Learning how to bond with family, even when you have preconceived notions of who they really are, is a lesson embedded in both the story and filming of the family western drama ‘Our Wild Hearts.’ The filming of the movie was a family affair, as it was directed and produced by Ricky Schroder, who also starred in the movie with his children Cambrie, Holden and Luke and co-wrote the script with his wife, Andrea. The film also chronicles the struggles between a newfound father and daughter in its story, as it focuses on the obstacles they must overcome to truly learn about, and connect with, each other.
‘Our Wild Hearts’ follows Willow (Cambrie Schroder), a determined young teenager who’s obsessed with the idea of meeting the father she never knew. She persuades her mother, Katie (Angela Lindvall), to finally talk about and reveal who her father is. Willow ultimately decides to leave her pampered life in Malibu to travel to the Sierra Nevada mountains, where she pays a surprise visit to Jack (Ricky Schroder), a rugged cowboy who has no idea he’s a father. As the two struggle to bond, Willow makes a connection with a wild mustang, Bravo, who Jack is desperate to capture and tame, in an effort to keep his ranch financially secure.
Willow is convinced Bravo needs to be free, however, and begs her new-found father not to sell the horse to a ranch in Texas. With the help of local teen Ryan (Chris Massoglia), who works on Jack’s ranch, Willow sets out to not only save Bravo from captivity, but also from being stolen from Jack’s neighbor Grizz (Martin Kove), who also wants to sell the mustang. In her shocking new environment, Willow not only learns that she can’t always easily get what she wants, but also the importance of family.
The writer-director-producer-actor generously took the time to talk about filming ‘Our Wild Hearts’ recently over the phone from Los Angeles. Among other things, Schroder discussed how his daughter and wife approached him with the idea to make a family film together about the father-daughter relationship and the importance of horses in the American west; how one of the unexpected surprises of shooting the western was that his family got to know each other in a deeper, more meaningful way; and how one of the most important lessons he learned while directing and producing the movie was time management, particularly while working with the horses, who were an important aspect of the story.
ShockYa (SY): You co-wrote the script for your new family western film, ‘Our Wild Hearts,’ with your wife, Andrea. Why did you decide to pen a screenplay together, and how did the process come about?
Ricky Schroder (RS): Well, it was my daughter Cambrie’s first film, and I wanted the entire family to have a great experience. That was really the driving force and the goal behind ‘Our Wild Hearts,’ as well as bringing attention to the plight of the wild mustangs in the west. They’re an important, symbolic piece of American history. That’s what we set out to do, and I hope we achieved it.
SY: ‘Our Wild Hearts’ follows Willow, a young teenager, who pays a surprise visit to her father, Jack, a rugged cowboy who has no idea he’s a father. What was the preparation process like? Did you do any particular research for the story before you began writing?
RS: My daughter and wife, Andrea and Cambrie, came to me with the concept for ‘Our Wild Hearts.’ They wrote it down and pitched it to me, and I liked it a lot right away. I sat down and wrote the first draft. As I write, of course I do research on the issues involved with wild horses.
But the core of the movie is the story of a father and daughter getting to know each other for the first time. One of the unexpected surprises of that is that I thought I really knew my daughter, and I thought my family really knew me. But truthfully, during the process of working together, we got to know each other in a deeper, more meaningful way.
My kids have known me as an actor their whole lives, but they never worked with me. So they never really understood what dad did as an actor or writer or director. I never got to see my kids or my wife in a work environment, so the production was actually very smooth. I treated them like crew or cast members, and they treated me like a director and a producer.
But with the editing, it was more challenging, with the music and things like that, as my wife and I have very strong opinions. Sometimes, she’d want things one way, and I’d want things another, so that’s where we would have to be more delicate and balanced on people’s feelings.
SY: Besides co-writing the screenplay, you also directed the film. Was it always your intention to helm the film as you were writing? Do you feel that being a writer helped you in your directorial duties on the set?
RS: Writing the script absolutely helps you produce and direct the film. As you write something, you understand how many days you’ll have to shoot, and how many locations you can have, and what the budget is. So you can actually custom and tailor the script as you write it, to the practical realities of production. So I think the film very much benefited from me being the writer and the director.
SY: Like you mentioned, besides directing, writing and acting in the film, you also served as a producer. Do you feel that serving as a producer helped you in your creative process on the set, as a director and actor?
RS: Absolutely, although sometimes you have to put on the producer hat, and then take off the producer hat and put on the director hat. Sometimes those hats have conflicts, as the director always wants more time and budget, and the producer always wants less time and budget. When you wear both hats, you have to deal with that dynamic.
SY: Besides writing and directing the movie, you also starred as Jack in ‘Our Wild Hearts.’ What was the experience of also starring in the film, especially working with your daughter on the set?
