By Gloria Turner
Special to The Globe
MOUNT VERNON, Mo. —
When Darrel Campbell read a story idea about five years ago for the movie “Last Ounce of Courage,” he knew immediately it was a project he wanted to tackle. It appealed to his sense of patriotism, family and faith.
Rodney Stone, a producer and friend from Lake of the Ozarks, introduced Campbell to Richard and Gina Headrick, of Mississippi, who had an idea for a short film meant to inspire people to stand up for the liberties guaranteed to all Americans -- liberties they believed were being stripped away.
“Rodney and I had worked together ... several years ago,” Campbell said. “He got Richard, Gina and me together. They envisioned a 15- to 20-minute film and wanted me to write the story and screenplay. It turned into a full-length script.”
The Headricks sold some land to finance the project, he said. The movie is now playing in theaters nationwide, and is due for DVD release in December.
Campbell said the movie has several themes, including patriotism, grief and family relationships.
“We wanted it to honor the military,” he said. “All my life, I’ve heard stories about relatives who served our country.”
That includes his uncle Freeman -- a younger brother of his father who was killed in Normandy during World War II.
“Grief can be a generational thing, affecting families at different levels for years,” he said. “Loss can be so painful that people shelve the pain and withdraw into themselves. I think most people can identify with that.”
Story behind the story
Campbell used personal experiences and memories to write about a man who loses his son to war.
After many years, a grandson helps him reconnect with his beliefs and family. Inspired by his grandson, the grandfather decides to reclaim the patriotism and faith that had lapsed in his hometown.
Campbell was born in Joplin and attended school in Mount Vernon. He said he has many friends and family who have fought in wars, including his father, uncle, brothers-in-law and cousins. He said he wrote the movie to honor them and their service.
“Most screenwriters, if they are smart, write from what they know, what they have lived,” said Campbell, who also directed the film. “This is not some big political movie. We wanted it to be a movie of encouragement and inspiration -- one that will help people remember what our military people are doing every day.”
The movie, filmed mostly in Paola, Kan., and North Kansas City, took about 35 days to shoot. Veritas Entertainment, owned by Steve Griffin and Kevin McAfee, acquired the rights and handled post-production and sound work. Campbell said Griffin directed additional scenes shot in Durango, Colo.
Carthage singer Duke Mason makes an appearance in the movie.
“Duke and I have been friends for a long time,” Campbell said. “We’re sort of a comedy team and plan to do several more projects together.”
Campbell also used other friends and family, including his brother-in-law, his wife, Pam, and their four children -- two of whom are pursuing acting careers in Los Angeles, he said.
A theater graduate of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Campbell later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, where he worked for 10 years before moving to California. He was a writer for “Days of Our Lives” alongside his wife, who was a production assistant.
Afterward he was hired by Wind Dancer and Walt Disney Television to help develop new products, including NBC’s “Carol and Company,” starring Carol Burnett. He worked as a writer for the TV show “Home Improvement,” and also wrote the first episode of “Timon and Pumbaa,” a TV spinoff of “The Lion King” that aired on CBS and ABC.
He received a Gold Medallion Award of Excellence for “Heir to a Dream,” a biography of LSU and New Orleans Jazz basketball player “Pistol” Pete Maravich. With Stone, he wrote and produced his first family film, “The Pistol: Birth of a Legend,” about the famous basketballer.
He has lived in Mount Vernon for the last 18 years as a freelance writer and producer. The Internet, cellphones and other modern modes of communication make it possible for him and his family to live away from California’s earthquakes.
He wrote and produced “Redemption of the Ghost” in 1998. Collaborative projects include writing a Christian musical alongside his brother, Doug Campbell, of Carl Junction, and writing “When the Dough Doesn’t Rise: Self-Help Confessions of a Christian Entrepreneur,” with Scott Cloud.
Driven to work
Campbell is now working on a reality TV show and continues to develop pilots and films for Veritas and other Hollywood producers. He also writes animation for Warner Brothers.
He’s a self-admitted workaholic -- being involved with several projects at once is something Campbell says he enjoys. But what really drives him to seize every moment is the memory of a tragic car accident during his youth in which his best friend was killed.
“I sleep fine at night, but I almost feel guilty for taking the time to sleep,” he said. “I think (the accident) taught me to value every minute, to make the most of the time I have, and to appreciate the people around me.”
Campbell considers himself an easy-going, patriotic, funny guy who values his faith and family -- that’s the way he was raised, he said. And while he tackles serious topics in his work, he loves comedy most.
“I like to laugh, and I like to make people laugh,” he said. “I think I’m pretty good at it. I believe that’s why Disney hired me in the first place.”