Encapsulated inside the blood of every man is a desire to run. We are conforming to our nature when we push ourselves past established boundaries. We must run far, and we must run hard. Whether we’re running a spiritual race, running in the corporate world, or on pavement, we are born to run. Liberty University professor Dr. David Horton assuredly received that memo. Extraordinary is his tale, how he ran far and hard. It’s also the tale of his wife, who ran just as far… and just as hard.
Dr. David Horton, played by Leland Klassen, possesses a genuine belief that his students can achieve any goal they may have, and he is determined to set the example. Enduring an open heart surgery and extensive knee damage is not enough to hold David back from this unyielding pursuit to run. Despite the pessimism of his doctor, David follows his heart and sets his sights on the daunting Trans Am Foot Race—a nearly 3,000 mile trek stretching from California to New York.
There’s only one problem—David’s wife Nancy, played by Shari Rigby, feels like she and the kids are getting the shaft. Sure, she’s proud of all that her husband has accomplished, but the toll it has taken on the family unit has reached its limit. When asked to choose between her or running, David refuses to answer. The movie carries us on a journey of sacrifice, repentance and perseverance, played out through the give-and-take relationship of this conflicted yet devoted couple, each of them trying to stay true to their heart and to God.
“He’s run enough miles to circle the earth four and a half times.”
With breathtaking panorama shot at iconic locations across the country, including Mt. Rushmore, the Nevada desert and the Hoover Dam to name a few, the cinematic craftsmanship of Extraordinary is top-notch—a remarkable testament to Liberty University’s film students, who created and produced the film.
Extraordinary does not fail to entertain—it is inspiring and heartwarming, as well as challenging. Some scenes will give you a good laugh, while others will cause you to pause and reflect on the loyalties of your own heart. Above all, Extraordinary shows us what it means to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and pioneer of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Bold City Voice recently had the privilege of speaking with the writer/director Scotty Curlee. Here is what he had to say.
Bold City Voice: What is the film Extraordinary about?
Scotty Curlee: It’s about career professor David Horton, who’s been serving as a professor at the largest Christian university in the world, Liberty University, 39 yrs now. What’s interesting about this gentleman is that he’s run enough miles to circle the earth four and a half times.
BCV: Oh my gosh! I don’t know how that’s humanly possible, but apparently it is.
SC: We pick up the story when he asked his wife if he could take on one more adventure- he wants to run across the United States to inspire his students, to show them they can accomplish anything they put their hearts and minds to.
BCV: Wow! That’s quite an example to show the students. I think if they see that they would be inspired to do pretty much anything that’s in their hearts.
SC: Absolutely. Yeah, and what we found interesting was that as we dug deeper into the story, we got all that about him being an inspirational professor and runner plus we got the marriage aspect as well. You know, what we realized is that there is this incredible person who’s been standing beside him this entire time—his wife Nancy.
BCV: Yeah I remember that in the movie, when he said she was the one who was extraordinary, and that she was the real hero to him.
“Your legacy is your investment in others and your family. That’s what matters.”
BCV: Well awesome. Did you want to speak any more about the premise or should I go on?
SC: Yeah, I think as far as important storylines… and what Dave learned along the journey, is that you really need to have your identity in Christ, right? Because we as men oftentimes put our self worth into what we do—our careers. In Dave’s case it’s running, but for a lot of us men it’s getting that next promotion, moving up that career ladder. And when we put our identities into anything else we end up having a roller coaster ride. So that’s one of the things that’s discussed in the movie. And then just focusing on how important it is to value the contributions that our spouses make.
BCV: This is the first student-driven film with a theatrical release. How did Liberty Film students support the production?
SC: This is the fourth film that Liberty has produced. Our last film, God’s Compass, was released worldwide on television, and this is the first production that is being released theatrically nationwide, through Fathom Events. And it is unique in that 60 film students came together to make this movie and they had a variety of different roles. And it’s not like they did remedial jobs—they were actively involved in making the movie. In fact, during the first phase we filmed 90% of the drama there in central Virginia, and the rest of it—all those beautiful landmarks—we actually took some students on a trip across the country to film.
BCV: That’s cool how the kids took such a big role in that. Did they have anything to do with the writing of it or was that something outside of their realm?
SC: So I actually co-wrote the script and we got feedback from the students after we wrote the script. They were involved in every aspect of filmmaking. In fact, I still have two students working on the marketing and distribution of the movie.
BCV: So almost the whole thing was in their hands?
SC: You got it.
BCV: Well I’m sure that their resumes are going to be looking a little nicer after working on a project like this!
SC: Yeah, it actually catapulted some of our students right into the industry and they are doing very well. We actually have students who just graduated that worked on this movie that are now working on the TV show Hawaii Five-0.
BCV: Why is Liberty University so passionate about training filmmakers and other artists?
SC: Well, I think we as believers are behind in the arts. We realize the impact that television shows have, and also the impact that movies have on culture, and we are running behind.
BCV: Why do you think that is? I’ve noticed that too, and have wondered what someone else’s take on that was?
SC: I think part of it is the tabooness of it. It’s the arts… it’s not cut and dry, it’s not black and white, so it’s the temptation of going into a sinful realm. What we should do is navigate it. Yes, it’s difficult to navigate but that’s part of life and there’s a lot of gray. So we’ve got to get our believers out there and mix it up in Hollywood to be trendsetters and to be thought leaders and that’s what we are trying to do at Liberty.
“You really need to have your identity in Christ.”
BCV: What was special about Dr. Horton and his wife Nancy’s marriage that inspired the film?
