Questions answered: 'Rootin' for Regen' movie on track after change in filmmakers

SEVIERVILLE (WATE) - All of East Tennessee came to know a boy with a rare form of brain cancer named Regen Morris. The 12-year-old first came to WATE 6 On Your Side's attention in January 2013 through a benefit for him at a Sevierville restaurant. It was just the start of what would become the Rootin' for Regen movement.

People shaved their heads, rode motorcycles, they sent in prayers and pictures from all over. Tens of thousands joined his Facebook page. One of the most memorable moments was Regen's homecoming in April 2013. Crowds lined Dolly Parton Parkway as an ambulance carried the brave little boy back from the hospital.

Despite all the love and modern medicine, Regen passed away on Christmas Day 2013.

Months later, there was a new effort to share Regen's story with the world. The goal was to have a movie hit the big screen by early 2016. It still hasn't happened, and many people have reached out, wanting to know why.

It was an emotional scene on a hot summer day in 2015 in Sevierville as actors took part in a reenactment of Regen's homecoming. Crowds wearing his favorite color green lined the parkway, as the little boy with the big smile made his way home.

The production was for the "Rootin' for Regen" movie, directed by Jason Campbell, president of JC Films. He said at the time he felt led to tell Regen's story.

"It's the message," Campbell said in July 2015. "Regen's smile brought people closer to Jesus."

Campbell never finished the movie, leaving thousands of supporters waiting and wondering. This added insult to injury to Dan and Tishia Morris, already devastated over the loss of their son.

"Like with Regen's illness, it's been a trial. It's been a test of our family again," Dan Morris said.

Previous story: Family of Regen Morris says film still a 'go,' despite delays

"It's been a very long, hard road," added Tishia Morris. "I even looked into [Campbell] because I, I just thought, wow. A movie? It's just not something that occurs to you. 'Oh, we should make a movie,' that never occurred to us. But I didn't look deep enough."

The Morrises say Campbell took liberties with Regen's story, adding fictional elements that didn't fit. They say there were also money problems. The Morrises paid $5,000 up front to help fund the film.

"It's called an investment agreement, but it's supposed to have been a loan because his money didn't come through and he was supposed to pay us back that money," said Tishia Morris.

Tishia Morris says most anything they couldn't get donated, she and her husband ended up paying for themselves.

"There were some substantial costs involved. There's an investor that we are having to pay back that Jason defaulted on their agreement," said Tishia Morris. She says that investor is owned $10,000.

The WATE 6 On Your Side newsroom received a tip that Campbell, who is based in West Virginia, is on the state auditor's radar. Lisa Hopkins, Deputy Commissioner of Securities for the West Virginia State Auditor's Office, issued a statement saying: "I am not allowed to admit or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation."

There is now is new life for the Rootin' for Regen project. Filmmaker Jeff Tucker of Flying T Entertainment Group in Temple, Texas, brought his crew to Sevier County to shoot the scenes needed to complete Regen's movie.

"I just told Tishia," Tucker recalls, "I said we're here if you ever need us. We're willing to help, and that took some time, and she reached out and we started the process approximately 10 months ago to begin the reassembling so this story could be told, Regen's story could be told and they could get closure and quit burying their son."

Previous story: Behind the scenes of 'Rootin' 4 Regen' film in Gatlinburg

Tucker had been scheduled to work on the original 2015 shoot. He says problems with Jason Campbell gave him cold feet.

"Red flags went up," Tucker said."I talked to my wife about it, prayed about it some, and I said, I'm out."

Tucker says Campbell's priority wasn't the Regen film, but his Kingdom Film Camp for kids that took place in Pigeon Forge around the same time as the original production of the movie. Tucker filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Texas against Campbell over another movie for thousands of dollars in revenue he says Campbell owes him. There has been no resolution thus far.

Another filmmaker, Bill Rahn of Tri-Rahn pictures out of Georgia, says he, too, has had problems dealing with Jason Campbell.

"I worked on four feature films, full-length feature films with JC Films," said Rahn. Rahn says Campbell owes him $52,000 from past projects.

Regen's parents are just relieved that the full story of their courageous son will finally be told.

"What it's turning into is what we had wanted all along," said Tishia Morris.

"If we stayed bitter and just stayed miserable, Regen's life was for nothing. If we use it to show people, you know, what hope is about, what faith is about, then his life meant everything," said Dan Morris.

During a telephone call with Jason Campbell he said he did not want to go on the record about the problems with the movie, but said, "We wish the best for the Morris family."

The movie has a new title: "Hammer: The Rootin' for Regen Story." "Hammer" was something Regen's dad called him because of the way he would move his arm on defense during basketball games.

The film is scheduled for release in the East Tennessee area in late fall. An exact date has not yet been announced.

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