At daybreak Sunday morning, Spokane Valley’s Pratt Elementary School was bustling with children. The gym was crammed full, and desks were cleaned and lined up in one of the classrooms – which is unusual, since Pratt closed in 2007.
The school is experiencing a second career as part of the set for the movie “Different Drummers,” based on a book of the same name written by Lyle Hatcher and Don Caron.
“I think we have almost 150 extras here today,” said executive producer Gary Marks. “They are just great.”
“Different Drummers” is the true story of a friendship Hatcher developed as a child in Spokane in the mid-1960s. Hatcher was a hyperactive boy, running wild and driving his parents frazzled with his antics, when he became best friends with David Dahlke, a boy of the same age who was in a wheelchair because of his muscular dystrophy. The two become inseparable, and their adventures together are the foundation of the movie.
“David was the kindest person you have ever met,” Hatcher said. “He knew he didn’t have long to live, but you never heard him complain. He died when he was 13.”
Hatcher, who is a retired financial adviser and said he has coached several winning soccer teams, has no moviemaking experience. It was a chance meeting with Caron – a Spokane musician, composer and co-screenwriter of the acclaimed 1999 film “The Basket” – that got first the book, then the film rolling.
“I had told the story about David to my family so many times, and they asked me to put it on a CD,” Hatcher said.
He went to North by Northwest Productions, where Caron was a reluctant overseer of the recording.
Caron laughs at the memory of that first meeting: “You know what it’s like when you have to do something at work and you just don’t think it’s going to be worth your time? Well, it turned out this was worth my time.”
As Caron listened to Hatcher’s tale about his friend, he began to believe there was something more than just a family treasure there. In 2006, the two began writing the book together. In 2007, they entered the screenplay for “Different Drummers” into Houston’s 40th annual film festival. They won Best Screenplay, one of the festival’s 10 grand awards.
“I guess we figured we had something by then,” said Caron, smiling.
Soon, movie companies came knocking with offers to buy the screenplay.
“It was big offers. I mean, really big,” Hatcher said. But the two decided not to sell. “The companies wanted to take the movie to a different rating. We wanted to keep it the way it was written, PG-13.”
Finally, there they were on the playground by Pratt, praying the nearby trains would stop howling and the neighbors stop hammering on a backyard project long enough for them to get a shot. On Sunday’s schedule was a scene in which the young Lyle Hatcher wrestles a much bigger kid on the playground. The young Lyle is played by Brayden Tucker, who looks and acts remarkably like Hatcher.
“It’s just really amazing,” said Hatcher, gesturing toward the rehearsals and reflecting on how far his project has come.
“Different Drummers” is financed by Hatcher, Marks, Caron, and friends and family members interested in the project.
It was tough to get to this point. Caron said there was a time he regretted not taking one of the big offers. “We were kicking ourselves two years ago,” he said.
But Hatcher said the community support has been incredible.
“Six months ago I said to my wife that I had nothing left,” Hatcher said. Later that day he got a call from Vera Shaw, a longtime friend, who then wrote the check that kept the project going. “We are on a micro-budget. Many of the people you see here are working simply for the love of the project.”
Hatcher said what makes “Different Drummers” stand out compared to other movies is that David Dahlke is a real person.
“The world needs a hero, and he is real. No one made him up,” Hatcher said. “He’s not some guy in a cape.”
If all goes as planned, “Different Drummers” should be ready for the market by April 1.
So, a year from now, are kids going to be wearing “Different Drummer” T-shirts, toting “Different Drummer” backpacks and writing in “Different Drummer” notebooks?
“Absolutely. We are taking this all the way,” Hatcher said.