It started with a little boy, his little red wagon and a desire to change the world.
Zach Bonner was only 8 years old when Hurricane Charley hit Tampa in 2004. The first grader was compelled to come to the aid of those hit hardest by the second major hurricane in the Atlantic that year. With his little red wagon, he made the rounds of his neighborhood to collect water and supplies for families in need.
His mom's pick-up truck ultimately replaced the wagon and soon the family’s garage was overflowing with donations.
Zach wasn't done there. In 2005 he made the plight of homeless children in the United States his cause. He founded the Little Red Wagon Foundation, making him the youngest president on record of a nonprofit organization.
Zach’s relentlessness and his historic 2,400-mile March Across America in 2009 caught the eye of Agoura Hills resident and best-selling author and producer Michael Guillen.
“We were looking to produce a full-length film on philanthropy and a story that people could identify with,” said Guillen, describing his philanthropy project backed by the John Templeton Foundation. “We had about 6,000 story leads and a team of people combing all possible sources for philanthropy and inspirational films.”
- “Little Red Wagon” runs Dec. 7-20 at the Regency Agoura Hills Stadium 8. Click here for showtimes.
Those leads were whittled down to about 10 finalists the team thought could be adapted to the big screen, including Zach’s story. As part of the screening process, Guillen himself flew to Tampa to personally meet Zach and his single mom, Laurie.
“I needed to make sure this was the real deal, and it was,” Guillen said. “I had been a reporter for so long that I can size people up pretty quickly.”
Lunch at an Outback Steakhouse stretched to four hours, but the Bonners were soon onboard with the idea that Zach’s story would be turned into a movie.
“I had to reassure them that it would be a slice of American life but we would remain true to Zach’s story,” Guillen said.
Legendary director David Anspaugh (Rudy, Hoosiers) took on the project, and principal photography began in 2011 in South Carolina.
“The heat was unbearable that summer, topping the charts at 105 to 110 degrees and we had extras over-heating after only half a day of filming outside,” Anspaugh said. “I’ve never done something like this before, so I took it on. It’s really a remarkable and gratifying story and I couldn’t help but be drawn to it.”
Zach visited the set a few times and Anspaugh gave him a cameo role. “I put him in that scene behind his mom, where they begin their walk across America,” the director said.
The cast and crew, including Emmy-award-nominated actress Anna Gunn, who plays Laurie, took on the independent film for less than their regular fees, Anspaugh said.
Part of the movie proceeds will go to the Little Red Wagon Foundation.
“This is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done,” Guillen said. “It just shows that you’re never too young to do something.”
Zach, now 15, tweeted Wednesday that he will be attending the screenings this weekend: "Can't wait 2 see all my LA friends at the RegencyAgoura Hills this weekend for #LITTLEREDWAGON. I will be there Fri at 6:55 & 11:40 2:05."
- Click here to read our review of Little Red Wagon.