Navigating Hollywood, Episode 8: Darren Moorman, Producer of Blue Miracle, Same Kind of Different as Me
The original post for this episode can be found here.
Allen Wolf: Welcome to the Navigating Hollywood podcast. My name is Allen Wolf and I’m a filmmaker, author, and game creator. And speaking of being an author, my new book based on my upcoming movie, The Sound of Violet, will be coming out on September 21st. You can pre-order it now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever you get books, I’ll put some links for that in the show notes. Today, we’re joined by Darren Moorman, the producer of the Netflix movie Blue Miracle. He has also produced Run the Race, Indivisible, Same Kind of Different as Me, and the TV show, Mark Hamill’s, Pop Culture Quest, and that’s not even the whole list. Welcome, Darren.
Darren Moorman: Thanks Allen. Great to be with you today.
Allen Wolf: Great to have you. You know, I first met Darren around the time that he produced his first film. All Over Again, which I always thought should be called The Magic Bat. That was a missed opportunity in my opinion. Now, Darren and I went to the Sundance Film Festival together years ago and we were nearly killed. Do you remember this, Darren?
Darren Moorman: Yes.
Allen Wolf: We were staying with some friends of mine in Salt Lake City which is about an hour away from where the festival is happening. They said we could borrow their car while we were at the festival which was the perfect price for us – free. But one night we didn’t have the car. So we hitchhiked back to Salt Lake.
Darren Moorman: Oh my goodness.
Allen Wolf: We were in the back seat of a car driven by a man that we didn’t know and he suddenly exited the highway.
Darren Moorman: Yes.
Allen Wolf: We asked him where he was going and he said he needed to pick up a friend. We kind of looked at each other, like what’s happening? It was very dark. We were up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere. And you know, I think we both wondered if something terrible was going to happen. He picked up his friend and then he drove us back to Salt Lake. In total silence. It was very strange but we survived but barely.
Darren Moorman: We are still here. Do not do that in today’s world.
Allen Wolf: We do not recommend that. Well, congratulations on all that has happened in your life since our near-death experience at Sundance. Now before we talk about Blue Miracle, which is a great movie. I loved it. I’d like to talk about a film that felt like a significant career moment for you. The movie. The Same Kind of Different as Me. You read the book, which is a New York Times bestselling novel. You fell in love with it and then, it took 10 years to bring it to life. Can you describe that process.
Darren Moorman: You know, Same Kind of Difference as Me is the first book that I read that really inspired me. It felt like one of those just gritty true stories that the world would, would love to see. And the book just so moved me, which of course took me on that crazy windy journey of making the film.
Allen Wolf: It felt like a significant step. I mean, you had your largest budget at that point. You’re working with world-class actors, like Renée Zellweger. Greg Kinnear, Djimon Hounsou, and Jon Voight. Were there moments during the production where it just felt like a dream come true for you?
Darren Moorman: Yeah, and I think, I think if I could back up, just before we get to set, I think it’s important that you sort of know a bit of that journey because I had spent… You obviously knew me early in my career. I produced one low-budget film when we first had connected. And I would say, I was in Hollywood ten, twelve years and then mainly working and producing other people’s things, working at MGM, all of which are great for learning, but not necessarily what drives me in my own passion. And I was prompted to write a manifesto. So I had my little Jerry Maguire moment. Roughly about, I’d say it’s about eight years ago at this point, and I just went on this journey of going, “Hey, why am I here?” As Liam Neeson said in Taken, “I have a certain set of skills,” but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with them at that moment. So I wrote this manifesto and, and really begin to to explore who I was as a filmmaker and and out of it was birthed my company, Reserve Entertainment. And at the top of the manifesto, as far as stories that I felt like that I really wanted to tell was Same Kind of Different as Me. Now, I did not have the rights to the book at that time, although I had pursued it and those kind of things. At that moment, Disney actually had the rights to it. So, I write this manifesto and decide, okay. This is what I’m going to do, which meant if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna say no to this. And so, I ended up passing on paid producer opportunities and went eighteen months without a paycheck.
Allen Wolf: Whoa! And were you married at that point?
Darren Moorman: Oh yeah. Married. Two kids.
Allen Wolf: Oh my gosh. Was there a moment where your wife said, “I’m not so sure about this.”
