Los Angeles, CA - Ernie Found faced more tragedy in two weeks than many people do in a lifetime. His daughter, Caroline Found, died in a tragic moped accident when she was just 17. His wife Ellyn, who was suffering from pancreatic cancer, passed just over a week later.
Who and what finally convinced him to allow Hollywood to make a movie about it?
It was "a little bit of who and what," he shared with Townhall following a press screening of The Miracle Season in Los Angeles. "Some time after the movie people came by, I said, 'Thank you, but now's not the time.'"
Eventually, the "what" became trust and the "who" became screenwriter David Aaron Cohen.
LD Entertainment never gave up on Ernie, keeping in touch for the next year. Cohen, a father of six, finally met with him.
"He made it very clear to me he understood the reservations and concerns," Found said. "He kept saying, 'I will do all within my power to tell the story and I'm not out to Hollywoodize it.'"
Director Sean McNamara then entered the picture, adopting the same amount of sensitivity necessary to make Found comfortable enough to let the filmmakers tell the story.
At first "petrified" to meet Ernie, McNamara was comforted by the fact he had already made Soul Surfer, which depicted surfer Bethany Hamilton's terrifying run in with a shark. She lost an arm in the accident, but, as the film portrays, she prevailed despite her new handicap. McNamara knew that Caroline's story would be similarly compelling to a mass audience and may help some people heal from tragedy.
"I slowly talked myself into it," the director told Townhall.
Then, he talked Ernie into it. He explained to the father that the film is to "honor" his daughter, not exploit her. How could he taint such a joyful soul?
"We want to show that to the world," he said.
What resulted is The Miracle Season, starring Danika Yarosh as Caroline, Oscar winners Helen Hunt and William Hurt as Caroline's volleyball coach and father, and Erin Moriarty as her teammate and best friend.
Found sat down with Townhall to share what was so special about his late wife and daughter.
"We liked to joke quite a bit," he said of Caroline. "We liked to make each other smile."
In fact, Caroline liked to make everyone smile. As captain of her high school volleyball team, she was a natural leader, a joyous spirit who made friends with everyone she met. As is depicted in the film, when she passed, her teammates were inconsolable. But, as time went on and each volleyball practice became a bit more bearable, they started to "Live Like Line." It's a motto in Iowa that has lasted to today. Students still proudly wear their "Live Like Line" T-shirts and some Miracle Season cast members even embraced the motto on the red carpet for the film's premiere in Iowa.
Many have become familiar with "Live Like Line," but there is another motto Mr. Found would like you to know: "Love Like Ellyn."
Most all of Caroline's spirit and love of others and welcoming of others is through her mother, he shared.
Caroline was a teenager and liked to bend the rules, but "she learned how to love through Ellyn because Ellyn understood love."
Ellyn's uncanny ability to love was perhaps displayed no more clearly than when she somehow found the strength to attend her daughter's wake.
"The best we could hope for was that she'd be in a wheelchair" to and from the venue, Mr. Found recalled.
"At the end of the services she stood up and said I'm going to walk out of here and she did. She held her head high, she smiled, she reached out to touch the people, she thanked them for being there. It was probably the most inspirational thing I've ever witnessed."
Ernie barely held the tears at bay recalling the scene.
The father was happy to share that he still keeps in touch with Caroline's teammates "a couple times a week" and that Iowa City West still remembers Caroline in several ways. The Young Life Youth Group that she participated in is still quite strong. Additionally, at the end of each sporting season, "Live Like Line" awards are given to West High athletes.
"Her spirit still lives strongly."
Danika Yarosh, the actress who plays Caroline in the film, hoped she could maintain that spirit.
In a separate conversation with Yarosh, she gushed about how "lovely" it was getting to know him, despite her initial reservations.
"He's such a teddy bear," she said. "I was honestly so nervous to meet him. I didn't know if he would approve because it is so sensitive. I was so nervous about playing her accidentally disrespectful or crossing a line."
That all changed upon their introduction.
"The first time I met him, I'm not sure there were any words that were exchanged. I just remember him enveloping me in his arms."
Not only did he reassure her that he approved of the project and her starring role in it, but he presented her with Caroline's senior photo to carry with her during filming and she keeps it in her bag wherever she goes.
Ernie also gave her "an enormous amount of credit" for coming to Iowa City before the premiere.
"She came here by herself knowing a handful at most of the people, came to a town she's never been in. She just wanted to come and experience Iowa City and be a part of it. I can't credit her for having the guts to do it and doggone it where all this red carpet stuff around and Danika shows up with her 'Live Like Line' shirt on. She's a special young woman."
It's plain that Ernie was comfortable with the cast and largely pleased with how true to life The Miracle Season was. There is one thing, however, that Ernie admits was "Hollywoodized."
In the film, Ernie finds himself lashing out at God and questioning his faith. At the height of his grief, he rejects an invitation from his friend to go to church, noting that it hasn't done much for him lately.
"That was a little bit of Hollywood," the real Ernie admitted. It was "the creation of conflict."
"I never questioned God and the powers to be," he explained. "That's not my place to do so. I never felt anger. I would ask why, but trying to seek the answers would become more confusing."
He understood the purpose of the scene in the film, however. "As long as it came back around to where it needed to be," he was okay with it. After all, his faith a huge part of his recovery, he explained in a feature for the film.
McNamara was in awe of Ernie's strength the more he got to know him.
"This was a scary one to make," the director admitted. With three kids of his own, he "doesn't think he could even get up in the morning" if something happened to one of them.
Not only did Ernie get up, he courageously remained standing and shared his story with the world.
To learn more about the Founds, You can watch the moving HBO special that aired in 2012.
The Miracle Season is in theaters this Friday. In case you're wondering where the title came from, it's an homage to the impossible feat Caroline's teammates pulled off following the death of their star player. Somehow, they managed to defend their state championship title.