By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Bandmates and brothers Jon and Tim Foreman were taking a well-earned sabbatical from touring with their Christian/alternative pop band last year when they received a call asking them if they were interested in penning a song for the upcoming film “Unbroken: Path to Redemption.” The inspiring drama picks up on the post-war struggles of real life American hero Louis Zamperini, a one-time Olympic runner who later as a soldier suffered years of brutal treatment at the hands of his Japanese captors during World War II, which was depicted in filmmaker Angelina Jolie’s 2014 “Unbroken.”
Returning as a war hero believed to be dead when his plane was shot down over the Pacific, Zamperini arrives in California a broken man, unable to find steady employment and still fighting the horrors of battle and captivity in his head. Although he meets Cynthia, a beautiful and understanding woman with whom he can build a new life and start a family, he remains angry, and is bent on avenging his most brutal captor at the POW forced labor camp where he was held for years. He becomes an alcoholic, sinking deeper and deeper into depression. With his marriage on the rocks, Zamperini begrudgingly agrees to join Cynthia at a Billy Graham revival meeting. It is there that he finds true inspiration to find forgiveness for his captor and begins to heal his troubled soul. He goes on quest to meet with his former captors to show his forgiveness.
Like the earlier film, Zamperini’s uplifting story is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” The film stars Samuel Hunt (“Chicago Fire”) as Zamperini and Merritt Patterson (“Supernatural”) as his wife, Cynthia, along with Vanessa Bell Calloway, Bobby Campo and Gary Cole. Will Graham portrays his famous grandfather, who became friends with Zamperini following his epiphany. Harold Cronk, who previously directed the faith-based “God’s Not Dead” and “War Prayer,” helms “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” from a screenplay by Richard Friedenberg (“A River Runs Through It”) and Ken Hixon “(Inventing the Abbotts”).
Inspired by the story of Zamperini, who like his own grandfather was a World War II POW, Jon wrote “You Found Me,” a powerful ballad about redemption for the film, on a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to New York. The band subsequently recorded it.
Jon and Tim share another connection with Zamperini. Like him, they’re avid surfers who grew up in Southern California. (Zamperini, who died at 97 in 2014, was raised in Torrance and the Foremans grew up near San Diego.) The siblings, who founded their band, whose name is a term for a surfing maneuver, along with drummer Chad Butler in 1996 have since recorded 10 albums. The brothers talked about their contribution to the film, which opens in theaters Friday, Sept. 14.
Q: What attracted you to this project? Did you connect with the fact that Louis Zamperini was a surfer like you?
Jon: Louis’ life had so many levels.
Tim: The connection we have is more personal than that. We’ve been familiar with Louis’ amazing story ever since we were young though our grandfather, who was a POW as well during World War II. He was shot down flying the same kind of plane that Louis was shot down from.
Jon: There are a lot of parallels.
Tim: He was a POW for several years so Louis’ story circulated through our family. It’s kind of a window into our grandfather’s story. We can see a different side to his story; some of the stories he didn’t tell us. So, (this film) has a lot of personal meaning for us, and to be asked to be a part of that, to story-tell from how we do things—through our music—is a real honor.
Q: How did you get into the writing “You Found Me?”
Jon: Some songs take a long time. We did a song for Disney’s “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” and that was a real struggle. There were a lot of people involved and a lot of opinions, and a lot of revisions. That’s what I was expecting with this one. We got an overview of what the movie was about and what they were hoping for the song to accomplish. I was just so inspired by Louis Zamperini’s story when we were about to get on a redeye flight to the East Coast. By the time we landed, the song was pretty much there. So, some songs you really have to fight, chase and wrestle, and some songs just come to you. This was one of those songs where I felt like his life, and the themes of forgiveness and the idea that redemption is possible—all of these things I wanted to express in the song. (The band made a music video of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GWceCHSV90)
Q: What have you been doing during your hiatus?
Tim: For the first time in 20 years, we announced a hiatus that was October last year. We had a couple of things already booked, but we didn’t book anything else. So, basically, we just did 10 shows all year. Mostly, we’ve been at home with our families. It’s really a celebration of the friendship that we have that we’ve been able to do this, what we love, to sing songs that we’re passionate about for 20 years but also to have a chance to be with our families and recharge before we begin the conversation of what is next. We weren’t expecting to be working on (this) soundtrack but the opportunity, because it was such a personal connection to us, we really couldn’t say no. Good music is usually faith-based.
Jon: We have such a different story from a lot of bands. Ten albums in, we’re now figuring out that it’s different. We grew up playing in bars, churches, coffee shops, bar mitzvahs and frat parties—wherever we could—and we didn’t see a delineation. It was always just “Let’s play good music. Let’s sing our story,” and I think our story is deeply connected with our faith. But I think redemption and hope are human stories available to everyone. Putting it in a box doesn’t do Christ any service. For us, we’re excited to bring that conversation anywhere in the world. We’ll be in India in a couple weeks. The beautiful wonderful people there will let us sing some songs. That delineation breaks down when you get to know people. The great part about this film is that it’s just compelled by the story.
Q: Does it encourage you that your art is connecting with people beyond California? That you’re connecting with people internationally?
Tim: Yes. What’s really surprising is that you can be very personal and honest in a song about something very specific memory or situation in your head as you’re writing it, and sometimes those most personal songs can become the most universal. You take it on tour to the other side of the world and you meet a bunch of people who feel exactly the same way. It’s a beautiful, universal connection where you can have this ongoing dialogue that’s very honest, stripped of pretense and all these other things and yet you’ve never met each other.
Q: Do you feel refreshed that you took this hiatus and are you eager to get back on stage performing live in front of thousands of fans?
Tim: I don’t know if the crowds have ever been the driver for us. The songs mean a lot to us and that’s something we never grew tired of. But it has been good to be with our families. Getting into the studio to knock this song out was really refreshing. When you come back to something that you’ve done—almost taken for granted because it’s all you’ve done for 20 years—to step away and come back to it and see it for what it is is a beautiful gift to play music with people we love—makes me excited about the future holds.
Q: How much Christianity is infused into your concerts?
Jon: I think we’re moved by the moment. You have to define what it means to play “Christian” music. There’s no such thing as a “Christian” guitar string. I think you could define Bach as Christian music. Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan are part of a wider net than what fits a specific genre. With that, it becomes this beautiful canvas where the earth is the Lord and all that is in it. I can write a song about a tree and it’s a “Christian” song.
Q: The concert documentary “25 in 24” shows the peripatetic tour that you did. Would you ever do that again?
Tim: Maybe but making a movie about playing 25 shows in 24 hours is harder than playing 25 shows in 24 hours. (He laughs.)
Q: Do you get a chance to surf much these days?
Jon: Yeah. We’re surfing more than ever right now.
Tim: That’s our hiatus.