Darren Moorman: You mean a moment every day? Yes. I think every filmmaker thinks, am I crazy? Or is this really what I’m supposed to do? And you have to wrestle with that. Most of the time we’re crazy, we worked out and I was able to pull the project together And when we get to set, yes it was amazing. I’ve always been a huge Greg Kinnear fan. Who doesn’t love, Renee Zellweger, right? One of my favorite stories, I was actually sitting in this office. We were up here in the mountains with Krista’s family and the CAA agent called me. This is early in the casting process and said, hey Djimon Hounsou would like to meet with you. So I pull up his picture and his picture is up on my computer. And my wife, through that double glass doors, looks in, sees his picture, pops in while I’m on the speakerphone with the CAA agent. And she’s like, oh my goodness, he’s my favorite actor, ever. And I’m trying to find the mute button.
Allen Wolf: You’re trying to play it cool too. Like, oh yeah it’s a possibility.
Darren Moorman: I lost all leverage at that moment in the negotiating deal. But I ended up meeting with Djimon and he shared the fact that he himself was homeless in France for a year. And he just, with tears in his eyes, he’s like, I was born to do this role. And there I am, looking across from this big, huge good-looking man who’s saying I was born to do this role. I’m like, yep, you were. Let’s go do this. So it was really a dream come true and it really was a project that has, I think, elevated my career a bit and opened doors to do other things.
Allen Wolf: You put so much work into that. and I know that was a dream of yours for a long time and after it came out, the majority of the critics didn’t give it good reviews. It has a 40% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Wikipedia calls it a box office bomb. What was it like dealing with that kind of reception?
Darren Moorman: As a filmmaker, we make movies that we believe we’re supposed to make, and we can’t control how the audience responds or, specifically, can’t control how the critics respond. But I will say that I still hear today from people all over the world about the impact that that film has had on people. And just this week, literally heard from a friend of mine who said, hey, my father-in-law watched this film. He’s never cried for one second in this life, and he literally cried through the whole film And he pulled the whole family together and made everyone watch it. And he said, just in the past month, it has literally changed this man’s life.
Allen Wolf: Well, here’s what’s interesting. I mean, well, when you look at Rotten Tomatoes, 40% from critics, but 86 percent positive reviews from the audience. And on Amazon, there are over eighteen hundred reviews which have given it nearly five stars. So there is just a huge divide between what the critics thought and what the audience thought. Why do you think there was such a difference between the two?
Darren Moorman: I think the timing of this project. You know, because of the sensitivities of it with racial reconciliation and, you know, what people would call white savior movies, I think the timing of it from a critic’s perspective was poor, but yet the audience perspective, those that have given a great reviews, felt like the timing was perfect. It’s a tricky time in the world to bring content out and, you know, but at the same time as the filmmaker, you’re just like, hey this is what I’m supposed to make. And sometimes we can’t control the timing of actually when it gets made.
Allen Wolf: Did that impact you at all, after you saw the kind of reception that it got? That split reception?
Darren Moorman: It has a huge impact when you put together that big of a cast and a New York Times best-selling book. It certainly had an opportunity to do much bigger business, but it didn’t. The good news is we finally got paid and so the kids started eating again and years later, though, the impact continues. So that’s why we do this.
Allen Wolf: Well, something that stands out to me about your films is the quality. You attract great actors to your projects and your movies always have high production values. What helps you accomplish that?
Darren Moorman: You know, I worked at the studio, at MGM for a bit. So I understand how to pull off quality because I was able to have a front-row seat to that and that was hugely helpful for me coming out of sort of low-budget, indie films to have that studio quality. But I also was able to see the gratuitous waste of money on those projects, the things that you just don’t need to spend money on. And so that that was helpful. But one of the things about my company Reserve Entertainment that I feel like I should share at this moment because you have the perfect question is the name is inspired by Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. And the guy running the wedding party goes, hang on. Where did this reserve wine come from? And I’ve just really thought through that and Jesus really cared about the quality of the wine. And as a filmmaker, I care about the quality of the films I’m making. It’s hugely important. Definitely starts with the script, the casting, and the cinematography. All of it. My hope is that when people do experience a film that I make, like Blue Miracle, that they have a similar feeling of, “Wow, this is a great class of wine. Where did this reserve wine come from?” And that’s my dream behind every project. Almost everyone can appreciate a great glass of wine.
Allen Wolf: Blue Miracle, your latest film stars Dennis Quaid and Jimmy Gonzalez. Can you tell us what the story is about?
Darren Moorman: It’s a true story inspired by an event that took place in Cabo, Mexico, in 2014 where a hurricane hit Cabo and these orphan boys down there were about to be thrown out on the street, and these guys got a chance to compete in the world’s biggest fishing tournament, Bisbee’s Black and Blue. And these kids have never fished before, and the true story behind it, is that it cost $75,000 to enter the tournament. So it’s an impossible scenario that a group of orphan kids would be able to fish in this tournament. And the prize is millions of dollars. The amazing true event is that they actually won this tournament in 2014 to save the orphanage and they had gone on to build a sister orphanage. And so that’s why I was so inspired to make the film. It just felt like one of those things where it’s just like, this is the story I’m supposed to tell.
