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Characters Drive Locals Film
Writer-director Gren Wells is shown on the set of The Road Within during filming of the movie. It is set for New York and Los Angeles theatrical release on April 17 and will show at the State Theatre in Modesto on April 28. Wells and her husband, producer Brent Emery, are slated to attend the Modesto screening. Emerys parents are Jerry and Becky Emery of Escalon. Photo Courtesy Of The Road Within


It’s all about creating a buzz – and filmmaking husband and wife team Brent Emery and Gren Wells are planning on getting everyone buzzing about their project, “The Road Within.”

Written and directed by Wells, it is based on a German film she saw the trailer for in 2012 and focuses on three unlikely acquaintances – one suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome, one from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and one from anorexia – who ultimately take a life-changing journey together. It’s a journey that sees them flee from a clinic and head to California, where they take on Yosemite.

Emery – the son of Escalon residents Jerry and Becky Emery – was a producer for the film, which will have its theatrical release this Friday, April 17 on screens in New York and Los Angeles. Locally, it will be shown at the State Theatre in Modesto at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28. Both Wells and Emery anticipate being on hand for the Modesto showing.

For Wells, the trailer of that German film was more than enough to force her hand.

“I instantaneously knew, after seeing the trailer, that the movie had to be amazing,” she said, noting that she quickly made contact in order to get rights to adapt the movie here.

“It ended up winning the German Oscar for best film and best actor,” she noted. “It was a tiny, independent film and at the point when we got it, it hadn’t gone into theaters there.

“It is a very powerful message; it’s about mental health awareness and destigmatizing it.”

A professional writer for 15 years and formerly a stand-up comedian, Wells also wrote ‘A Little Bit of Heaven,’ a film that starred Kate Hudson, Kathy Bates and Whoopi Goldberg. She also has seen projects she has written change dramatically from script to screen and said she didn’t want that to happen this time.

“Writers get re-written, it’s a tough part of the business,” she admitted, adding that this particular project became a piece of her heart and prompted another major decision.

“I knew I had to direct,” she said. “I worked with amazing producers, my husband included, they were very fair and listened to my viewpoint.”

This was her directorial debut and Wells as tapped as Variety as one of the ‘top 10 directors’ to watch. She is grateful for the kudos but she and Emery both agree the message of the film is what they want people to embrace.

“We are all different,” Wells said. “There is no stigma against physical illness but there is against mental (illness) and there shouldn’t be.”

Following the journey of the characters is ultimately a celebration of life and the differences that make people unique.

The film was shot in late 2013, with time spent in Los Angeles and then other locations including Santa Cruz, Groveland and Yosemite. Lead actors are Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz and Dev Patel.

Producer Emery was born in Merced and raised in Susanville, with his parents moving to Escalon after he graduated from high school.

“I can claim to be somewhat of a local boy,” he said, having visited family here and being familiar with the area.

He went to school at Cal State Northridge and originally planned to go into engineering but then switched to theater.

“I had very supportive parents so it was fine,” Emery said, chuckling.

Wells – whose first name Gren is taken from her grandmother’s maiden name – was born in Kentucky and raised on the East Coast. She battled the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia between the ages of 15 to 21 so she brought some personal insight to the film.

“We went the extra distance for portraying these characters with dignity,” she said. “I felt compelled to show these characters honestly.”

The opening weekend will see Emery in Los Angeles, Wells in New York, and Wells will also be logging plenty of frequent flyer miles as she continues to promote the film across the country and internationally, including a trip to South Korea.

“We want butts in seats, hopefully this will be that little movie that could, that sleeper hit,” Wells said.

Emery added that the film has been rated R but he said that shouldn’t deter people from taking their kids – the rating comes more from language than anything else.

“This is something people should go see, especially if their kids are teenagers, bring them and have a conversation about it,” Emery said, advocating for open, honest dialogue about mental health issues.

The New York release will be at the AMC 42nd Street, with a pair of Los Angeles premieres in North Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Tickets are on sale now on Fandago and at theater sites, including the State Theatre. The show in Modesto will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28 and a ‘Q&A’ session with Emery and Wells will follow. Admission is $10.