Same Kind of Different As Me
The unlikely friendship forged between Ron and Deborah Hall and a homeless man named Denver Moore at Fort Worth’s Union Gospel Mission did not seem destined to be a best-selling book. But the amalgam of spiritual memoir, horror and, ultimately, love, hope and faith turned out to be just that.
Same Kind of Different As Me sold over 1.5 million copies and was at the top of The New York Times bestseller list for three and half years after international art dealer Ron Hall, Moore and Lynn Vincent penned and published the story in 2006.
The silver screen though, that’s a different story – a winding, twisted tale of deals falling through, lawsuits, failure, broken promises and ultimately, much like the book itself, hope.
A decade after the book came out, Same Kind of Different As Me will be brought to life by an all-star cast, with initial release by Paramount Pictures scheduled for April 29.
Notably, Renee Zellweger, a native of Katy, Texas, will play the lead role of Deborah Hall after a five-year hiatus from film-making. The third installment of the Bridget Jones saga, Bridget Jones’s Baby, starring Zellweger, began shooting in early October in the United Kingdom as well. Ron Hall will be portrayed by Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou will play Moore. Screen legend Jon Voight will play Ron Hall’s father and Disney Channel star Olivia Holt plays Hall’s daughter, Regan.
The book tells the story of art dealer Hall, whose wife, Deborah, is volunteering at Fort Worth’s Union Gospel Mission. Working with his wife at the mission, Hall meets the misanthropic, menacing Moore, a homeless former convict with a heart full of rage. The two men from different worlds forge a tentative friendship as Moore eventually softens to reveal a caring, creative soul. Their bond faces a test when Deborah Hall is diagnosed with cancer. Moore later lived with Ron Hall until his own death in 2012.
For the film, director Michael Carney co-wrote the script with Alexander Foard and Hall. This will be Carney’s directorial debut.
During a recent screening for Paramount executives of the first director’s cut, Carney was given a standing ovation and praised for his ability to bring the film in on time and on budget, according to Hall.
At the center of the book and the film is the Union Gospel Mission. The organization began helping homeless people in Fort Worth in 1888 and now has an $11 million facility with a far-reaching impact. The current facilities were made possible by donations that came pouring in after Deborah Hall’s funeral in 2000, at which Moore spoke about how “Miss Debbie” had brought both friendship and hope back into his life. Family and friends raised $500,000 just one day after her funeral.
Don Shisler is the current president and CEO of Union Gospel Mission. He said, “Union Gospel Mission now houses around 200 ‘residents,’ who agree to participate in the program, which offers them real-world training opportunities and access to licensed social workers who help them navigate and access available assistance.”
Before sitting down to dinner in three shifts, the homeless (both residents and those who line up outside) have the chance to consider the mission’s Gospel message in the Deborah Hall Memorial Chapel, where her portrait hangs. Ron and Deborah Hall first encountered Moore while volunteering at one such dinner service.
The movie was shot in and around Jackson, Mississippi, in 2014. But the story about how the film finally got made could, as Hall says, “be a screenplay all its own.”
“I am amazed any movie gets made, knowing all that goes into it,” Hall said. “I have had a crash-course in the process during several failed attempts at bringing this story to life.”
In 2006, one of the producers who worked on The Pursuit of Happyness, an inspirational film starring Will Smith, purchased an option on the book. “That screenplay [the first script] was not the essence of the story,” said Hall. “It focused more on death and dying than on the hope and relationships.” After that initial disappointment, Hall shopped the story around for two years with no success. Many in Hollywood saw the story as “damaged goods” since they had seen the first script, according to Hall.
After that option expired, Gil Netter, producer of such successful films as The Blind Side and later The Life of Pi, took interest. Netter took the project to Disney. That deal also fell through. Said Hall: “I was excited at first, thinking I would be the next Mickey Mouse, and thinking why not turn it over to the professionals?”
The next script Hall saw was more disheartening.
“After reading the second script, I tore it in half and attached a cover letter to it stating ‘My truth is better than your fiction!’”
And so began the lengthy and costly process to once again regain his rights.
Over $200,000 in lawyer’s fees later, Hall was approached by two strangers from Tennessee, one a doctor and the other a lawyer, whose wives had read the book and who wanted to offer their professional services to get it made into a movie. This began one of the most disheartening chapters of the story.
The two men offered to help Hall finalize his exit from the failed Disney contract at a reduced rate. “I was happy for the help at first and in the end we became friends. I had already wasted five years and hundreds of thousands of my own money on two failed attempts to make the movie,” Hall said.
The two men drew up partnership documents to formalize their relationship going forward, insisting that they would never allow Hall to be taken advantage of again. The fine print of the one-third partnership split allowed Hall only “creative control,” and at the time he had no reason to question their intentions. That perception changed quickly, Hall said.
The path to a film went through – where else? – Fort Worth. Marty Bowen, a 1987 graduate of Arlington Heights High School with credits including The Twilight Saga and The Maze Runner, showed interest in the project. After an initial meeting with Bowen’s production company, Temple Hill Productions, Hall could see a path, unlike his partners at the time, who were dismissive of Bowen’s plans.
“I, on the other hand, was happy to work with Bowen and thought he was trying hard to help us get the movie made,” Hall said.
In the meantime, Hall began yet another rewrite of the screenplay, along with Carney and Foard, which stayed true to the story he had originally written with Moore.
Hall remarried in 2011 and after he returned from a vacation with his wife, Beth, in January 2013, his partners tried to enforce their contract and effectively cut Hall out of the process and move forward without him. Hall turned to an old friend and former owner of the Wall Street Journal, Chris Bancroft, who helped Hall regain his rights from his Tennessee partners.
After raising funds to make the film, with mostly Mississippi investors, the project was presented to producer Mary Parent. She was not interested initially in getting involved in a faith-based project but was won over by both the book and the screenplay, according to Hall. She took the script of Same Kind of Different as Me to Paramount, which became an investor, allowing Hall and Carney the additional financing they needed to make a high-quality film to appeal to a wide audience.
“After all those years, the whole thing came together in just six weeks,” Hall said. Shooting finally began in mid-October 2014.
Parent and Cale Boyter produced the movie through Disruption Entertainment, along with Darren Moorman, Stephen Johnson and Hall. Executive producers are Bancroft, Hans Graffunder, Carney and Foard.
Securing the all-star cast was one of the most rewarding parts of the entire project, said Hall. Hounsou, an actor with diverse credits including Blood Diamond and Guardians of the Galaxy, signed on first. Publisher Harper Collins is re-releasing a film version of the book around the time of the film’s release. In a blurb for the book, Hounsou says, “It’s a rare opportunity for an actor to be blessed with a role so soulful. To embody Denver’s spirit was at once an emotional challenge and an extreme privilege, learning the story of a man who came from so little and gave so much.”
The movie will premiere in Hollywood in April, with special screenings and fundraisers at both the Fort Worth and Dallas campuses of Union Gospel Mission to follow.
Hall’s son Carson has taken over his art business, so Ron Hall can explore his new passion – filmmaking. Ron and Beth Hall have relocated to Los Angeles. “I have reinvented myself as a screenwriter and movie producer at age 70,” he laughs. He is currently developing two television series, one based on an unpublished book he wrote titled For Art Sake, about an international art dealer that is loosely based on experiences during his career. The other series is based on criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey’s legal career.