Allen Wolf: How did you first get involved with it?
Darren Moorman: When I was producing Same Kind of Different as Me, Mary Parent, who was at Paramount at the time, she now runs Legendary, Her husband, Javier Chapa, she just kept saying, hey, you’re going to love my husband. And so, we get back to LA and Javier and I end up playing golf and just talking about what he’s doing in the industry and he’s really focused on the Latino filmmaking aspect. And so we sort of said, hey let’s come up with this Latino feel U.S. appeal type project that has a faith thread through it. And so we go out to find story and so he and I found this story together and raised some development money, hired a writer, and a couple years later Blue Miracle is in Netflix worldwide. It’s that simple.
Allen Wolf: That’s right. A plus B equals C. I mean, you know, not much to it. It’s an amazing time line with the average feature film taking about seven years from start to finish. It sounds like this process went a lot faster than that.
Darren Moorman: It was a much shorter timeline.
Allen Wolf: As a producer, you’re filming on water which can be very costly and challenging. What was that like for you?
Darren Moorman: Yeah, there are things that you just don’t know until you do them, and filming on water is one of them. When you see the film, you’ll see how much water we shot on. But we were eight days on a water tank in the Dominican Republic. And the things that you don’t know. But you know, when you’re thinking about a water tank, which is really an Infinity pool to the ocean. But your camera can only look like this, straight out at the ocean. And so in order to shoot your scenes, your boat has to turn with the sun and with every actor that’s saying something. And so you’re turning your boat because everything has to look out at the ocean because behind you are cameras and gear and all of that. So they’re literally sixteen water people in wetsuits, twelve hours a day in the water. And they anchor the boat down, and then every 20 minutes, as the sun moves, they slide the boat. And so you have to, you have to do block shooting. One of the biggest surprises because we did all the scouting back and forth. And you show up on day one, and you have this infinity pool that goes to the ocean. And it can’t be a pool. It has to be moving water. Like it’s the ocean. And on day one of filming we show up and there’s zero wind and it’s glass, like it’s a swimming pool. We’re like, this doesn’t look like the ocean. It ended up being a challenge, which included a lot of visual effects.
Allen Wolf: And I assume you don’t want to turn fans on because that will just screw up the sound.
Darren Moorman: That’s correct. You do have these water machines, that it causes rumble but then it dies down. And so you’re relying on the wind to always have motion and so, the things you just can’t plan for. And the people to water tank, we show up on day one, and they’re like we have never seen this before. Because if you’re on the ocean, it always has wind. And so I’m doing prayer walks around the water tank going, okay, God, you can stop wind, now we need you to pick some up.
Allen Wolf: Were there other challenges in making the film that stand out to you?
Darren Moorman: When I think about this film and the team that we had, there weren’t a lot of challenges. It was a phenomenal team.
Allen Wolf; Hmm. Wow.
Darren Moorman: The actors were amazing. You know, it’s not like we got into the edit bay and thought, oh we have to cut around this character. We didn’t have that. We had tremendous talent. The scenery was beautiful. We had perfect weather.
Allen Wolf: What was it like working with Dennis Quaid?
Darren Moorman: Dennis Quaid is incredible. I mean period. He’s just incredible. His response on the script when he read the script was: I had the same feeling when I got done reading The Rookie that I had when I got done reading this project.
Allen Wolf; Wow.
Darren Moorman: That’s what you dream of as a storyteller. We had been through an intensive notes process on the script to get it right. But when he got it, he didn’t have any notes at all which is pretty staggering for an A-list actor, most have lots of notes. But he had no notes, loved the project, he really coached the kids too. He really elevated them. He is a great actor to work with. Just a phenomenal guy.
Allen Wolf: And what were your hopes for Blue Miracle? Was the plan for it to go to Netflix?
Darren Moorman: No, you know, we made it for theatrical, and we actually tested it last March. We were early in the edit process without our 650 visual effects shots. And we tested it in Texas with two audiences, just a main family audience and then a Latino audience. And so two theaters side by side and the response was overwhelming. Best test scores I’ve gotten coming out of any film, and we really felt like we had a hit on her hands. And two weeks later, the world shut down. .While we finished the film, everyone was like, we have to make a decision on what we’re going to do. And we can’t see when the theaters are going to really open back up. And so we we pivoted, and said let’s go to streamers and see what kind of deal we can get done. We really believe we had a blockbuster on our hands from a theatrical perspective. And fortunately, with Netflix, you know, it sort of has the same feeling as a blockbuster because it’s been tracking number two in the entire world on the Netflix platform..
