Tag Archives: Letters to God

Outlook for Faith-Based Films, Six Years After ‘Passion of the Christ’

Kirk Cameron

It’s been six years since “The Passion of the Christ” made history with its $611 million world-wide box office gross, its groundbreaking church-based promotional roll-out and its rendering of proof that there was an audience for a great Christian film.  After that, there was a spurt of activity toward faith-themed movie and TV productions in Hollywood.  So what’s happened?

Some things did indeed get made.  “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” became a roaring success for Disney with a $745 million worldwide box office take, sequels and merchandising galore.  New Line’s “The Nativity Story” took in $604 million.

Then there are the film and TV productions that don’t have Christian themes, per se, but do express faithful ideals and might not have gotten made – or made quite the same way – had it not been for the industry’s recognition that there is an underserved segment of the audience out there hungry for inspirational fare.  “Amazing Grace,” the historical film about British abolitionist William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), counts church regular Patricia Heaton among its producers.

Tyler Perry’s comedies contain the family values he and his devoted audience, made up largely of African-American churchgoers, hold dear.

The Christian film niche market is busy, with dozens of active production companies bringing forth a stream of product.  The most successful of those in terms of box office is Kirk Cameron’s “Fireproof,” which surprised everyone with a domestic gross of more than $33 million in 2008 – the highest of any independent film that year, followed by $28.5 million in DVD sales.

David Nixon, who was one of the producers of “Fireproof” as well as its popular predecessor, “Facing the Giants,” has “Letters to God” now in release.

He directed the film, based on a true story, about a cancer-stricken boy named Tyler (Tanner Maguire) whose daily prayers to God take the form of letters that have a profound effect on the mailman who ends up with them (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson), a man facing his own demons in life.  His decision about what to do with the letters, in turn, inspires a whole community.

Robyn Lively plays Tyler’s mother.  The actress, whose credits range from “Teen Witch” and “Twin Peaks” to “Saving Grace” tells us that “There was a whole different vibe on the set from any I’d been on before, from the start of the day to the end.”

How so?  “Well, starting the day off with prayer, for one thing,” she says.

“One night, my nephew had an accident and was being rushed to the emergency room.  I was panicking and so upset, and then one of the producers came up to me and asked, ‘Would you mind if we prayed for you?’  And I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh – thank you.’  A whole group of people came over and were praying for my little nephew.  It was amazing.  My sister-in-law was so touched when I told her about it.”  Her nephew is fine, she adds.

More films of interest to Christians are on the way as well, including Roland Joffe’s “There Be Dragons,” for which a full-fledged church-based marketing campaign is already being planned for next year.  Set at the time of the Spanish American War, it’s about a journalist who is investigating a candidate for sainthood, and discovers a personal tie to the prospective saint, as well as dark family secrets.  Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley and Dougray Scott star in the film, which will show the Catholic Opus Dei organization in a different light than it was in “The Da Vinci Code.”

The true-life saga of a band of courageous Dutch WWII heroes will get a fresh look in “Return to the Hiding Place,” which is due to shoot in July in the Netherlands, Texas and Michigan.  It revisits the story of Corrie ten Boom and her family, who hid Jews in their home until they could be smuggled out of the country via the underground –from the vantage point of one of the resistance fighters.

And coming up on Easter for NEXT year is “The Resurrection of the Christ,” planned for shooting in Israel, Morocco and Europe for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films (which also brought us “Amazing Grace,” “Fireproof” and this year’s “To Save a Life,” by the way).  Indie producer Billy McKay — whose credits include “Billy: The Early Years,” the Billy Graham biopic — told Variety that the movie “is as much about the key players as it is about Jesus.”  Expect to see more about Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas and Judas.  Plus, according to McKay, “We want to bring in the Gladiator dimension of the first century against the political milieu of the time.”

Gladiators, good idea.  Always good for box office. – Stacy Jenel Smith

Juggling Jobs, ‘Treme’ Actress Melissa Leo Says She’s a ‘Mythbuster’

Melissa Leo

“I’m a mythbuster,” declares Melissa Leo, the highly-regarded former “Homicide: Life on the Street” actress who won an Oscar nomination for her work in “Frozen River.” 