RS: Well, it was a wonderful experience. I had a great time working with my entire family, and especially Cambrie. By working with her, I got to know Cambrie in ways that I didn’t know. I knew she was a good student and she worked hard in school. When I saw her on set, she showed up every day prepared, knowing her lines. She was happy and kind to everyone around her, which really warmed my heart.
I got to know Cambrie, and the character of Jack got to know Willow, so I kind of felt like Jack, getting to know a part of my daughter that I really didn’t know before. My family, like I said, has never gotten to work with me, so they got to know me in a way in which they hadn’t seen me. I feel like I earned some of their respect in a way that I hadn’t before.
SY: You shot the movie on the same ranch where ‘Little House on the Prairie’ was filmed. How was it working with the horses and on the ranch for the movie?
RS: Well, that ranch is wonderful. Unfortunately, the town of ‘Little House’ burned down in a fire years ago, but the landscape is beautiful.
The horses are just wonderful creatures to be around and work with. They do have certain challenges they come with; they are large and can be dangerous if they’re not in the right environment. They are a prey animal, so they think everything wants to eat them. So you have to work around the horses’ behavior. Sometimes horses have great days, and sometimes they don’t, just like people. So you have to be prepared to have a cover set. If the horse isn’t doing what you need it to be doing, you have to give it a break and come back an hour later and try again.
SY: ARC Entertainment is distributing ‘Our Wild Hearts’ on VOD and DVD. With many independent and smaller films being released on VOD, as opposed to having a big theatrical release, are you a fan of the medium? Do you think home release is the future of smaller films?
RS: Absolutely. There are so many great quality projects that just never make it to the big screen. Now you can sit in your house and order films on your TV or laptop. Filmmakers and documentary filmmakers and short filmmakers can get their material seen. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to get films to the consumer and audience.
SY: The film premiered on Saturday, March 9 as a Hallmark Movie Channel Original Movie. How did your relationship with Hallmark come about-how did you decide to air the movie on the network?
RS: It was wonderful. They’re great partners and people there. They supported and promoted the film. I’d like to work with them again. Who knows, maybe we can even work on a sequel for ‘Our Wild Hearts.’
SY: How did audiences react and respond to the film after it premiered? Did you receive any feedback from audiences?
RS: Oh, absolutely. The movie was the second-highest rated Hallmark Movie Channel film ever, so we were very proud of that fact. I heard from a lot of people that it’s a great family and action adventure film, and it had beautiful scenery and great performances. So the feedback has been incredibly positive.
SY: You previously have written and directed several movies, including ‘Hellhounds’ and ‘Black Cloud.’ How was working on ‘Our Wild Hearts’ similar to, and different from, your previous writing and directorial efforts? What lessons did you bring to this movie that you learned from your earlier films?
RS: Every time you get behind the camera and call action and work as a director, you learn things. One of the things I learned a lot is time management. Time is your biggest obstacle and adversary you face when you’re making a film. I think I’ve gotten more efficient. When you realize that you’ve got what you need from a scene or shot, it’s time to move on. Don’t waste time.
‘Our Wild Hearts’ is similar to the first movie I wrote and directed, ‘Black Cloud,’ in the sense that they’re both set in the west, and they both involve wild horses. They both have beautiful scenery and real characters who are relatable and likeable.
Every time you do a project, you learn more and more about how you can communicate better with your cast, and how you can lead by example, and how to get the best out of your entire crew. So it’s constant learning, so that’s why I wanted to write, direct and produce; I’ve been an actor since I was seven-years-old. But I wanted a new challenge and frontier and adventure.
Projects like ‘Our Wild Hearts’ and ‘Black Cloud,’ and most recently, ‘Starting Strong,’ the army reality show I executive produced for the U.S. Army that’s on FOX right now, and the Army’s YouTube channel, give me opportunities to try new things. They also allowed me to challenge myself and my family in new ways.
SY: Speaking of the reality show, you made a name for yourself as an actor throughout your life by appearing on such series as ‘Silver Spoons’ and ‘NYPD Blue.’ What is it about television that you enjoy so much?
RS: I love performing and being on set. I grew up there, and that’s where I feel most comfortable. I like series because you get to dig in with a character. You get to live in that character’s shoes for several years or more, and you can really do some great work on television. Some of the best of my career, I believe, has been on ‘NYPD Blue,’ and I’m very proud of it. I like good writing, and whatever format it is, whether it’s comedy or drama, I just like it.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects lined up, whether acting, directing, writing or producing, that you can discuss?
RS: I’m developing a couple things and some screenplays, but nothing is lined up. That’s one of the joys of being in this business; you never know what’s next. You can make plans all you want, but things come out of left field. You just take opportunities as they come. You can plan all you want, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.
Written by: Karen Benardello