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Transforming a Literary Masterpiece into Film

By Andrea D. Hicks Associate Producer Michael Flaherty is the president of Walden Media, a company he co-founded with his former college roommate, Cary Granat, to produce films, books, and interactive programs that tie directly into school curricula.  Walden Media released its first films – Pulse:  A Stomp Odyssey, James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss and Holes - to both critical and commercial success in 2003.  In 2004, the company released I Am David, based on Ann Holm’s classic book, and Around the World in 80 Days. Earlier this year, Walden released Because of Winn-Dixie, based on Kate DiCamillo’s book of the same name.  Walden also is developing a number of other feature films, including adaptations of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

Flaherty shared his thoughts and experiences related to the film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in a recent interview.

ANDREA HICKS:  C. S. Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, always knew that this [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe] would become a big film one day, but it took decades in the making.  Why do you think this was the right time to make this film?

MICHAEL FLAHERTY: I think two reasons.  Number one, Douglas had an awesome partner that was one hundred percent dedicated to a faithful adaptation. That had always been a significant stumbling block for him to find someone would not try to change anything because Lewis wrote a great story.  Second was finding the right director.  Andrew Adamson was the right director for this.  I think the technology had finally gotten to the point where he could successfully make this movie and have humans and animals interacting with each other and have it look believable. 

HICKS: I read that you and Walden Media had a part in helping propel the project forward.  Explain how you became involved and how that helped make this film come to play.

FLAHERTY: With Walden, Cary and I decide on the kinds of properties that we want to pursue. Carrie and I often agree on these things. This is another one of those cases where we both loved it and others in our company also wanted to see this made into a film. Everybody in the company really made it an imitative.  We have a great development executive, Perry Moore, who made it his full-time job just to track down the rights. That was the key, was just being able to get Douglas Gresham in a room to successfully present our vision and our pitch for the film to see if we could get the rights.

HICKS: You said you and Gresham wanted to make sure it was a faithful adaptation to the film, and I know sometimes that's kind of a concern because you may have someone who will take a book and change it, which can be very disappointing.  So, how close would you say this is to the actual book?

FLAHERTY: I would say one hundred percent.

HICKS: How did you make that possible? Were there any difficulties in doing that?

FLAHERTY: Not really because everyone had that faithful adaptation as their north star.  So, everyday Andrew had to crew up literally thousands of people to make this a success. And every person that was brought on had that idea of making a faithful adaptation-that was their key goal.  Andrew was able to successfully make sure that vision penetrated all of the production.

HICKS: Why were you so excited to work on this film?

FLAHERTY: I love Lewis, and I love the Chronicles and the Apologetics. Just to be doing anything associated with Lewis was a real joy.  We co-produced a documentary called The Question of God, comparing Lewis with Sigmund Freud. We'd love to do more with Lewis, maybe something with Screwtape Letters.

HICKS: I understand that you are involved with education and want to make sure children are interested in learning, excited about using their imagination. What does Walden Media hope to achieve by taking books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and turning them into full-length films?

FLAHERTY: The simplest thing to accomplish is to actually get the kids to read great books. We've been able to do that with Holes, Winn Dixie, and now Narnia.  All of those books went up to number one on The New York Times best-seller list with the movie coming up. They've all increased with both in terms of their book sales. The first goal is to get everyone reading the book.  The second goal is, once you've read the book, how do you take a lot of the themes and truths and apply them your everyday life?  For us, we're not the experts on that, but we like the fact that we do convene a rather substantial number of librarians and other educators around the county. And they're able to tell us how to use it.  The most interesting example was after Hurricane Katrina.  We got a letter from a librarian in Louisiana that said she was able to use The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to help a lot of the kids traumatized in the aftermath of Katrina cope and adjust with what it's like to have people around you lost in death and destruction, and to also leave the home you've grown up in and have to move to a strange and far away place and how to cope with that--which is identical to what happened to the Pevensies. 

HICKS: Is there a concern with you, because someone children do not like to read in the first place.  Is there ever a concern that once a movie comes out and a kid has not read the book that they still will not read it?  Or do you think it's turning kids back to reading?

FLAHERTY: Yes, it definitely is a concern.  But from our attitude, if that's the case that the kid was not going to read anyway, and at least great elements of that story--chivalry, loyalty, honor-they'll still be implanted.

HICKS: What do you think about the story makes it particularly teachable?

FLAHERTY: I think that it's teachable on so many levels.  If you look at our Web site,, first at the micro level, we teach about music. We teach about history from different elements from the book.  But there are also those huge themes in terms of friendship, family, and forgiveness.

HICKS: From your standpoint, what was the most challenging aspect with this film?

FLAHERTY: I think Andrew Adamson was the guy who had all the challenges as the director.  The beauty of having a guy like that is just watching every few months the progress the film has made. He's the guy who has to wrangle it and get it all done.  I think his greatest challenge was: How do you create Aslan, this king of all kings who's not safe but good? 

HICKS: Have you had a chance to watch the finished version?

FLAHERTY: Yes, several times.

HICKS: What would you say is your favorite moment, favorite scene?

FLAHERTY: My favorite part at the end of the film is when Lucy opens the wardrobe and she wants to get back in and the professor looks at her and says 'you won't get back in that way, but you will get back in one day when you're not expecting it.' 

HICKS: Do you think it's fair to say the Narnia series will continue on film?

FLAHERTY:  I think so.  We're very committed, and we're excited to start on the next one. 

Send Andrea your feedback.

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