“In frenzied excitement, he eats up the ground. He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength and charges into the fray, afraid of nothing, when the trumpet sounds.” (Excerpt from Job 39: 21-25)
These Biblical words will soon be heard around the globe in, of all places, movie theaters. Director Randall Wallace uses them in the opening and closing of his new film, Secretariat, for Disney. Oscar-nominated actress Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, owner of the giant racehorse, Secretariat, and she performs the Biblical narration of portions of Job 39.
“The movie celebrates faith, courage and love – and inspiration has been at the heart of the whole journey of bringing this story to the screen,” said Wallace.
When Wallace, Oscar-nominated for writing Braveheart, was asked by Disney to come up with potential titles for his new movie, he asked his longtime friend Jill Conner Browne, best-selling author and the Sweet Potato Queen, to lend her creativity to the task. Browne immediately pointed him to their mutual friends at The Cirlot Agency, a Mississippi-based brand development and public relations agency known for its creativity.
“I knew the folks there already and was impressed by their brilliance in working with Jill and with the state of Mississippi,” said Wallace. “I knew they’d bring a unique perspective to my personal brainstorming process.”
Wallace spoke with key members of The Cirlot Agency and told them that the movie tells the story of housewife and mother, Chenery, who steps in to take over her ill father’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horseracing knowledge. Chenery, with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin, played by John Malkovich, manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
Wallace said that Secretariat had always been the working title of the movie and that if anything could replace that recognizable name, he would like it to be something that affirmed the spiritual grandeur of the story, just as Chariots of Fire had done.
Vice President and Creative Director, Lynda Lesley, began brainstorming and searching for spiritual references that would encapsulate the story of Secretariat and help Wallace, for whom she has great respect.
“From the first time I became aware of Randall Wallace, years before I actually met him, I was struck by his faith and willingness to profess it, despite being immersed in the world of secular Hollywood,” said Lesley, who’s an Elder at Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss.
During her research, she stopped for a moment and prayed.
“When we were made aware that Randall needed our help, I knew Who to turn to… and that’s when I asked God to help Randall by leading me to a passage that would speak to Secretariat’s message of courage and triumph.”
Almost immediately, Lesley came across scripture about a horse’s mane in the book of Job, and as she read it, she was overcome with emotion, tears in her eyes. She messaged CEO Liza Cirlot Looser that she had something to share when Looser returned to the office.
“Lynda told me what had happened, and there was a moment of silence on the phone, as I was at a loss for words,” Looser said. “I had chills and couldn’t wait to share with Randall.”
The agency called Wallace and explained what had happened. When Wallace received the list of more than 40 names from the agency, the one from Job, “When the Trumpet Sounds: The Story of Secretariat,” rose to the top.
Wallace has his own Christian roots, having grown up a Baptist in Memphis; he majored in Religion at Duke University and spent a graduate year in seminary there. He, too, felt moved by the Bible verse.
“The quote from Job has Old Testament power,” said Wallace. “I loved it instantly.”
Ultimately, Disney decided to stick with the name Secretariat; but Wallace was editing the film, and those words from Job kept coming back to him.
“I had written an opening and closing narration,” said Wallace. “But the words from Job were simple and profound; they were perfect.”
The quote became part of the movie and is even in the trailer. Looser says the change in plans was a blessing in disguise.
“If we could have chosen, we would much rather have had God’s word read in the movie,” said Looser. “What a privilege and honor that God used us for His work through Randall.”
This wasn’t God’s first role in the movie. Otto Thorwarth, who plays Secretariat’s jockey, Ronnie Turcotte, had a divine inspiration of his own before he was cast for the part.
Thorwarth, a Christian jockey who’d considered entering seminary, had taken a break from his riding career to focus on his family – but he kept fighting a feeling that he needed to get back to riding.
In the years that followed, Thorwarth decided to give riding another chance because he felt like God was calling him back to racing. He found success on small tracks, but nothing significant. One day his minister told him, “I have a prophetic word for you – you’re going to ride a champion.”
“I was riding on a little track where champions have never come from,” said Thorwarth. “Still, I thought, if it’s God’s will for me to ride a champion, He will make it happen.”
One day a man at an Ohio racetrack asked Thorwarth if he’d like to audition for the role of Turcotte in the new Secretariat movie. With no acting experience, Thorwarth laughed, but eventually agreed to audition.
During a phone call on the way to the casting call, an old friend, remembering what Thorwarth’s minister had once prophesized, said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Secretariat was a champion.” Thorwarth was overwhelmed by the realization that God’s purpose for him was not to win an actual race.
“People have lost sight of the fact that God is still moving and doing magnificent things through people, it’s just a matter of finding someone willing to listen and do His will,” said Thorwarth. “I don’t think the ride is over, I’ve just begun sharing God’s word.”
From movie theaters to websites like YouTube, the Secretariat trailer has been spreading this verse to millions of people worldwide who’ve already viewed it.
Wallace is recognized for screenwriting, producing and/or directing works including, Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask, Pearl Harbor, and We Were Soldiers, among others, and Christian viewers have often recognized spirited values in his works.
Secretariat opens in theaters October 8, 2010.