Thies, Local Catholic School Alum, Produces Award-Winning Film, The Peanut Butter Falcon
By Alisa Fisher
For David Thies, the road to The Peanut Butter Falcon began at a local bike shop, Going Mobile Bikes and Boards. This was the name of Thies’ bike shop in Hyde Park in the 1990s. There, Thies met a professional cyclist named John Stamstad who was going to set the world record riding from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide, and Thies wanted the filming rights. Part of that project was sold to National Geographic, which led to more work in film: documentaries, commercials, music videos and then a reality T.V. show called The Mansion. The bike footage eventually became a film called Into the Divide, which will be released later this year on iTunes.
Thies moved to Los Angeles in 2004, and since then he has worked as a cinematographer, director and producer. When he first read the script for The Peanut Butter Falcon, he immediately thought of the movie Stand by Me, and was struck by the adventure aspects of the story. “It was an amazing journey, and something I could relate to from my own childhood,” said Thies.
Growing up in Mt. Lookout in the ‘70s and ‘80s meant playing with the neighborhood kids, having the freedom to walk to school, and spending afternoons playing baseball.
Thies attended Cardinal Pacelli School from first through eighth grades and graduated in 1986. He remembers Pacelli as a family-friendly place. Junior high teacher Tom Monger had a special interest in Ohio history, and he took students to see Tecumseh, which Thies still remembers. He also recalled being consistently lucky with Bars & Bells pull tabs at JuneFest, Christ the King’s annual festival. “Ask my mom. I was a repeat $25 winner.”
In August 2019, The Peanut Butter Falcon opened in just under 1,000 theaters across the country. Thies said the movie has been a big hit, earning $5.7 million in ticket sales as of September 2019. He attended a local screening at the Mariemont Theatre in Cincinnati on Aug. 18 and was thrilled by the positive reaction from friends and family with whom he watched the movie.
Thies said the movie took about five weeks to film in the summer of 2017. It took another two years to put the finishing touches on it, particularly the film score.
A majority of the scenes were filmed in or near Savannah, GA. He said actor Shia LaBeouf arrived a month before filming began to learn how to crab fish.
“There was a family atmosphere on the set. Shia and Zach developed a genuinely close friendship,” he said.
When asked what the movie meant to him, Thies said, “It was the chance to do a project I could take home to mom.” He also explained that Zach Gottsagen’s desire to be a movie star was a major factor. “We wanted to do it for him,” he said. Gottsagen plays the movie’s lead character, Zak, who has Down Syndrome and decides to run away from his care home to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler.
Thies has been working on the movie for five years and there were a lot of little milestones along the way: finishing the script, filming, deciding on the music score, and then releasing it. He said it’s been amazing to sit back and watch the world react to it. “When you are a producer, you spend a lot of time putting out little fires. It’s a matter of taking everything in and making the best-educated decision to move forward. Now that the film is out, I’m just grateful that it’s a project I can take home to my mother and feel proud about it.”
Thies’ mother, Carol Heilbrun, who lives in Cincinnati, is indeed proud. She said, “The first time I saw the film, 10 minutes in, I forgot David was involved. I was so touched by what I was seeing.” She said the on-screen relationship between Gottsagen and LaBeouf was genuine.
“In fact, I heard an interview with Bruce Dern, and he said that in all the years he’s been shooting movies, he has never been in one where there was such a feeling of family on set.”
Trailer for The Peanut Butter Falcon