Darren Moorman has always loved a good story.
Even though he started out acting, over the years, the Pasadena resident found his true calling to be that of producing, finding those great stories and bringing them to light.
“There are so many miraculous stories out there,” Moorman said in a recent telephone interview. “They come in a lot of different ways and forms, like through a book or a news article; I’m just out there reading and listening to people. My heart is kind of focused on redemptive and moving stories.”
His newest movie, “Same Kind of Different as Me,” hits theaters next Friday, Oct. 20. Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, the story interweaves that of a struggling couple and their family, and how an unexpected friendship with a homeless man brings them all together. The movie stars two Academy Award winners and two nominees, with Greg Kinnear as international art dealer Ron Hall, Renee Zellweger as his wife, Debbie, and Djimon Hounsou as the homeless man-turned unexpected friend Denver. Jon Voight plays Hall’s estranged father.
The book, based on the true-life story of Ron Hall and Denver Moore, begins around Hall, when his life was unraveling in an emotionless marriage. In hopes of saving his marriage to Debbie, who later falls ill with cancer, he befriends a homeless man after his wife dreams that their futures are tied together. Paramount Pictures carried the film since 2014, before it was picked up by Pure Flix Entertainment, a Christian faith film and TV distributor.
“It’s a dream come true for me, with this movie coming out in just two weeks,” said Moorman, noting that he fell in love with the story after reading the book about 10 years ago. But like most projects, the process was full of starts and stops, from the screen adaptation to the funding to the casting.
“It’s been an exciting project, that’s for sure. Casting is one of my favorite things but it’s always tough — it’s a nail biter,” he said. “Greg is the one I always envisioned to be acting as Ron Hall, even though I didn’t tell him that right away. I didn’t want him to think I was a stalker.”
Moorman convinced former investment banker Stephen Johnston to come on board and share producing credits. Initially, Johnston turned the project down, saying “I wasn’t comfortable with the risk associated with the movie business,” but after some time and active recruiting by Moorman, he committed. “I had to see there was great heart around the project … it was one of those powerful stories that needed to be told.”
Ultimately, Johnston facilitated the filming in Mississippi, noting there is a great film rebate program there, along with a willing community and the right environment for the book, which originally takes place in Fort Worth, Texas.
After the book’s publication and wild success, authors Hall and Moore continued to share their story and visited more than 200 homeless shelters across America, and have raised an estimated $32 million for the homeless. Since Moore’s passing in 2012, Hall has continued the legacy by speaking at events and fundraisers, drawing attention to the homeless epidemic.
As a way to continue that mission, the film has partnered with the Union Association of gospel rescue missions, and there are 150 red carpet events scheduled to take place to raise money for the homeless nationwide.
Both producers have said their work filming the story has personally changed their lives. After filming at a homeless mission, they realized they had a real opportunity to bring change. “Instead of just doing movie magic,” as Moorman quipped, the pair decided to raise money and really renovate the mission, raising about $250,000. From there, they decided to keep it going, founding the “Everybody Can Help Somebody” foundation, a nonprofit aiming to help the less fortunate.
The name comes from one of Moore’s quotes in the book, “nobody can help everybody but everybody can help somebody.”
“My experiences with this have completely changed the way I look at the homeless,” Moorman said. “I can’t walk by somebody who is homeless anymore without wanting to have a conversation with him or her or find a way to get them a meal. I recognize them as human beings … You know, no one ever started out life by saying they want to be homeless.”
Moorman and Johnston enjoyed working so much together; they are pairing up again in the near future to produce the life story of Cesar Millan for the big screen. Currently, Moorman is also in production for the second season of a new TV series, “Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest,” with Lionsgate, and also is in post-production on two movies, “Run the Race” and “Indivisible.”
Laughing at what might be his biggest hit, Moorman said his two sons, 10-year-old Eli and 8-year-old Zion, hands-down think “Mark Hamill” is the claim to fame.
“It’s the first time my boys really told me, ‘Dad, you’re a star!’” said Moorman, who moved with his wife, Krista, back to Pasadena just two years ago to raise their family.
Krista Moorman grew up in Pasadena, attending Pasadena Christian School. Their boys are home-schooled so the family can travel to film locations. They are a big part of Moorman’s “production team.”
“There’s really no other way to describe how blessed I am, telling these stories, and hopefully I thrive while doing it,” he said.