On October 16th, Disney+ subscribers can stream the inspirational drama Clouds which tells the true story of Zach Sobiech, a teenager who died of a rare bone cancer and spent his last months making uplifting music. In advance of the film’s streaming release, the cast and director had a virtual reunion to answer questions about the film and talk about what it was like to work with Zach’s family and friends to help bring authenticity to the screen.
Director Justin Baldoni’s relationship with Zach Sobiach started before he passed away while covering his story for a documentary series called My Last Days. “Before I left that documentary, we started talking about ways to further his story with him and his mom,” the director revealed. “He really wanted to do more. So after I left, I made a promise to him. Actually, I was FaceTiming with him and Amy just before he passed away, and I made a promise to him that I would do whatever I could to further his story and make sure that music, and his message, and obviously his fund, the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, was just seen by as many people all over the world and would hopefully raise money to end childhood cancer. And shortly after that, his mom wrote the book. She took all of her pain, Laura took all of her pain, and she turned it into art. It was a really therapeutic and healing process for her, and that’s when I reached out and I said, ‘Hey, what do you think about taking this to the next level?’ So that was about six years ago. It’s been a journey.”
Laura Sobiech’s book, Clouds: A Memoir, was helpful for actress Neve Campbell who played her on screen. “I had read Laura’s book before I met her, and I actually was finishing it the night before I knew I was going to meet her,” the actress recalled. “And I was actually in bed with my husband, I was bawling my eyes out, and he was saying, ‘Are you okay?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m okay. It’s just she’s so incredible.’ She’s such an incredible, courageous, strong woman. I was just blown away by her book, her perspective, her strength on the journey that they were on. It’s unimaginable and tough to think about it, but she handled it with such grace for her family, for Zach, for herself.” Neve worked closely with Laura and the two even became friends during production.
Tom Everett Scott plays Laura’s husband Rob and her book was not only helpful for him to get into the role, but also reaffirmed his outlook on life. “Reading Laura’s book at the beginning of the process, first of all, it devastated me on a flight from Montreal to L.A., where I think people on the plane were worried about me. But I was okay. I was just trying to get through this incredibly moving story, and there were a lot of things that she said in that book and told about that story, what they went through and what other people did for them that also reaffirmed how I think people can be in this day and age. We’re definitely up against what can people do for others and how important that is, and people came to their house and brought them food while they were going through this tragedy. It was just a lot of stuff like that, that was just coming together, that was just making me realize how important that is to not only to understand how great your life is and to soak it all up, but to be there for other people, I think is important.”
Fin Argus had the job of carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders as Zach, someone he was familiar with before he heard about the audition. “I had actually heard about Zach’s story when it was blowing up originally back in 2013, when ‘Clouds’ hit #1 on iTunes. I have a personal family member who was fighting her battle with cancer throughout my entire childhood, so we were very tuned in to anything related to that, any inspirational stories. And we heard about Zach’s story, we listened to the song a bunch. So when I got the audition, and the breakdown, and the script, it was this weird jolt and like resurrection of memories. I remembered him, and I remembered the song. And when I played the song… it came back to me instantly. It had been so long since I listened, but like a bunch of different moments throughout this process, it kind of felt like meeting an old friend, you know, being reintroduced to his story. It was really special to be able to play that and just audition, and the fact that I had the honor of being able to play Zach was a huge gift. I feel very glad to be invited into this story by Justin and by the Sobiechs.”
Fin Argus even got to collaborate with Zach Sobiech on a new song that debuts in the film written for Zach’s girlfriend Amy. “We had talked about maybe using some of Zach’s old lyrics that never turned into full songs,” Fin shared about creating a melody that could fit alongside some of Zach’s unused lyrics and ideas. “I was sitting there, trying to come up with a short, fun, little tune, and I ended up looking through some notes that were in Zach’s journal that his mom, Laura, was kind enough to let me read and just see some of his musical notes and some unfinished songs. So I ended up using a handful of those lyrics and also some phrases from letters that he had written to Amy, that Amy had shared with Madison [Iseman] and I, and it turned itself into this brand new love song written from Zach to Amy. Obviously, Zach and I had this connection where we wrote together. It’s half his lyrics, half mine, but the spirit of it, it’s from Zach.”
For Sabrina Carpenter, who has found success for herself in music on Hollywood Records, getting to know Zach and her character Sammy through music was a special part of the experience. “I’m always just genuinely inspired by young talent and young songwriters, and the fact that they were so young, but their lyrics are so poetic for being such — they were at such a young age when they wrote their album,” Carpenter shared about her appreciation for the duo’s music as the group A Firm Handshake and how she and the real Sammy have become close. “I’ll be playing piano and I’ll film things that I write or covers that I write and I’ll send them to Sammy. I’m like, ‘Sammy, is this good? Do you like this?’ And she gives me her honest feedback. I just genuinely grew to respect her so much as like an ear for music, a lover of music, and a writer. And it definitely inspired so much of our performance in the film, especially, because I think the heart that they have in their songs and the connection between the two of them creates… it’s a really rare bond.’
All of the cast and creative team took away a new outlook on the world from their experience on Clouds, including Madison Iseman who plays Zach’s girlfriend Amy. “It’s completely changed my aspect and perspective in life,” Madison shared. “I feel like I view the world through a different lens. I’ll never take little things for granted, I live every single day to the fullest potential that I possibly can… I just look at life in a way of how can I make my life mean something for me and the people around me, and I just want to laugh as much as I can and love everyone as much as I can. There is so much good around me and positivity, and I think focusing on that is something that I will take with me literally forever.”
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.