Theo Davies’ (WH 92-97) new film, ‘Wish Man’ has been selected as ‘one of the indie films to watch in 2019’ and received a two-minute standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened twice.
Written and directed by Old Tonbridgian filmmaker, Theo Davies, ‘Wish Man’ is a biographical drama based on the life of Frank Shankwitz – creator of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The film tells the story of how the Foundation’s creator was able to part from childhood trauma and transform into helping millions of children across the world.
One minute, Frank Shankwitz is a motorcycle cop struggling with a difficult past and emotional childhood trauma, and in the next moment he's almost killed in a freak car accident on a long strip of desolate highway.
This stark and shocking incident sparks a chain reaction that puts Shankwitz on a difficult and painful path towards redemption that leads him to meeting a terminally ill little boy, and ultimately sets the stage for Shankwitz founding the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Since its creation in 1980, Shankwitz’s foundation has granted wishes for more than 450,000 children in 50 countries worldwide. It’s the world’s largest wish-granting organization granting, on average, one wish every 34 minutes.
Read all about Theo’s experience directing the film below.
How did you come on board the project as director?
I was fortunate enough to see Frank Shankwitz tell the story of how he created the Make-A-Wish foundation with 300 other people at Greg Reid’s ‘Secret Knock’ event in San Diego in 2013. I was filming the event as part of a film I was producing with Greg to be released alongside his book ‘Stickability”. Greg interviewed Frank on stage, and when Frank finished telling the story, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Greg and I had spoken about making a feature film together and we sat down with Frank to discuss telling his inspiring story. Frank was on board straight away an in the Spring of 2013, I started writing the ‘Wish Man’ script. after several different versions of the story and the script, we settled on the final draft that became the shooting script for the film. After 4 years of close calls, many highs and lows, we were able to secure enough funding and support to shoot ‘Wish Man’ in Frank’s hometown of Prescott, Arizona in September and October 2017. By September 2018 we had completed post-production, and the film is slated for theatrical release across the U.S. on June 7th, 2019. The film will also be released internationally in the Summer of 2019.
What makes Frank’s story so special?
What makes Frank’s story so special is the same reason I knew it would be a compelling film. As a filmmaker you’re in the business of telling stories that move you. If I feel that way about a story, then I’m confident I can create the same feelings in an audience. Frank tells his story all over the country and the response is always the same – an outpouring of emotion and a lot of tears.
Above: Make-A-Wish founder, Frank Shankwitz with Writer & Director Theo Davies
How did you know it would translate into a compelling film?
It’s a unique story, a very American story but most importantly, a reminder of what we are capable of achieving when we help those who need it. That’s what makes us human and that’s what makes this story special. As a filmmaker, you live for the moments when your audience laughs, cries and engages in the story and the characters. ‘Wish Man’ does all that and more.
Did any interesting moments happen on set?
On the first day of filming we had a crew meeting to discuss our first day together as a team and the remaining 24 days left to shoot. Everyone took turns stepping forward, introducing themselves and describing their position within the crew. When it was the turn of our script supervisor, Kennedy Del Toro, we noticed she was crying and very emotional. She then explained she was a ‘Wish Kid’ in her teens and obviously survived and defeated her illness. Being part of telling the story of the man who created Make-A-Wish was too overwhelming for her to bear. Frank was on-hand to give her a hug and we began Day 1 on a positive, inspiring note.
The funniest (and scariest) moment was probably when we were shooting in a remote location with limited accommodation options for all the crew. In the corner of my room was a large hole big enough for a fat rat to come and go as he pleased. I slept with a bedside lamp shining on the hole throughout the night. Greg Reid (producer) woke up with about one hundred bed bug bites and a huge spider in his bathtub. We couldn’t get out of there quickly enough! One of the biggest lessons I learned was to try and always schedule 5-day weeks during principal photography rather than 6-day weeks. The long hours and the intensity of the shoot meant that days off were precious. Two-day weekends are essential when shooting on location to allow everyone to recharge and wind down.
What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?
I hope audiences are moved by the personal, emotional story at the heart of the film. We have made a tearjerker that we’re incredibly proud of because it moves people to tears without being overly sentimental. It’s a fine balancing act that I believe we got right in all the ways we intended. Now more than ever, we’re in desperate need of inspiring, uplifting stories to give hope and motivate positive change in the world. In recent movies, we’re bombarded with superhero franchises, but what we hope to show in ‘Wish Man’ is that heroes are ordinary, everyday people who spread kindness and goodwill. Whether you’re paying it forward or giving back, one simple act of kindness can have a ripple effect to change the world.