘I absolutely devoured this script.’ He loved it.”
With validation from a Hollywood heavyweight, Belshe-Toernblom was even more committed to getting her film through production, she said.
“That was a nice vote of confidence from Pat Boone. I’ve won a lot of awards up to that point, but you know, that was the big one,” Belshe-Toernblom said. “He knew how much more we needed to raise in the film and about three or four days later, he said, ‘I’m gonna put in the rest of the money.’ ”
After seven years, almost to the day, Belshe-Toernblom’s screenplay was moved off the shelf and into production, she said.
“We had to put together a crew of about 150 people and we had three weeks to get it cast, which it had pretty much been cast in my head already,” said Belshe-Toernblom, who also served as producer and casting director. “But you can cast it 40 different ways in your head if you don’t have the money. Why not? It’s like decorating a house in your brain, it doesn’t cost anything.”
Because of the strength of the screenplay, finding actors who wanted to be involved wasn’t difficult, she said.
Diane Ladd, Ed Asner, Robert Hayes, Richard Tyson and director Don Schroeder were among the first to sign on.
“He was a really good director to work with and we actually saw eye-to-eye on practically everything,” Belshe-Toernblom’s said. “It was really easy because there was the feeling that the film was the baby and we needed to protect it and we needed to make it be everything it could possibly be.”
Belshe-Toernblom is particularly proud of the end result, she said.
“Sometimes with slasher/dasher exploitive films, they make their money because of what they are, but when you have a film that really says a lot, you will probably hear the story of how long it took to get it made — and that it took many people to move together to decide to make it happen,” Belshe-Toernblom said. “It’s actually very surreal and yet an intensely awake experience. It seems very unreal that this could happen but you had better pay attention otherwise you could have a problem. You need to be aware of everything you need to take care of.
“I mean, you can take care of everything in the film, but if someone doesn’t show up with lunch, you’re in trouble.”
Her advice for others in the filmmaking business?
“I encourage people to continue to follow their dreams,” Belshe-Toernblom’s said.
If people loved the story and the movie, there’s more.
“After I wrote the movie and produced the movie, there was still more story inside of me,” Belshe-Toernblom said. “I can still hear those good voices in my head and I wrote the book called ‘Boonville Redemption: The End of the Beginning.’
“The end of the beginning is the story of the movie starting 30 years earlier, before our heroine is even born, and the struggles people had in the valley. When the movie starts, we know there are some things that happened, but we don’t know what happened. In the book, we grow with the people, we see their personal situations, and we understand why they agree to commit the crime. And then, of course, the movie takes us through the crime, the mystery and how it all gets solved and everything.
“But when you look at where these people came from and what their situation was, there’s no excusing it, but you certainly understand why they did what they did,” she added. “I think if anybody wants more after they see the movie, the book would really satisfy that. I will warn you, the book is like Gone With the Wind, so tell people they need to find a comfortable chair because they’re gonna be there for a month.”