SC: Originally, I didn’t know it was about him and his wife and the marriage journey. I thought it was just about my mentor, because I studied under David Horton at Liberty University. In fact, early on in the movie when Clark received a $1,000 check—remember that scene?
BCV: Yeah, I do.
SC: When he’s struggling, and he goes to Dave and says, “I can’t cut it anymore, I can’t afford it”—well that check, believe it or not, that actually came to me.
BCV: Huh… What was that about? Was Clark you, or am I reading too much into it?
SC: No, no, no. There is a real Clark who Dave also mentored, but I didn’t want to inject myself into the movie, being the director, so I decided to write that part of the story into Clark’s character. But I know that I’m one of many students who Dave has helped with a $1,000 check.
BCV: Wow! That is really cool, and about he and his wife’s marriage journey…?
SC: Yeah, as I dug into the story I began to see there’s a lot more to what his accomplishments are. He could not have been able to do what he did without his life partner Nancy Horton and all the sacrifices that she made… all the difficult times. Nancy had one thing she asked of me when I asked to make this film. She said, “Look Scotty, I want to be honest about how hard it was for me,” because she knew that by sharing her journey it would help other women who have husbands that are driven, focused… feel like they’re following God. But they’re following God at the cost of their relationship with their family.
BCV: It just seems like such a struggle in the soul between the two. It’s something that any man could find himself in. I empathized with both of them, because he had this thing that he really wanted to do and was so passionate about, but it was hurting his wife. I don’t know, when do you say, “I’m gonna just let it go”? I think a lot of people can relate to that tug-of-war.
SC: Ultimately I think that’s the beauty of this movie- women will be able to see this and they’ll connect with Nancy and go, “I know what she’s going through, I know how she feels.” With Dave’s character, the guys will go, “That’s how I feel. I feel driven, but my wife is sometimes holding me back… but hey, we need each other.” And then, there’s a beautiful reconciliation that’s there because they’re communicating and they’re open to each other’s feedback, and there’s a genuine repentance. I think when we see a genuine repentance in our spouse we want to go the extra mile to do whatever we can for them.
BCV: So he was gone for 64 days on a nearly 3,000 mile race… How is this symbolic of common distractions every marriage faces?
SC: Sometimes we have to do certain things like military personnel serving overseas months at a time, sometimes we’re on overseas work with our company, sometimes it’s self-imposed because we’re athletes. But we’ve got to find ways to connect, whether that’s FaceTime or whatever that is. We have to make the effort to do that because sometimes it’s out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t stay connected and make an effort it can feel distant. A woman’s love language may be quality time, and what happens if we’re not around?
BCV: Right. I liked how in the film they did it the old fashioned way of writing letters. I just think that’s a sweet way to connect with your loved one and think it’s a lost art these days.
SC: You got it.
BCV: How are audiences encouraged by Dr. Horton to finish strong?
SC: Well, I think you’ll see, and you know because you’ve seen the movie, at the end of the day it’s all about your relationship with God and having God first… and then your family. Everything else, the money you make you’re gonna spend; the career—the titles end up going away, the trophies collect dust. What you leave behind is your legacy. Your legacy is your investment in others and your family. That’s what matters.
BCV: Okay, so the film is going to be on Thursday, September 7th in select theaters. How can people buy tickets for it?
SC: All they need to do is go to extraordinarymovie.com and they can punch in their zip code and it will tell you the closest theatre that it’s playing in. And because it’s a one night event, I’m encouraging everybody to get your tickets online. On the day of the event I’m not sure that there will be tickets left since it’s pretty possible it could sell out. So get your tickets online as soon as possible. I’m encouraging marriage groups, singles groups, you’ll really find this movie an encouragement.
There is a special 15-minute marriage panel discussion at the end of the movie led by Dr. Tim Clinton of the American Association of Christian Counselors, and it will play right after the movie before the credits roll. He’s actually going to be dissecting some of the scenes and talking about how it relates to our own marriages. We’ll have Shari Rigby and Leland Klassen there, in addition to me, talking about our thoughts on it as well.
BCV: What do you think the takeaway of that will be for audience members?
SC: Three things: One is identity in Christ. Two, really value, understand and appreciate the sacrifices our spouses make for each of us. And then three, inevitably our marriages are under attack. So for all those couples struggling out there, there is light at the end of the tunnel. So just persevere, hang in there, stay encouraged because when you get out on the other side it will be even better.
“There’s nothing like spending yourself in a worthy way. You will look back and have no regrets.”
BCV: Love it, love it. And just in general, what do you hope the film will accomplish?
SC: You know, there hasn’t been a good marriage movie since Fireproof, at least in terms of kingdom impact. Not that we could even compare Extraordinary with Fireproof. I want to just be humble in our approach of what we’re going to do. What I would say is, it’s legacy impact so we’re hopeful that it will impact lives and encourage marriages. And for those people looking for just a “feel good” movie—this is an inspirational film, this is a film about possibilities… this is a film about pursuing your dream but thinking about the costs of it as well.
BCV: For me, one of the main things I took away is to reach bigger than yourself. Reach bigger and strive for more than you typically do. Go outside of your realm and really take a chance in life to do something that’s beyond your comfort zone, and watch how God can get you to that level.
SC: Absolutely. You know, I look at that quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the critic and I read that to my students, it’s called “The Man in the Arena.” If you get a chance read that, you can just google it. It’s such an encouragement, because it tells people to dream big, work hard… go after it. There’s nothing like spending yourself in a worthy way. You will look back and have no regrets. You will be unlike those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. It’s a beautiful quote.