Actor-director Justin Baldoni’s latest film “Clouds,” arrives on the Disney+ streaming platform tomorrow, introducing a new audience to the incredible story of Zach Sobiech, a teenager who lived with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Starring Fin Argus, Neve Campbell, Sabrina Carpenter, Madison Iseman, Tom Everett Scott, and Lil Rel Howery, the film is inspired by Sobiech’s final days, including releasing the viral song, “Clouds,” before his untimely passing. Sobiech’s mother, Laura, portrayed by Campbell in the film, also released the book, “Clouds: A Memoir,” which recounts her son’s story.
In this exclusive interview with Reel Faith, Baldoni and Sobiech talk about translating the story to film and how faith, hope, and love held the family together through it all.
For a movie about terminal illness, the film was surprisingly hopeful and upbeat. Was that how your son’s life was?
Laura: Absolutely. It’s funny when people tell me that because we’ve heard that quite a bit now from people who’ve seen it that it’s a hard topic, but it doesn’t leave people feeling sad or down. And I think for me, it’s a reflection of his song “Clouds,” too, it does the same thing. You know, it’s a song about deep, emotional, hard things, but somehow it leaves you hopeful. And that’s, that’s a reflection of Zach. He lived a very difficult thing. He had to let go of a lot and suffer through so much. Yet somehow he always chose, almost always chose, to focus on the good, and what he could be grateful for, how he could tap into the joy of the day. I’ll never forget the times when I knew he was really sick. He’d been on chemo for a week. We were at home. And I would hear him the next morning in the shower, whistling. And that’s just the kind of kid he was. He just decided and fought to be happy.
Was he like that before the diagnosis? Or was there a change that happened?
Laura: He was kind of built that way. I joke because he was the extrovert in the family. And so now, “Thanks a lot, Zack, you left us with this gigantic story that we’re bumping along behind.” He was sort of the hub of our family too, which made the loss of him actually quite scary for me as a mother. Before he died, thinking about like, what is our family going to be like, when he’s gone? How are we going to communicate with each other? How are we going to interact? Because he was the guy that everybody went to, and he was the one that would, would bring the party home. He was created that way. He was just a happy kid who wanted to see the good in everybody and find joy in the moment. And he shared that with all of us. And he did it so beautifully, even through all of his suffering.
Justin, how did you get involved with this story? I know you’ve told other stories very similar to this, but what drew you to it? I was
Justin: I was on this year journey. I was telling these stories, via this documentary series, “My Last Days,” which aired on Soul Pancake’s YouTube channel. I was on story number seven, and I was looking for that story. And that’s when I stumbled on a CNN article that featured Zach and his song and I watched his YouTube video. It was right at the beginning of it starting to go viral in December of 2012. And I just, I don’t know, there are these moments in your life man, where you just know it’s like God places his hand on your shoulder and says, “Go there.” And that’s how I tried to live I try to be a feather in the wind going wherever God wants me to go, and I just knew I needed to go to Minnesota. I called Laura. Immediately, we found her number Actually, she called me technically, I was in Italy at the time, sick as a dog, and that began this journey. And once I told the story in the documentary format, we became a family in some strange way, because so much healing had happened. So many deep conversations that maybe hadn’t happened yet started to happen because the cameras were there. And honestly, I was asking them, and we just bonded in such a beautiful, spiritual way. And we kind of became like soul brother and sister, Laura. She was the older sister because she had a lot to teach me. Right before Zach passed away, I made him a promise that I would do whatever I could to make sure his story got seen by as many people as possible and more than that, that I would help him raise money for the fund, the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund so we don’t have to lose any more bright souls like Zach to this underfunded illness. And then after she wrote this beautiful book, which everybody needs to read, “Clouds: A Memoir,” I asked her if I could turn it into a movie, and five and a half years later, we’re talking to you.
I know there’s some drama in the movie was, was all the was the movie pretty accurate? Were there parts that were dramatized for the sake of the story? Or was it pretty true to the experience?