Allen Wolf: Wow.
Darren Moorman: And in a lot of countries it’s number one. So it sort of has that same feeling of a blockbuster without being able to see box office numbers.
Allen Wolf: Well that’s fantastic to hear the response that’s been happening around the world. Darren, I noticed that your movies have a lot of father issues. Either the father is absent, or is a bad father, or the main character struggles with being a father or longs for a loving father. Do you personally resonate with those themes? Where’s that coming from?
Darren Moorman: I am a sucker for father-son stories. Of course, I have two boys. Something about it, I just love. October Sky. Even, it’s not a father-son but father-daughter story, Taken with Liam Neeson. I think there’s all kind of great sort of father stories. How to Train Your Dragon was one of my favorite sort of viewing experiences with my two boys. I have a great father. He’s still alive. Still very, very involved in our
Allen Wolf: What has your dad thought of the movies that you’ve made?
Darren Moorman: Dad’s not really a movie watcher. And so I’m very proud of the fact that he does watch my movies. You know, my mom is the biggest fan ever. My dad sits down on the couch and falls asleep.
Allen Wolf: Even during your movies?
Darren Moorman: I hope not. But yeah, my parents are big fans of the films I’m making.
Allen Wolf: In Blue Miracle, Dennis Quaid’s character says, “One day, my son will be able to hold up my trophies and say, my dad was special.” And when I heard that, it reminded me of a time when I was watching the Tony Awards and an A-list, major actor won the Tony, and in his speech, he said he knew he couldn’t be there for his son for that past year because of the show that he was in. So he dedicated his Tony Award to his son. And I remember thinking, your son probably doesn’t care about your award or being with your award as much as he cares about being with you. We both work in an industry that promises great rewards, wants to reward you for great success. How do you keep a healthy perspective when it comes to working to be successful while prioritizing your marriage and your family?
Darren Moorman: I think it’s one of the greatest challenges in the film industry. One of the things that I have always tried to do is I run my own company, and I step into my home office, but I don’t go to work until 8:45 and I sort of clock out at 5:45. Where I’m trying to get breakfast and it’s reading time with the boys and have dinner and it’s something I’ve tried to always do is make sure that I’m not taking work into the evenings and sacrificing family time.
Allen Wolf: And what does that look like when you’re shooting a movie and your family is with you?
Darren Moorman: Challenging. Filming is five or six weeks and those days are much longer and that’s when it’s a full sacrifice. It’s almost impossible. But I’ll rush right home and at least try to get an hour everybody before they go to bed.
Allen Wolf: Also in Blue Miracle, Jimmy Gonzalez’s character says, “You’ve got to do what is right every single day and that’s how you get ahead. Is that true for working in Hollywood?”
Darren Moorman: Laughs.
Allen Wolf: I’m curious as a producer in the work that you’re doing. Do you find that your integrity is often tested as well?
Darren Moorman: For sure, you do have to treat your life like a business and you have to work it. Nothing will be given to me or to you. We have to every day get up and do the right things and build those relationships and develop those right projects. And not all of them will get made. That is a real challenge. And to not compromise. When you talk about integrity, to not compromise, and to do the wrong projects for a paycheck, that’s probably the biggest challenges. I’m not in this business to chase money. I’d probably make more doing podcasts.
Allen Wolf: Mmmm. We should talk about that. Or I’m doing something very wrong.
Allen Wolf: Well, in The Same Kind of Different as Me, Djimon Honsou’s character says, “God is in the business of turning trash into treasure.” Has God done that in your life?
Darren Moorman: Oh absolutely. I didn’t go to film school. For me to be able to make movies with A-list actors is a real treasure. That’s God’s work for sure.
Allen Wolf: Are there times during your filmmaking journey where you were just frustrated with God? I’m just curious how your faith has interplayed with your experience as a producer.
Darren Moorman: So I did season one of Mark Hamill’s Pop, Culture Quest with Lionsgate and, you know, as a filmmaker, you’re trying to figure out getting enough projects made feed your family, and all of those things, and to keep your career going. And so Lionsgate greenlit season two and it’s like, okay, this is great. If I can start to get some consistent business, making a TV show, and then also making a movie.
