I conducted this interview for Boxingscene.com in January 2005.
Rick Schroder Returns To The (Cinematic) Ring
By Ed Odeven
As a young boy, Ricky Schroder made his feature-film debut in “The Champ” in 1979. Jon Voight played his ex-champ dad.
A quarter-century later, Schroder makes his directorial debut in “Black Cloud.” He also acted in, wrote and produced the independent film, which was filmed in the summer of 2003 in and around Chinle, Ariz., a Navajo Nation town near the Four Corners Region, and Las Vegas.
By Hollywood standards, the movie’s budget was microscopic ($750,000 and shot in one month), but the movie does not have a low-budget feel. To a man, the movie’s cinematography, fight scenes and dramatic impact are particularly impressive.
According to the movie’s official Web site, “Black Cloud is an inspirational story about a young Navajo Native American boxer who overcomes personal challenges as he comes to terms with his heritage while fighting his way for a spot on the US Olympic boxing team.”
Cal Bahe, who runs the Damon Bahe Boxing Gym in Chinle, and his now-17-year-old son Lowell, an eight-time junior national boxing champ, serve as the real-life inspiration for the picture. In addition, the Bahe gym was used for many of the movie’s scenes.
“Black Cloud” made its big-screen debut at the Phoenix Film Festival in April 2004 and earned the best picture audience award. The world premiere took place last September at the Harkins Cine Capri in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Eddie Spears, a Lakota Sioux from South Dakota, plays the title character. Russell Means, a longtime Native American activist and actor who has appeared in such films as The Last of the Mohicans, plays his trainer-coach Bud. Julia Jones, a beautiful actress, plays his girlfriend, Sammie Haskie. Tim McGraw makes his motion-picture debut as a sheriff. A slimmed-down Wayne Knight, who played the infamous Newman on Seinfeld, also has a small role in the film.
Schroder plays the part of rodeo cowboy who is Sammie’s ex-boyfriend and Black Cloud’s antagonist.
The movie will reach a wider audience in the coming weeks, as it’s slated to open in the following cities: Boston, New York, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., New London, Conn., and New Haven, Conn., at the end of February or beginning of March. Also, a Los Angeles-area premiere is scheduled for the same time.
During a recent phone conversation, Schroder spoke with BoxingScene.com about the movie.
BoxingScene: How would you describe the way the movie is being perceived around the country, especially in and near reservations?
Schroder: Well, I can tell you that in Gallup and Farmington [New Mexico], we’ve done phenomenal amounts of business. I kid you not, but these two locations did like 70 percent of what all of Phoenix did, those two locations alone.
There’s been incredible support from the Indian community, not only in rural areas but in urban areas. One of the curious things we’ve found is that the movie is crossing over into other ethnic groups, like Spanish-[speaking] people and black people, which is surprising. I really didn’t anticipate that. It’s a pleasant surprise, but it makes sense. The boxing world is full of colorful people and ethnically diverse people. It just goes to show the movie is finding its core audience.
There’s been some critics that have not liked the film, and I can’t speak for them. But I know that the people that come out of the theatre are pumped up and they are excited and they’ve had a good experience and they feel like they’ve gotten their value.
BoxingScene: At this point, where has the movie been released?
Schroder: In Albuquerque, N.M., and Oklahoma City, as far north as Montana and screened in Washington state, but not extensively by any means. Really, the only place it’s screened extensively is Arizona and New Mexico.
BoxingScene: What did you learn about yourself while making this movie?
Schroder: Well, many things. I learned that I love to make movies. I used to just know about acting and only that part, but now I appreciate what everybody else does on the crew. I’m just amazed at how complicated making a film is. There’s so many parts and people and moving parts that have to come together and unite, and I’m just amazed how it comes together.
I learned that I can be a workaholic if I’m not careful. I learned a lot about Native American people and their culture and learned some things about boxing — what it takes, in a small way, to be a fighter and a champion and the dedication and the hard work that these athletes have for their sport.
It’s not just a sport, it’s their life. I saw that.
BoxingScene: How emotionally and intrinsically rewarding was the film project for you?
Schroder: The project is a complete success from my perspective. I had fun making it. I had a good time that’s important. I learned an amazing amount of things — that’s important, [too].
I’ve had people write me letters about the movie that have seen the movie five, seven times and told me about how the movie’s touched them, and how they’ve had either a father or a brother or somebody else [in their life] die of alcoholism and this movie really touched them.
