When he got the call, Greg Robbins knew right away he wanted to help create Kay Rich’s movie. There was emotion. And it was a true story.
Such components are often lacking in motion pictures. Robbins knew he’d found a project he believed in – and he knew it was one that deserved to be shown to audiences.
Rich was setting out to share the tale of the romance between her and her late husband, Paul Rich. Their love story is one for the ages, partly because it proves falling in love is for all ages.
“It was a romance movie involving elderly people, which you just don’t see,” Robbins said.
Paul and Kay met when he was 87 and she was 62.
“He gave me 14 years of paradise,” Rich said. “I’ve never in my life met anyone I have as much respect for … When he died, I immediately knew I had to do a story or movie to tell about Paul.”
After a couple months of grieving, she set the plan in motion. The movie depicting their romance, “My Dream Beside Me,” will be shown at 7 tonight in the theater at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Less than a year before his death in December 2012, Rich – whose family founded Rich Products in Buffalo – was traveling the world, working and walking two miles every day.
“I wish I could have been friends with this man,” said Robbins, who helped Rich write the film and also directed it.
Rich, once a University of Buffalo football player, kept a diary from the time he was 16 until his death. Robbins read it cover to cover multiple times while he and Rich wrote the script.
“The man was grand, wonderful, loving and the most principled person on every level that I’ve ever met,” Rich said. “Not to mention that he was handsome enough that I’m 25 years younger, and no one thought he was too old for me.”
She had two other writers attempt to write the film but wasn’t pleased with either result.
She then had Robbins, whom she met through a mutual friend, take a shot at it. She was again unsatisfied.
No outsider could capture the emotion of her relationship with Rich, she was convinced, so she was ready to give up on the movie.
Then Robbins suggested a solution: She should write the script. He flew from his Los Angeles home to Buffalo to work in her and Rich’s home. As she recounted stories and explained what she would like in the film, Robbins helped her formulate it all into a cohesive script.
The movie, which cost about $100,000 to produce, was shot almost entirely in Buffalo with the exception of several boat scenes in Cleveland.
James Wyman, director of development for Burchfield Penney, said the film is showing there for three reasons: It is a touching and funny movie with a powerful message of hope. It is a Buffalo story with local personality and color – “it’s important to embrace our own.” And people came out in waves for its debut at the Palace Theater in Hamburg in March – “it was amazing to see the turnout, the warmth, camaraderie, friendship and love.”
The vast majority of the cast and crew were from Buffalo.
“They blew me away,” Robbins said. “I was born and raised in Hollywood, and they were as good as any in Hollywood.”
Actor Jeff Rose (“Drop Dead Diva,” “Teen Wolf”) plays the role of Rich. When he first heard the story line on the phone with Rich, he cried in his car.
Rose is 48 years old, and he plays Rich as he ages from 87 to 101. None of the older actors who auditioned impressed Robbins or seemed to fit the role.
Though applying makeup to Rose took 2 hours every day of shooting, he was a perfect fit.
“I was able to relate with the made-up Paul like it was Paul,” Rich said.
Rich played herself, having determined no actress knew the role as well as she did.
“Nobody thought she could or should, and she did a pretty incredible job,” Robbins said.
Rich loved every bit of it.
“It was just being me on the screen,” she said. “It was also healing to go into some of those scenes, those emotional scenes.”
Much of the film depicts situations exactly as they were, where they were. Rich’s death scene, for instance, was filmed in his bed.
“This movie, I’ve been spiritually guided to do it,” Rich said. “He’s about the finest man I’ve ever met, and I’m paying tribute to him … It’s been a year and a half, and I’m now transforming our relationship into something to celebrate rather than me crying a lot.”