Laura: Definitely, it is a dramatized version of our story. So, there are some elements that are just straight-up fiction, there are things that are moved around elements that are put together into one scene that were maybe three or four scenes, then people two that are combined into one person. You know, that has to happen, because you only have so much time to tell if a four-year story, but it’s beautifully done. The essence of Zach and our family is there, the essence of the story is there. I think it captures the spirit of the story beautifully, and, and really showcases in in ways the struggle that Zack had to go through in a way that I think people can really connect with. And in the relationships too. So I’m very pleased with the storytelling in the movie. We’re delighted with it.
Laura, I understand that you have a deep faith. And I would imagine that that was helped you get through all this?
Laura: I would say that it was key to getting us through. I mean, it really was our faith. Our faith informs us that there’s more to this life than just this life. And that in losing Zack, we’re really handing him over to heaven, and we look forward to seeing him again. But we also experience him still here. We still feel his spirit. I really believe that the veil between us and those we love and, and God is very thin. And yeah, I think without our faith. I’m not sure how we would have done this. That’s what our hope is in and our trust. Justin was talking about this earlier about the trust, kind of that feather in the wind type thing. I’m the same way. My prayer through this whole thing has been “Lord open the doors and we’ll walk through and he keeps opening doors.” And actually, there’s been times where I have to say, “Can you not open the doors anymore?”
Justin: Then I call and say, “Laura, you’re walking through that door.”
Laura: It’s been a lot of open doors. So we’re really grateful for that. And I’m just so grateful too that we have been given the gift of this story so that we can be a voice of other kids who suffer from, from childhood cancer, whose families don’t have this opportunity to share, you know, what we need in that area, which is research. So, we’re grateful for that.
Justin, what is it about these inspirational stories like this, that have really kind of defined your career as a director? What, what keeps drawing you to them? What are the things that you’re trying to explore?
Justin: I think we talked about this last year (for an interview for “Five Feet Apart”). But for me, it’s also faith, I think that I’m trying I’m on like, an endless journey to your out how I can weave my artistic abilities as a filmmaker, and weave in elements of what it means to live and have faith in something greater than yourself. Believe in love as an example, as a metaphor for God. Whatever I can do to take an idea, and wrap it in a very commercial project, and infuse that with as much love and faith in God as I possibly can, so that as people are consuming it, they don’t even realize really, they’re getting it. So, it’s kind of looks like chocolate-covered broccoli, or the medicine and the dog food, however, you want to talk about it? I want my art to touch people’s hearts and I want them to then be able to have an experience where it causes a shift in perspective. Because as we know, it’s little shifts, it’s little acts of kindness that move the world. And that’s all we’re asked to do. That’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to open our hearts and be used as vehicles and clear channels for His work.
How did you feel about how the cast stepped into these roles? I thought they were excellent.
Laura: I would agree. I was so pleased with Fin Argus just rose to the occasion. He did an amazing job playing Zach. He fully immersed himself into the role, into learning about Zach, and he just captured him so beautifully. And Madison did a beautiful job of playing Amy. And then Sabrina, I mean, I just love how Sabrina played Sammy, her voice. She’s just got so much control over that voice of hers to be able to harness it to sound like Sammy. And yeah, I was just and then of course Neve, I love her. We have a friendship now that I think will be lifelong, because she’s just is a beautiful human being. And she just is such a pro when it comes to acting. All of the actors who were just delightful.
Justin: There’s a there’s a little bit of skill, a whole lot of luck, and a tremendous amount of divine intervention that led to this cast being brought together in this way. Look, Zach co-directed this movie, and he helped cast it, let’s be honest. A lot of this was out of my control. I didn’t know who was going to walk through that door and audition, or who was going to be available and who wasn’t. And at the end of the day, I really relied heavily on what he was trying to say to me. At the very end of the day, he was he wanted his mom to be a part of that process. And Laura helped me select Fin. I thought it was going to be him. But I just needed her to verify it. And as soon as she saw him, she did and then it was as clear as day. Nobody else could have played Zach Sobiech except Fin Argus.
“Clouds,” a Wayfarer Studios/Warner Bros. Pictures film directed by Justin Baldoni, is streaming exclusively on Disney+ beginning Oct. 14.
Watch the interview with Baldoni, Sobiech, and Reel Faith’s DeWayne Hamby below: