PG for thematic material
April 9 , 2010
Jeffrey SS Johnson, Robyn Lively, Tanner Maguire,
Maree Cheatham, Ralph Waite
Patrick Doughtie, David Nixon (D)
OFFICIAL WEB SITE
Letters to God Movie Web site
letters to god
God's Love is In the Mail
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
- There is something a little different about eight year old Tyler Doherty. Sure, he loves all the things that other children his age enjoy – soccer, playing video games, and sharing secrets with friends – but he is part of a great battle, the fight of his life.
For you see, young Tyler has terminal cancer. But he doesn’t let that get him down as he has an important project that keeps him quite busy. He likes to write and mail letters to his best friend – God.
Letters to God, a new movie opening nationwide this Friday, delivers a message of undeniable hope that will speak to the hearts of many. It is the story of what happens when one boy’s walk of faith crosses paths with one man’s search for meaning. The results are nothing short of spectacular.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Letters to God director David Nixon to discuss whether God creates divine appointments for people to minister to others, using movie making to witness to the Hollywood community, and why it is crucial for churches to have a cancer ministry.
You have worked extensively on Facing the Giants and Fireproof but this is your first directing effort in more than 10 years. What attracted you to the Letters to God script?
After we had finished Facing the Giants with Sherwood, the film distributors wanted more of these films, and the Sherwood Baptist Church can only make one about every three years. So they asked me to bring them some projects. Initially we were going to do a different film, and a good friend of mine in Orlando who is a writer had worked with Patrick Dowdy, the father of the little boy, on his first script, and he sent me Letters to God. As soon as I read it, I knew there was really something there.
How did the experience of working with Sherwood Baptist Church on a couple of films prepare you for making Letters to God?
What I learned from being on the set with Sherwood, with Facing the Giants and Fireproof, was that the most important thing that we did was pray, bathed those projects in prayer from the very beginning when they were writing the screen plays, all the way through casting, shooting the movies, editing, all the way through. That’s why those movies were successful. And so we’ve done the same thing with Letters to God. We started out and put a group of people together we call our “prayer warriors”. They’ve been praying for us right from the very beginning. They continue today. And they were actually on set with us. When they would hear me yell “action,” they’d go into action and start praying for us on set. They pray for every crew member. We even told them it was going to be a mission field when we were shooting the movie. This is because we had a lot of non-Christians on set, and they would pray for them every day. You could see that it really changed the whole spirit on the set, and lives were changed while we were making the movie.
To me, this movie really ascribes to the thought that God purposely creates divine appointments for people to minister to others in their lives, and I think we see a classic case of this in this movie. What are your thoughts on that?
The whole journey has been a divine appointment, all the way from when Sherwood contacted me to help them make Facing the Giants, all the way through to when I met Patrick Doughtie, the writer of this movie. And everything that’s come together for us to go out and raise money to make this movie in the worst economy in the last 50 years; and all the way along it’s been a divine appointment. And so the movie really shows that better than anything else. Here is this down-and-out mailman who really doesn’t know what to do with his life, and these old letters are a divine appointment to really get his life turned around. It’s the same with everyone in the movie, and that’s why the grandfather, Mr. Perryfield, says to the little boy, “This is the greatest role of your lifetime. You’ve been chosen to be God’s warrior.”
On this movie, you’ve been blessed to be able to work with some fairly well-established Hollywood actors … Robyn Lively, Jeffrey Johnson, and Ralph Waite of The Walton’s fame. How did it come about for these folks came on board for the film?
We couldn’t pay the normal high rates actors get. But we were amazed at the caliber of talent that turned up, and so many people said, “This is the kind of movie we want to make.” They said, “We don’t get these scripts too often.” And they said, “Thank you for making a movie.” And when Ralph Waite turned up, I was blown away. I shook his hand and said, “I’m honored, sir, that you would be here.” And he did the casting, and he was fabulous. He blew us away. And after, he came up to me, and he said, “I don’t tell people this much, but 30 years ago I lost a child to cancer. So this movie is very, very close to my heart.”
We had to be very careful with who we chose, because movies go on for many years, and we had to be careful that the actors had a sensibility and some kind of personal touch to the movie. So all the actors, whether they are Christians or not, had that extra connection with the movie, and we knew they had that sensibility. We hoped it would touch their lives, too, and bring them closer to the Lord.
In many regards, actually making the movie is kind of a witnessing tool of sorts to Hollywood actors. I don’t know if it directly or indirectly affected them but just being in a Christian environment for several months can only help.
There’s no question. In fact, they even said that to us, that just being around the prayer room every day was a blessing. Every day on set we started with a devotional. We brought in a local pastor, did a little ten-minute devotion, and then we prayed on set with everybody at the start of the day. You never hear that on a Hollywood set, you know. During the day if a piece of equipment would break or if somebody was sick, or if we had some kind of a problem, we would just stop and pray.
This is a kind of movie that I think a lot of people are going to relate to, due to the fact that there is a very strong cancer theme. It seems like every family has to deal with cancer in one form or another. However, this can be a great challenge as sometimes these films can turn into a real downer. Ultimately, I felt like this movie was a triumph over death. Do you believe you succeeded in avoiding this pitfall?
That was the challenge. How do you pull this off without manipulating people and making them feel like they’ve been manipulated but also make it a movie of hope? We didn’t want to make it a movie just about cancer, and that’s why I love the letters component. It gave it this whole other feeling of hope of how this little boy—he was the one that was telling everybody around him, “Hey, it’s okay. I’m okay whether I go to Heaven or not.” And that really changes the whole feeling of the movie and gives it hope. And you see that it’s through God that he really has this eternal hope. And so it was a real challenge, and when we wrote the screen play, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just about all the cancer stuff, but it was more about the letters and the daily life and how the family is affected, the mother and the older brother and how going through this is a real situation.
I think you did a commendable job with creating this balance. As a result of the cancer theme, you’re making a big grassroots push for churches to start cancer ministries in their community. Can you share a bit about this?
We didn’t want to just make a movie that would entertain you for 90 minutes and then lose you. The whole idea is to create an outreach on the backside of the movie so that when people walk out of the movie, they start the dialogue about cancer and about God and Christianity in their lives and that we have tools for them to deal with that. So we’ve created all sorts of resources for churches and pastors and ministries to deal with cancer, and with prayer, and with people just going through adversity. We’ve created a whole curriculum for churches, both pastor sermons and also small group studies for youth pastors. We have a whole counseling curriculum that the American Association of Christian Counselors has put together for us on how to counsel people that are going through adversity like this, especially cancer. We have seven books that have been published by Zondervan that are coming out as well as music CDs.
Final question for you, what’s the one thing you want viewers to take away with them after they see Letters to God? What is your heart’s desire for this movie?
I want people to get it that God is real, and He wants to be a part of your life, and it’s so simple to connect with Him. If it’s as simple as a little eight-year-old going through cancer to write a letter to his best friend every day, then any of us can have a connection to God. So I would love for people to take that away in one way or another, either to strengthen their faith, create hope in a hopeless situation, or maybe that person that doesn’t believe in God or never had a connection to God, maybe this is the one spark of inspiration that they will get it that maybe they should go home and write a letter to God.
Letters to God opens in theaters nationwide on April 9th.
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* Some information courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment.
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More articles by Chris Carpenter on CBN.com
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