For years, 14-year-old Cartersville resident Zach Breder had a dream of writing and directing a movie. Thanks to the mission of the team at Make-A-Wish Georgia, the genesis of that dream was realized July 9 as Zach and his family arrived at the Georgia Film Academy in Fayetteville, where he was told that his movie would be made with the help of the film academy and Pinewood Atlanta Studios.
Zach was born with hypoplastic right heart syndrome, meaning that Zach’s heart has no right ventricle. The condition has no cure, and limits physical activities.
Zach’s mother, Valerie, said it was her son’s cardiologist who initially got the ball rolling for the wish by making contact with Make-A-Wish Georgia.
The day at home on July 9 began after Zach and his family had arrived home in Cartersville after a trip to Miami. Zach that morning asked his mom if anything was happening with Make-A-Wish.
“I told him I would check, and to keep working on his script,” Valerie explained. Writing and movie-making has been something dear to Zach since he was a boy.
Zach said he wondered what was up when his family were all wearing Make-A-Wish t-shirts. And he wondered even more when a limo pulled up at the house.
With Zach, Valerie, step dad Steven Stadler, aunt Julie O’Callaghan and grandmother Barbara Santor aboard, the limo headed to the Georgia Film Academy, located at the Pinewood Atlanta Studios Production Centre, across Sandy Creek Road from the studio site.
Wondering what was up became clear when the large door on Stage A rolled up and the limo pulled into the building. Zach and his family emerged from the limo to find 200 people waving and cheering – for him. The large crowd included Georgia Film Academy staff and students, Pinewood Atlanta Studios staff, business people, Make-A-Wish Georgia staff and members of the community.
Among those welcoming Zach was Make-A-Wish Georgia CEO Tim Earley, who told the 14-year-old, “The community has come together for you.”
Also welcoming Zach were Pinewood Atlanta Studios President Frank Patterson and Georgia Film Academy Executive Director Jeffrey Stepakoff.
Speaking to Zach as the crowd looked on, Stepakoff said, “We’re really excited to take the script you worked on and help you make your movie a reality.”
To be filmed in Stage A, Stepakoff said the film academy team and students will help bring the movie to life.
“We’re moved and inspired to help you make your movie a reality,” Stepakoff added.
Patterson followed, commenting that Zach is no stranger to films and performing.
“Not many kids have that commitment at that age,” Patterson said of Zach in his younger years.
Then turning his comments to Zach, Patterson said, “(Pinewood Atlanta Studios sets) the stage for great storytelling. We want to set that stage for you.”
It was then that Patterson and Stepakoff announced that Zach after the ceremony would tour the Pinewood Atlanta studio lot, meet some of the production vendors and visit a live set. They said that once filmed, the movie will be edited and screened at Pinewood Atlanta.
Toward the end of the morning’s event, Stepakoff and Patterson had one more thing to present to Zach.
During the time the two spoke, Zach had been sitting between them in a director’s chair. He was asked to stand and the director’s chair was turned around for Zach and the room full of cheering people to see.
Along with “Pinewood Atlanta Studios” inscribed on the backrest was the name of the director, “Z. Breder.”
To describe the look on Zach’s face when he saw his name on the director’s chair is not an easy task. But the expression on his face and the tears that formed in his eyes when his gaze fell upon it told the tale. It solidified, in plain sight, the dream of what could be and of a wish come true.
The tears in Zach’s eyes persisted for several minutes, and were mingled with the watery gaze of others that Tuesday morning in Stage A at the Pinewood Production Centre. Those present in the soundstage knew what they were witnessing – a dream that is alive, and a wish that came true.
Valerie a few minutes later remarked that Zach doesn’t cry often.
Through the tears, cheers and the applause that filled the occasion, there was no one in the room whose life went untouched. That was especially true of Zach.
Make-A-Wish Georgia Vice President of Marketing and Communications Amy Alvarez speaking to Zach after the ceremony summed up the outcome of his wish to write and direct a movie.
“This is the beginning of your journey,” Alvarez said to the young director, the light in her eyes evident.
Commenting on the surprise presentation, and noting the partnership of his organization with Pinewood Atlanta Studios and the Georgia Film Academy, Earley said, “It’s all about relationships. It happened that this wish lined up perfectly.”
The thing is, outside of the many Make-A-Wish staff present for the occasion, neither Zach nor his family knew hardly any of the 200 people in the large room. But they all came for him, to acknowledge that his dream means something in the world and to be present when the dream came true. And the expression of their intent was clear. The look on so many of their faces, the faces of strangers, mirrored the look on the faces of Zach and his family.
It was a day Zach will never forget, nor will many in the large group present in Stage A whose mission it was to help make a wish come true and to witness its unfolding. Mission accomplished.
Strangers or not, the entire scene was a kind of reflection of something else – the participation in something greater, something with a transcendent purpose that helps us see what is still possible in the world, and to be a part of making a difference in a life. Some believe that the only way to make a difference is to be the difference. That notion attained the status of an axiom Tuesday morning in Stage A because it was clearly self-evident.
Since 1995, Make-A-Wish Georgia has been granting the wishes of local children facing critical illnesses. More than 20 years later, nearly 8,000 lives have experienced the impact of a life-changing wish. To learn more about this organization visit https://georgia.wish.org.