In October 2020, Disney+ released the movie “Clouds,” an inspiring film about teenage songwriter Zach Sobiech who rose to fame before passing away from osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer, in 2013. The movie, directed by Justin Baldoni, chronicles Zach’s senior year of high school and the last year of his life. When the movie begins, Zach (played by Fin Argus) has already been fighting cancer for several years, and he’s recently found out his cancer is terminal. So he sets out to write several songs as a way to say goodbye to his family and friends.
But how much of “Clouds” is based on the real Zach Sobiech?
The Real Zach Sobiech
The real Zach Sobiech was a teenager and singer/songwriter from Stillwater, Minnesota. “Clouds” is based on the book “Clouds: A Memoir” written by Zach’s mom, Laura Sobiech. Laura wrote the book in just 12 weeks, shortly after Zach passed away on May 20, 2013.
“Writing a book sounded so intimidating, but I decided to follow Zach’s lead and say yes to opportunities that came my way," Laura said. "That’s what he always did in the last year of his life – say yes to things – even when it was scary.”
Learn more about Laura's experience writing her book in our blog post, "Clouds: A Memoir" - Q&A with Author Laura Sobiech
Discovering Zach’s Music
Zach was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when he was just 14 years old. A few years later, doctors told him his cancer was terminal. That’s when Zach, who learned to play guitar when he was little, decided to write a handful of songs to say goodbye to his friends and family.
His most popular song, “Clouds,” went viral, first in his home state of Minnesota, then across the United States and around the world. “Clouds” and Zach’s story attracted the attention of Justin Baldoni, who was directing a documentary series called “My Last Days” about people who were living while dying. Justin became close to the Sobiechs while shooting the documentary, which inspired him to turn Zach’s story into a movie.
Watch “My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech” here. Justin worked closely with Zach’s family while bringing Zach’s story to life, even having Fin Argus, the actor who plays Zach, wear Zach’s own clothes and use his real crutches while shooting.
“Clouds” continued to gain popularity during 2013, hitting #1 on iTunes the day of Zach’s funeral.
For behind-the-scenes fun facts, read: Behind the scenes of the Zach Sobiech movie, “Clouds.”
Zach’s Friends, Sammy and Amy
Zach’s best friend Sammy Brown, played by Sabrina Carpenter, and girlfriend Amy Adamle, played by Madison Iseman, were two of Zach’s biggest supporters while he fought cancer during his senior year of high school. Sammy and Zach, friends since they were toddlers, had been making music together in a band called A Firm Handshake. One of their songs featured in the movie, called “Fix Me Up,” was Zach and Sammy’s goodbye song to each other.
Amy and Zach had been friends during high school, and started dating after Zach found out his cancer was terminal.
“She sat down with her mom and talked through it, and what they decided was, would you date him if he didn’t have cancer? And she said, yeah,” Laura said. “She really helped him through some hard times.”
Amy and Zach dated throughout their senior year of high school and even attended prom together shortly before Zach’s death in May 2013. Amy and Sammy both had the opportunity to meet Sabrina Carpenter and Madison Iseman, and were able to visit the “Clouds” set during shooting.
For more about Amy and Sammy, read our blog post: Zach Sobiech's friends and then-girlfriend talk "Clouds" movie
Before Zach passed away, he and his family decided to create the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund to raise money for better treatments and cures for osteosarcoma. Proceeds from Zach’s music go towards his fund, which has raised millions for osteosarcoma research. Zach was inspired to give back in this way not only because of his own struggle with osteosarcoma, but because he watched other kids go through harsh cancer treatments alongside him.
“I often think about a moment during Zach’s fight where he was sharing a hospital room with a young boy, who also had cancer,” Laura said. “He said to me, ‘Mom, if I had to die so that little boy could live, I would.’ Ever since, that’s been the goal of the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund – to use Zach’s story and legacy to fund research that will save the lives of kids with osteosarcoma.”
In the seven years since Zach’s death, researchers funded by the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund have made 16 new genetic discoveries about osteosarcoma and opened a clinical trial for a new drug to treat the disease.
“Without the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, and Zach’s vision of developing a program focused on osteosarcoma, we would not have the core of researchers and scientists and dedicated effort that led literally in the last five years from an idea to a national clinical trial for patients with osteosarcoma,” said Brenda Weigel, MD, MSc, a clinician and cancer researcher at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Weigel was also Zach’s oncologist.
In 2020, Children’s Cancer Research Fund collaborated with the Sobiech family to create Zach’s Movement with a goal of raising awareness and continuing Zach’s legacy to defeat osteosarcoma. Learn more about Zach’s Movement here.
Treatments for osteosarcoma, the cancer that took Zach too soon, haven’t improved in decades. Zach wanted his legacy to change that. 100% of all donations to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund go to research for better treatments for this deadly cancer.