And then we’re sort of in the development process on season two, and then Lionsgate pulled the plug and said, we’ve decided to cancel the platform they were building. And so all of the show’s got the rug pulled out. It was devastating because we had already inked the deal on season two. Those are tough things. It’s hard to get a TV show made. Really challenging because you like, wow, this is, it’s a really great show for kids and families, and, but it’s the nature of the business and I do question God often that’s for sure. I’m like, “God. What are you doing?” It’s always the same answer. Be patient. I’ve gotta be patient.
For me in my faith journey, it has allowed me to be, whether it’s in lean times or in good times to just be at peace and I’m able to, sort of, ride those storms and knowing that I’m where I’m supposed to be. In good times or bad times, to be at peace when life’s not perfect. And the film industry is full of imperfect days.
Allen Wolf: For someone who’s working hard to get their first project into production. What kind of advice would you have for them?
Darren Moorman: Just don’t do it.
Allen Wolf: I should say what kind of encouraging advice would you have for them?
Darren Moorman: Oh, oh, sorry. As I look back and I see some of the things that I It early on. I see some young filmmakers mistakes is that maybe they get this idea of a passion project and they’re not looking at it through the lens of what does the audience want right now? They’re looking at it only through the lens of, I just have this story that I love but ultimately at the end of the day we make movies to entertain people and inspire people. And so look closely at the project, make sure that it’s something that you believe the world will receive. I think that’s the one of the biggest mistakes I see because I get invited to watch first-time filmmakers films, and I’m like, oh, that’s a nice film but who’s going to watch that? Because ultimately, we’re making entertainment. So, we have to entertain people.
Allen Wolf: If you could redo the career, you’ve had so far. What would you do differently?
Darren Moorman: I would have really focused more on developing stories earlier. That’s something that took me thirteen years to figure out because your focus is on the next job, how do I get my next job, early in my career. And I wasn’t focused on developing content. So that’s probably something I go back and redo because ultimately at the end of the day, having best-selling books and having great, compelling stories is what moves money to attach and get your projects made.
And when I wrote my manifesto and launched my own company, I had zero projects on my slate, and so I had to start building at that point. Fortunately, now I have twenty amazing projects on my slate, but it’s taken a while to build those up. All my actor friends make a lot more money than I do. So maybe I should have worked hard on my acting career.
Allen Wolf: To that point, there have been some articles recently about the efforts to start a Producing Guild because producers who have created prominent movies have talked about getting very little money out of those movies and they’ve brought up the idea of how can we make a living as producers if we don’t have any back-end protection for the salaries that we’re supposed to be making? Has that been your experience?
Darren Moorman: Yeah. For sure. While I may make a little bit of money on the movie we sold to Netflix down the road, there’s typically not a lot of back-end on projects. It is a tough one because every other union or a very the role in the film industry gets residuals and things like that, DGA, WGA, actors, SAG. And, so, yes, producers for sure get left out a bit.
Allen Wolf: At the end of your life, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
Darren Moorman: We have some friends. They’re from Australia. They watched Blue Miracle and they said, that’s a film that God’s going to be showing in heaven. If I can create content that has that type of thought process behind it, that God would actually be proud of those films. And I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective before. When they said it, it was a moving thought. I’m like, oh my goodness, yeah. You know, is God proud of the film’s I’m making? I’d love to have that on my tombstone: God is proud of you.
I hope my kids are able to, in the midst of this crazy journey, come out of this experience and go, you know we didn’t have a normal childhood because we traveled the world and we did did schooling out of hotel rooms. But I hope that they’re able to look back and say that we got to experience life although it wasn’t the normal life that everybody else has, experience life with their dad in a unique way and dad didn’t run off and abandon them over a career.
Allen Wolf: This interview is sponsored by Navigating Hollywood which encourages and equips entertainment professionals to live relationally and spiritually holistic lives. Navigating Hollywood offers courses for marriage and pre-marriage and the Alpha Hollywood course which gives media professionals the chance to explore the big life questions in an open and welcoming environment. You can find out more at navigatinghollywood.org. If you use the invitation code podcast, the courses are complimentary. Thank you so much for being my guest today, Darren.
Darren Moorman: Allen, it was a true pleasure, thank you for inviting me.
Allen Wolf: Thank you for sharing about your filmmaking journey and your life. Be sure to check out Darren’s new movie Blue Miracle, which is available on Netflix. We’ll also include a link to his production company where you can explore the other movies he’s produced as well. If you work in entertainment you can check out the courses and other resources available at NavigatingHollywood.org. And again use the word “podcast” to register for a complimentary course. Please follow us and leave us a review so others can discover this podcast. You can find other shows, transcripts, links, and anything else we talked about and more at navigatinghollywood.org. I look forward to being with you next time.