It was born from a dream. Sort of.
“I’d been dreaming that I was directing something and it was going well,” says director Peter Hedges. “I had sat up in bed and told my wife I wanted to make one of those movies like A Field of Dreams or It’s a Wonderful Life. She said, ‘Great, go back to bed.’ But I couldn’t. ‘What’s the matter?’ she said. ‘I don’t really come up with those kinds of ideas.’
That could have been the end of it, but as luck would have it he met with Ahmet Zappa, who had a loose idea about a childless couple who bury slips of paper with all the qualities they would like their child to have in the garden. After a heavy rain a young boy with five leaves on each ankle emerges.
Suddenly his whimsical dream was looking much more like reality.
“There was just a myriad of possibilities,” the director continues.
“I started telling stories from my own experience as a parent, as a child, as an adult. All that I’d learned in the 15 years I’d been a dad. The meeting got very emotional. I didn’t really want to write off of anyone else’s notion but this was too delicious. It felt like if I took on its magic and married it with my experience and my deep need to explore, in a new way, the issues of family and love and how we treat each other and how we navigate this broken world… if I could put all that together, maybe I could come close to making the kind of film that I was dreaming about.”
Finding a balance between realism and fantasy, however, was harder than he imagined. A table read of his initial script revealed some problems.
“About halfway through the reading fell apart,” he says.
“Suddenly I found myself falling asleep and the room got very grim. What I realized was that while the ultimate journey was right, the middle of the movie was in deep trouble. I had more whimsy and less meaning.”
A rewrite led to finding the right balance.
“With a film like this you take a bit of a leap,” he says. “I think that is the enchanting part of cinema. “That’s why we go to the movies.”