I’ve had people that live, eat and breathe the sport tell me that it’s some of the best fight scenes [they’ve even seen in a movie]. I’ve just seen Million Dollar Baby and it doesn’t compare at all. Our fights are way more dynamic, way more energetic. I’ve had other people tell me that as well. It’s just very gratifying.
Now the goal is to show it and get as wide a distribution as possible, so as many people as possible can have the opportunity to see it before it comes out on DVD [which is slated for May].
BoxingScene: Will the movie be released overseas?
Schroder: I’m in the process now of getting my foreign distribution coordinated, so, hopefully, the movie will go on to have a life in Europe and Asia and South America.
BoxingScene: How do you think this movie, when you talk about all the boxing movies that have ever been made, will be perceived in a couple of years from now?
Schroder: I think it’s going to be one of those hidden gems since I don’t have a 3,000-print release and a 30-million dollar advertising budget since not everybody’s going to hear about it. But I think this is something that’s actually going to build over the years, a following and a fan base.
BoxingScene: Do you think in the future you’ll ever want to make another boxing movie?
Schroder: You know, if there’s a great story that comes my way that fits and that can be right, I’m all for doing it. I’m not out looking for another boxing story, [but] things have a way of falling into line and working out in the right way. So you’ve just got to see what comes down at you and see what comes down the pipe without trying too hard to predict or create something.
BoxingScene: What do you think is the most compelling scene or moment of the movie?
Schroder: Well, one of the highlights of the movie is when Black Cloud is in the ring with his trainer Bud and he breaks down, and for the first time lets down all of his defense and becomes vulnerable. That to me, right there, is when he hits rock bottom and from there he picks himself up and rebuilds his life. That scene’s always really touched me.
BoxingScene: If he wasn’t an actor, do you think Eddie Spears could or would be a fighter?
Schroder: Well, there’s no doubt he’s a gifted athlete and a talented kid. I don’t know the answer to that. I think he could definitely hold his own. I think he has other goals and aspirations. And to be a fighter, I think, you have to eat, live and breathe it. It’s just not Eddie’s path.
BoxingScene: What impact did Russell Means’ presence had on the film?
Schroder: Russell definitely was an attribute to the film. He brought a wisdom and a strength to the character of Bud that he plays, and an authenticity to it, too, because his son was a boxer and Russell was one of his coaches and really knew the sport.
He’s a powerful personality and presence and where he goes people watch. And it’s good because it created awareness of my film, Black Cloud.
I’ve also never seen the soft side of Russell in a movie, and Black Cloud shows that. It shows what he’s like, the other side of Russell.
BoxingScene: Do you think the Bahes will have a special place in your life for years to come? And how interested will you be in Lowell’s career as it develops because of this movie and the relationship you’ve built with the family the last couple of years?
Schroder: I think I’ll know the Bahes the rest of my life. Black Cloud is more than just a movie to me. It’s three years of my life. So I’m sure we’ll be communicating for a long time to come.
I hope to be able to help Cal down the road with a boxing gym or some other necessity which he has. If I can get Black Cloud out there and make it a success that I hope it will be become, I’d like to help Cal in whatever way I can.
BoxingScene: Did the work of Jimmy Gambina, the veteran boxing choreographer, make the movie’s fight scenes look as realistic as they did?
Schroder: Absolutely. He’s got a tremendous amount of energy and passion and he brings that to the training of the actor and to the choreography of the fights. This is the guy that did Rocky I. He trained DeNiro for six months for Raging Bull. He trained Travolta for Saturday Night Fever. He’s been around and he knows what he’s doing. And to have him on the set only made the film that much better.
BoxingScene: How would you describe Gambina’s personality in terms of being a coach?
Schroder: He loves people. I think any coach loves people. Why else coach people if you don’t love them? Eddie and him really bonded. Eddie moved into his house for six weeks and just trained with him every day. It was amazing. They really built a strong relationship.
BoxingScene: Do you think this might be a springboard for some of the actors in the movie, say, for Eddie and maybe for Julia? And do you sense them getting a lot more publicity now?
Schroder: Oh yeah, I definitely see Eddie becoming a major movie star. Julia is definitely going to get more opportunities.
[This was] the role of Eddie’s young life, and I’m not sure he’s aware of that yet, but this was a star-making role.
BoxingScene: Tell us about your latest film project, which was film recently Vancouver.
Schroder: I acted in a movie for TNT. I played a surgeon in a movie called 14 Hours that’s coming out in the spring.
BoxingScene: What’s the next movie you’ll be making?
Schroder: I have a western, an untitled western, and hopefully I’ll be shooting it this summer. It’s set in 1870. Everybody’s got to make a western, I think.