By now you’ve likely seen the movie trailer for “The Finest Hours,” which according to the commercial, debuts at a theater near you Jan. 29. Unless of course you are attending the Coronado Island Film Festival, where Walt Disney Studio’s action-thriller starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Eric Bana will open the festival at 8 p.m., Friday Jan. 15 at our own Village Theatre. The movie will also be shown at 11 p.m.
To obtain some background on the movie and its story line, I was able to interview the co-author of the book “The Finest Hours” Casey Sherman recently by phone. The Boston native is a graduate of Boston University, and a former television producer for WBZ-TV.
It was this latter role that turned Sherman toward a writing career. “I call myself ‘the accidental author.’ I was thrust into the spotlight because of my work on one case, the Boston Strangler. I was on a personal crusade because my 19-year-old aunt Mary Sullivan was the Strangler’s youngest and final victim Jan. 4, 1964. I investigated that case for over 15 years to find closure for my mother, who lost her sister to murder. My name became high profile and many successful authors contacted me. They wanted to write a book about my story. I was flattered, but since I was living the story, if anybody was going to write it, it was going to be me.” The result was the 2003 book, “A Rose for Mary: The Hunt for the Real Boston Strangler.”
“The Finest Hours” was written with co-author Michael J. Tougias, which started out as a competition of sorts and yielded a best seller. “Michael was researching the same story at the same time,” Sherman recounted. “We thought that two separate books might cancel each other out and we decided to collaborate. The film focuses on the main rescue, but our book details the two rescues that occurred simultaneously. I grew up on Cape Cod and consider myself an historian of the area. This happened in 1952, but it was lost to history. I was in the Village of Chatham signing the Boston Strangler book, when my brother took a tour of the Chatham Lighthouse station. He came back and said, ‘Casey, I think I have your next book.’ That piqued my interest.”
As for the writing itself Sherman said, “It was very much akin to writing a song together as a songwriting team. We were in competition with each other. Michael would write a fascinating chapter on the oil tanker SS Mercer and then I would have to bring it on a chapter on the SS Pendleton. We edited each other’s material and it was a very cohesive relationship. We wrote with one voice in the story.”
Not being able to resist at least one smart aleck question during our interview, I asked Sherman if the Captain of the main U.S. Coast Guard rescue vessel in the movie Bernard C. Webber looked like Chris Pine. Sherman laughed and said, “When it looked like the book was going to be successful, there was talk of a movie being made. He really looked like Jimmy Stewart and in my head I heard Jimmy Stewart’s voice throughout the entire writing of the book. Bernie was pretty self-deprecating, but he thought the book would make a great movie. Bernie asked me if Don Knotts (from the “Andy Griffith Show”) was still alive to play him.”
In real life, there were 84 men trapped in the two oil tankers and 70 survived. At one point 32 men were saved by a 36-foot Coast Guard life boat. “We were the only ones to meet and interview the rescuers themselves,” Sherman added. “Many of them are in their 80’s and to a man they didn’t want the story told. Many never told their wives or co-workers. They were part of the Greatest Generation, but they were also very haunted by what they went through at sea. There were multiple boats in the entire rescue. It was an unprecedented challenge for the Coast Guard.”
Sherman has also written a book entitled “Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy.” That book is being made into a film as well, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg. Filming is expected to being this spring.
Sherman summarized his experience with “The Finest Hours.” “The reason the story is inspiring is at its heart it’s a story about faith; whatever you believe in. Chris Pine’s character was the son of a Baptist minister and was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. He heard hundreds of sermons and the last place he wanted to be was in church. He undertook a suicide mission in a 36-foot boat into the waves and had an epiphany that he could save these men and that’s exactly what he did. These guys never thought they were heroes.”
Sherman will be attending the CIFF and is participating in the “Military in the Movies” panel from 10 a.m. to noon at the Coronado Island Marriott. If our interview is any indication, he is also more than willing to discuss his movie projects.
Another feature of the CIFF will be the Celebrity Tribute Party to be held at the Hotel Del Coronado Saturday from 8-10 p.m. in the Crown Room. Honorees will receive “The Hubbell” which is named after sculptor James Hubbell, who designed sculpture and fountain “Sea Passage” which resides between the Coronado Recreation Center and City Hall.
The party will be the place where many of the dignitaries attending the festival will congregate. The CIFF Hubbell winners include:
• The Producer Award will be presented to Jonas Rivera, the producer of “Up.”
• The Music Award will be presented to Lee Holdridge, an Emmy and Grammy-winning Hollywood conductor/arranger. His work includes “Great Voices Sing John Denver,” which is being shown at the CIFF.
• Autumn McAlpin is being honored with the Screenwriter Award for the feature “Waffle Street,” which will be part of the CIFF and shown Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Village Theatre.
• Rising Star Awards will be presented to the young co-stars of the movie “Coming Through the Rye,” Stefania Owens and Alex Wolff.
• The Director Award will be given to “Stuntman” Director Richard Rush.
• The Hollywood Legacy Award will go to Jack Lemmon and accepted by his son Chris Lemmon, who will present his one-man show “A Twist of Lemon” during the festival. Lemmon will perform at 1 p.m. Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Coronado Library’s Winn Room.
CIFF President and CEO Mary Sikes said of the Celebrity Tribute Party, “It will be a really exciting evening. We have a fantastic list of honorees and the Hotel Del Coronado, the site of the party, has been a tremendous Presenting Sponsor. Everyone associated with the Coronado Island Film Festival can hardly wait until the weekend begins.”
To attend the Celebrity Tribute Party, either a VIP or Crown City Pass is required. For ticketing information, please go to www.coronadoislandfilmfest.com.