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Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story

How One Horse Helps Many Dreams Come True

By Diana De Rosa

At a time when people are looking for more things to enjoy as a family, we now have a film that is a pure delight for mom, dad, grandma and grandpa and kids of all ages to see together. “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story” (opening nationwide on October 21, 2005) is about the fulfillment of dreams and the union of a family. No matter what your age or interests, this film will send a message that will touch your soul and reach your heart.

In fact, when Director-Producer John Gatins (37) wrote “Dreamer” he did so with the hope that people would get a wholesome feeling from watching this movie. Gatins, who grew up in upstate New York, which is horse country, never gravitated much to pleasure horses but was drawn to the racing scene. “I went to the racetrack when I was really young and I just loved horse races,” commented Gatins.

He partly got the idea of “Dreamer” from the tragic parts of the racing world. “In my years of reading and watching horse racing, there was the occasional tragedy of a horse that would break down … and that left a really big impression on me. So, I had that idea in my head of being a great story if some guy could figure out a way to save a horse’s life.”

“The Ben Crane (played by Kurt Russell) character was the first character that came to mind,” commented Gatins, who started to think about the theme of this story after the tragic events following 911. “My dad was a New York City cop (who is now retired). It made me long for life as a kid when things were simpler. It made me think of the movies that I love and it inspired me to want to make a classic movie. So, I went back to my Ben Crane character and saw him as this tender mercy kind of protagonist. He’s a guy who was down on his luck and he’s got one last shot to get his life together. And this broken down racehorse is kind of him, but in horse form, and together they heal each other.”

At first Gatins envisioned Ben having a son but “then I saw Man on Fire and went after Dakota because I thought, wow, this would really make the movie incredibly special.”

Gatins was right, the heart that Dakota (who plays his 10-year-old daughter Cale) brings to this story touches you throughout the film from the moments where you repeatedly see her idolizing and trying to bond with her father to the way she helps her dad reconnect with his dad (Pop Crane played by Kris Kristofferson). Ben’s wife, Lilly, played by Elizabeth Shue, is the visionary who believes that even if Dakota’s dreams are far-fetched, her husband needs to let his daughter have those dreams and take them as far as they will go. Groom Balon played by Luis Guzmán, and jockey Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez), who at first seem unsure, become staunch believers and supporters of Dakota’s dream (and add some touching humor to the story – their facial expressions are a delight). Manolin (nicknamed Manny) with the encouragement of Dakota, gets back in the racing scene again after a tragic accident kept him sidelined for many years.

With a little coaxing Ben eventually listens to the spoken and unspoken words around him from the horses and the people and especially from Cale whose optimism is refreshing. Before long he is following in Dakota’s footsteps helping to make one little girl’s dreams come true and that little girl in turn is helping along the dreams of the people that surround her.


Only Russell and Guzmán come to the movie knowing anything about horses. For Dakota and Rodriguez there was a learning curve. The man who was assigned the task of getting them “horse ready” was horse wrangler Rusty Hendrickson, who was not only in charge of ensuring the actors became horsemen but he and his support staff (Rex Peterson, Lisa Brown and Mark Warrick) found and trained the horses who took part not only in the races but around the barns and were behind the scenes teaching the actors the language of the horse.

“We tried to come up with three sets of racehorses,” remarked Hendrickson. “We got the horses we needed based on the time we were going to spend filming.” Since shooting a scene in a movie is rarely if ever done in one take, there were many times when horses had to be switched out to rest and be replaced by other similar looking horses.

Hendrickson had to keep in mind that the horses he wanted were not going to be your typical high spirited Thoroughbred race horses. “A movie horse is very different than a race horse,” he clarified. “It needs to be a very quiet calm horse to be on camera and then for the racing sequences we had to have a spectrum of abilities; like a horse that can look like he is trying and he is still running dead last. You also need the sprinter that can make the move.”

For the actors the horses had to be teachers. “I knew nothing about racing,” elucidated Rodriguez, who discovered on the film that he was allergic to horses. “I don’t think I was even on a horse before this film.” In fact the closest Rodriguez ever got to a horse was at a carnival as a kid and in a film called “A Walk in the Clouds” when “there was a quick scene where I come up on a horse,” he described. Since Rodriguez had to do a fair amount of riding in the movie, save for the fast paced racing scenes (which were left to the stunt doubles), it was important for him to feel comfortable on a horse. “Towards the end … I think I was going 30-35 miles per hour.”

Rodriguez admitted to being a bit nervous, “I was extremely intimidated especially after seeing a couple of documentaries where horses flip over on these jockeys.” However, by the end that fear turned to a passion for the speed of horse racing. It was hard for him to fall in love with the horses since his allergy often left him sneezing endlessly or groggy on antihistamines, but those 30 mile an hour trips around the racetrack left him with some fond memories. “It was exhilarating. It was absolutely exhilarating. I have never in my life felt that feeling before.”

For Rodriguez, “Dreamer” brings an even larger dimension to the movie arena. “I am really proud of the movie,” he said. “One of the big reasons I like the movie is that it is a solid family film minus the cheese, minus the sappiness. It’s a film that – you know I have kids and I take my kids to the movies and sometimes it is like sitting through an hour and a half of torture. But this is not one of those films.”

Since Dakota didn’t do much riding in the movie, it was a matter of getting her comfortable on and around a horse. She took the role very seriously threw herself into learning her part, understanding the horses she would be working around and grasping the verbiage that comes with the sport of horse racing. “I’d never been around horses that much … I learned all their names, their colors, their socks, stars and blazes. Then I learned everything I could …” she said.

Dakota’s passion to learn “horse talk” resulted in a lasting love and after the movie was over her pseudo dad (Kurt Russell) presented her with a horse of her own; Goldie is a Quarter Horse Palomino named after his long time partner Goldie Hawn.


“There are lots of messages (in this movie) and all ages will pick up a different message,” explained Dakota. “One of the main messages is that everybody has a dream and everybody has goals. What I liked about the title Dreamer is that every single person (even the bad guy) has a dream … Even the horse (Soñador – which means dreamer in Spanish) has a dream. That makes you realize even more that every person that you see has a vision of what they want to be.”

“My character dreams of being around horses with her father, to see her horse, Soñador, race to victory, and most of all, to help her family,” described Dakota. Cale’s dreams turn into an unwavering faith in Soñador. It’s that faith that causes her father (with a little encouragement by his wife and support from his Pop) to ignore his better judgment and put everything he has into rehabilitating the injured filly.

Each member of the Crane family has his or her own reasons for wanting to help Soñador. Ben sees it as a chance to put his family back on their feet financially. Pop sees it as an opportunity to reach out to his son. Cale, who adores her father, wants desperately to be a part of his world. Even Soñador shows an unbreakable spirit in coming back from an injury that should have ended her racing career and might even have taken her life.

And it was Cale who indirectly helped turn those fantasies into realities by inspiring the people around her to see that there are things worth fighting for. When the film ended, all those lives that seemed to be broken when the movie started suddenly became whole again.

There on the silver screen is a movie overflowing with messages directed at everyone in the audience and the road to fulfilling the dreams will touch the hearts and souls of every member of any family. This is one movie you won’t mind joining your kids for. At times it will bring a tear to your eye or a lump in your throat but in the end it will give you a feeling of hope and belief in the realization that sometimes dreams really do come true!

For more information visit the Web site at http://www.dreamworks.com/dreamer.


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