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The Making Of...
A Friend Indeed - The Bill Sackter Story

Lane Wyrick, Director/Editor

Bill Sackter Documentary ... The Beginnings

My name is Lane Wyrick, and I'm the documentary filmmaker who created "A Friend Indeed - The Bill Sackter Story". In 2001, I met with Academy Award Winning Screenwriter Barry Morrow (Rain Man) at the Los Angeles Premiere of my documentary The Nazi Drawings to discuss with him a project he held dear to his heart. After viewing my documentary, he said to me that he wanted me to create a new feature length documentary project about a man named Bill Sackter, and that it was a project he had been hoping to see produced for over twenty years.

Barry Meets Bill Sackter

Barry & BillIn the early 1970s the youthful Barry Morrow met an older man in Minneapolis who was friendly but very disheveled in appearance, someone who in Barry's words could have been easily overlooked as a 'bum'. His name was Bill Sackter, and he and Barry, and his wife Beverly became fast friends. Barry had been dabbling in video and film production at the time, and began chronicling Bill's life with whatever camera equipment he could get his hands on.

He found a man who was abandoned in the state institution for nearly his entire life - 44 years to be exact - for mild mental retardation, and never saw his family again. Bill said, 'I was there so long, I didn't even know I was there'. Barry took the unprecedented step of becoming Bill's legal guardian so Bill wouldn't be sent back to the institution, and he brought Bill down to Iowa City, to live with Barry's wife Bev and newborn son Clay.

A New Outlook

Tom Walz & BillWith the help of Barry and Tom Walz (Dir., Univ. of Iowa School of Social Work), a new coffee shop was formed, giving Bill a place of employment an socialization, and a venue for him to play his harmonica. It became affectionately known as 'Wild Bill's Coffee Shop'. Bill looked like a brand new man, and through his positive outlook on life, was gaining the attention of people around his new community.

Soon everyone in Iowa City knew of Bill. And after receiving the 'Handicapped Iowan of the Year' Award in 1977, and then being invited to the White House for further awards, people around the country knew of him as well.

A Documentary is Proposed

By this time Barry and others had taken hundreds of photos and hours of film and video footage of Bill, and Barry decided it was time to make a documentary about Bill. His proposal was greeted with enthusiasm and his documentary idea was instead turned into the now famous made-for-television movie 'Bill'(1981) starring Mickey Rooney (as Bill) and a young Dennis Quaid (as Barry).

 Dennis Quaid, Bill & Barry
(Dennis Quaid, Bill Sackter, Barry Morrow at Golden Globe Awards)

Ratings were through the roof when it premiered in Christmas of 1981, and it spawned a sequel 'Bill: On His Own' two years later, shortly after Bill passed away peacefully in his sleep.

But the original documentary never got made...

While 'based in fact', Mickey Rooney never meant to create a character that mimicked Bill, but rather wanted to portray a sympathetic view of a person with disability. The vibrant character of the real Bill Sackter was known to those around him, but the real person who became a great hero for people with disabilities was largely unknown to the rest of the country.

Mickey Rooney with Bill & Barry

(Bill and Mickey Rooney on the set of Bill: On His Own)

Nearly 25 years since his passing, after being deeply immersed in all the original footage, photograph, articles, memorabilia, etc. that have been locked up in storage until now, I have taken over where Barry left off to complete the real life documentary of Bill Sackter.

What I have come to know is an amazing person, a story rich in content, and a wide variety of human emotion with scenes ranging from highly upbeat and incredibly funny to deeply serious and powerfully inspirational. But most of all, I've gotten to know who the real Bill is, and have the privilege to bring this story and actual real-life footage of Bill to a worldwide audience.

Barry, Jack Doepke, and BillI have met and interviewed all the main people in Bill's life, and have learned amazing true stories about Bill, compiling the hours of footage along with an extensive 35 page written outline of every minute detail relevant to Bill's life. Along the way, I have met many people in the fundraising and production process, and have been working closely with Tom Walz and the Extend the Dream Foundation to get the documentary underway.

Bill Sackter Documentary Completed

Beginning with nearly 50 hours of great source material, I edited the production down to a 90 minute feature length documentary that has been described as "inspirational" and "an emotional rollercoaster" in private screenings, and many people said it brought them to tears.

After I completed a fairly detailed edit, there was a private "Sneak Preview" screening for contributors and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, even with temp music and temp narration.

I then travelled with Composer Peter Bloesch to Seattle to record his full orchestral music score that was performed by Seattle Music who has recorded soundtracks for many top Hollywood movies. Peter's contribution to the emotion of the documentary is truly outstanding, and we were fortunate to work together since the beginning of production to make the music an integral element in the storytelling process. Then I recorded the final narration with professional theater actress Sally Wingert, who brought an incredible amount of richness to the narration.

The documentary had its World Premiere at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City (Bill's home town) - with a crowd of 1175 people, the screening was a big success, and the documentary received a standing ovation.

Lane Wyrick Barry Morrow Peter Bloesh and Jack Doepke on stage at World Premiere

Lane Wyrick, Barry Morrow, Peter Bloesch and Jack Doepke on stage
at the World Premiere of "A Friend Indeed - The Bill Sackter Story"

An audience of nearly 1200 attended the Hancher Premiere of A Friend Indeed

Nearly 1200 people attended the World Premiere at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City

It has since gone on to be voted the "#1 Audience Favorite" at five consecutive film festivals, and was screened at The Arc's National Convention in Albuquerque.

Creating the Deluxe Edition DVD

I assembled a vast number of DVD extras, deleted scenes, video and audio clips, director's commentary, and more that are included along with the full documentary in the Deluxe Edition DVD. With over two hours of additional content, the Deluxe Edition DVD gives even more depth to the documentary experience.

I would love for people around the world to have a chance to experience this wonderful story, so your help in spreading the word is greatly appreciated! If you have purchased the DVD, please write a customer review on - this will truly make a difference to people who have never heard of Bill Sackter to know if the documentary is worth watching.

Please consider hosting a screening of "A Friend Indeed" (public screening rights are included in your purchase of the DVD). You just can't beat the emotional experience of seeing "A Friend Indeed" with an audience large or small - it's very inspirational!

Also, recently the hour long PBS version have been made available for free to Amazon Prime Members - Click here to view "A Friend Indeed - The Bill Sackter Story (PBS Version)" for free on Amazon Prime.

Take care and I hope you enjoy the documentary!

All the best,

Lane Wyrick, Director/Editor

A Friend Indeed - The Bill Sackter Story



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