In the 1989 fantasy movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character Ray nearly bankrupts his family’s farm in pursuit of building a baseball field where corn crop used to be grown. Everything works out in the end, though, when visitors (and their money) begin to pour in, validating Ray’s faith that his undertaking was the right call. But, how different would the movie have been had Ray collected the visitors’ money before the ballfield was completed? Money actively solicited by Ray, perhaps with a ‘promise’ that it would ultimately go to charity, only to be reneged later. Of course, that is not what happened in the classic film.
Nevertheless, with the above hypothetical in mind, please allow me to introduce you to Robert David Cochrane, a self-identified independent filmmaker and actor whose scant professional credits included a couple soft-porn videos in the late 1990s. In 2004, Robert was gearing up along with his father Dan for an epic cross-country road trip, something that was heavily influenced by “Field of Dreams,” and was being pitched as a charitable vehicle.
On the surface, it seemed to be an endeavor people would jump at the first chance to be a part of. For every baseball fan, it was a dream – especially when the love for the game had been passed down to them by their fathers. Seeing a game at each and every one of the 30 MLB stadiums is on many peoples’ bucket lists. Doing it all in ONE SUMMER, during an epic two-month road trip? Now, for many people, that kind of thing can be a dream worth pursuing! Logistics and time often team up to prevent this from becoming a reality for most people, and a cross-country trip like that would cost a small fortune. “In no way do I have enough (money) to make the movie,” Robert Cochrane is quoted to have said in an article in the Las Vegas Review Journal. As such, he got it funded with donations from an untold number of well-intentioned individuals who had been led to believe that it was an altruistic endeavor to benefit the National Parkinson’s Foundation (NPF).
In the summer of 2004, Robert Cochrane and his father (who has Parkinson’s) took a road trip around the country attending baseball games at all 30 Major League stadiums. A video camera was brought along for the purpose of making an independent movie with the working title of “Boys of Summer” (BOS). Claiming that “All proceeds will go to The National Parkinson’s Foundation,” Cochrane actively solicited donations from individuals, companies, and other entities to fund the trip. It appears the monies donated went directly towards funding the Cochrane’s trip under the guise that any profit from the potential future sale of the movie would then go to the NPF. Cochrane was vague about what would happen in the event the film was never sold. To promote the trip, he maintained an open website, publishing journal-like blogs written by himself and his father. Various articles showcasing the project were posted in these blogs, including the previously cited one by Carol Cling stating “The documentary will benefit the National Parkinson’s Foundation.”
There were also skeptics along the way. As stated in a blog dated June 25, 2004 written by Dan Cochrane, Tracy Hatfield from KPAC, Houston’s NBC affiliate, expressed concern over the Cochranes’ financing through charitable contributions, and that mishandling such funds could be a felony. There is no record of the Cochranes’ trip or the movie being a legitimate non-profit. Rather, they played up their alleged relationship with NPF and acted like an extension of it. Robert Cochrane, as quoted in an article by Jake Lovell Lowell in Indie Slate Magazine, said “The trip wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the NPF.
With the use of their tax ID [emphasis mine] and their excellent reputation, we have been able to receive donations and credibility that otherwise we wouldn’t have.” In an article by Amanda Llewellyn, Robert Cochrane is quoted as saying “We would go into a restaurant with our 501(c.)(3) paperwork” and ask for donations. With the said paperwork, the word “our” misleadingly indicated they themselves were the organization, which was not the case. The Cochranes were able to finish their road trip and film largely due to the purported relationship with the National Parkinson’s Foundation, and the claim that 100% of the proceeds would be donated to that organization. Attorney Chris DeGras echoed that claim in a 2006 court filing and was given a Special Thanks in the credits.
The total amount of money thus collected by Cochrane is unclear. IMDB lists the estimated production cost to be $15,000. However, the article in the Las Vegas Review Journal put it at $50,000. Unfortunately, we may never know the true number, unless Cochrane discloses the financial information. If it were a legitimate non-profit, this disclosure would be incumbent, but as it stands we will have to assume it is somewhere within that spectrum.
Time went by, and the film was shown at a small number of minor film festivals and other one-off screenings, but got no closer to being sold or more widely distributed. Interestingly, by late 2005, Cochrane’s claim had morphed into 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the film will be split evenly between the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the National Parkinson’s Foundation. While not quite what was originally stated, this change did not seem like that big of a deal at the time, since the MJFF is also for Parkinson’s research and likely has greater ties to the film and entertainment industry. As stated in Sept 22, 2005 blog by Robert Cochrane: “The Michael J. Fox Foundation is now officially on board alongside the National Parkinson’s Foundation.”
Jumping to September of 2008, when “Boys of Summer” was being shown at the Galaxy Theaters in Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas for a one-week only special engagement. Shockingly, the information about the movie as posted on the theater’s website stated: “50% of the proceeds from the sale of this film will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.” There was no mention of the National Parkinson’s Foundation. A source with direct knowledge of the purported “relationship” between the organization and Cochrane was contacted to see if there was some misunderstanding or accidental omission in the advertisement. They replied “I am mortified to think that you may be right” about the concerns that NPF was suddenly cut out, and how now only 50% of the proceeds from “Boys of Summer” were being promised to be donated. This, you will understand, is despite what is written above about the use of NPF’s tax ID number, etc.
It was not made clear what would happen to the other 50% of the proceeds (assuming the film ever does get sold). My concern is about the possibility that Cochrane planned to keep the other 50% for himself. Furthermore, it is unknown what the break-even point of the trip and film was, and also what the amount of “proceeds” were.
To review, the purported endeavor to give 100% of the proceeds to National Parkinson’s Foundation was amended without explanation to only 50% going to MJFF. Given Robert David Cochrane’s LinkedIn page says $1500 was donated to MJFF, we can surmise that up to $3k was raised in the various screenings. So what happened to the rest of the $15,000 (or possibly $50k)? Was that taken up by “hard costs” (equipment, gas, etc.)? Did Cochrane pay himself and his father as the producers, stars, etc.? Either way, it appears the lion’s share of the money raised went towards their vacation. In a previously cited article, Robert Cochrane is quoted as saying “the real reward…[was] the experience. There is nothing that can top the experience.”
As of 2022, “Boys of Summer” apparently remains unsold.
My personal appeal : If you feel so inclined to donate, please do what you can DIRECTLY to the National Parkinson’s Foundation and/or the Michael J Fox Foundation. That way you can be certain your generous gift is going towards Parkinson’s research. Involving an intermediary, as one might guess, offers much less clarity.