            “I will be 50 in September, I live in the United States of America, and things have never been better for me.”  Far from finding jobs drying up as has so often happened to actresses of a certain age in the past, Leo says, “I’m getting more and more varied and better work.” 

            Leo will be soon be doing double duty, shuttling back and forth between shooting of the Kate Winslet remake of “Mildred Pierce” in the Tri-State area, and New Orleans, where she is filming HBO’s April 11-debuting series “Treme” (trem-ay).   The latter is a moody piece from her former “Homicide” producers, David Simon and Eric Overmyer (“The Wire”), following an assortment of Big Easy residents dealing with life in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. 

            “It will be a little crossover work for me, like switching the channel from the 1930s in Brooklyn to contemporary New Orleans,” reports Leo, who’s living in New Orleans for “Treme” production.        

She’s glad to be among the actresses over 40 who’ve found quality work on cable – along with the likes of Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and Kyra Sedgwick.   She and her acting peers, she notes, “know how much better we are with our experience and knowledge”

NO SPILL:  Laura Harring has been turning heads as Ed Westwick’s mysterious birth mother on “Gossip Girl,” but as for whether her character will be sticking around, Laura won’t comment.  “I think it’s part of the mystery,” she says.  The actress tells us she’s no stranger to keeping mum.  “I was told when we were promoting ‘Mulholland Drive’ 10 years ago that mystery is a part of keeping people going to the movies.  When David Lynch gave Naomi Watts and I the last part of that movie, he made us promise that we would never say what the movie meant, but we could say our own interpretation.  I even remember at the Cannes Film Festival, I bumped into him and he said, ‘Remember, Laura, keep the mystery during these interviews,’” she recalls.  “I’m very fortunate in ‘Gossip Girl’ that they kept that same kind of mystery for me.  All the way to the end you don’t know what’s going on.” 

 The actress says the experience of being on set was certainly a very positive one.  “The people that I worked with, I couldn’t believe how down to earth they were.  Paparazzi were around all the time so that’s got to affect you when you’re that young, but I was very impressed with how they kept their humor about them,” says Harring.  “Ed Westwick and Leighton [Meester] especially made me feel like I was a part of the club.  I like the mystery that Ed brings to his character.  It’s very James Dean-esque.   I see why people are such big fans.  I know for myself, it was amazing the response I got from people when they found out I was on the show.” 

            THE BIG SCREEN SCENE:  Playing the mother of a boy who’s fighting cancer in “Letters to God,” opening Friday (4/9), “was more than tough,” admits Robyn Lively.  The actress, familiar from such movies and TV shows as “Teen Witch” and “Saving Grace” – as well as being the half sister of “Gossip Girl’s” Blake Lively – tells us “It was harder tRobyn LIvelyhan I thought it would be.  I tapped into real emotion.  Of course, for me, the cameras cut and life goes on.  I can imagine what this would be like for a parent.  This movie gave me such a feeling of gratitude for my life and for the health of my children.”“Letters to God,” has its eight-year-old protagonist (Tanner Maguire) writing prayers to God and mailing them.  They wind up being read by a mailman (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson) fighting his own demons – divorce, alcoholism.  The story lies in how they affect him, the boy’s family, and the community surrounding them.  Producer-director David Nixon (“Fireproof”) and the rest of the “Letters” filmmakers are hoping it will be embraced as an inspirational movie about how faith can get people through tough times. 

Robyn Lively

            However, as Lively acknowledges, selling “Letters to God” will be “tricky because it’s such an emotional film.  There are a lot of families going through these types of situations.  But it’s really special,” she says.

NOTE WORTHY: “Cougar Town’s” hottie hunk Josh Hopkins knows how to turn heads on television but he’s also known for strumming the heartstrings of the ladies thanks to his singer/songwriter skills.  However, he tells us he has no intention of switching his day job.  “It’s nothing I think I’m going to pursue as a profession.  On a fluke one year I ended up playing the Lollapalooza music festival and as someone who’s very much a novice, I felt like after that I’ve already hit the mountaintop,” says Hopkins, who performed his popular song “Feigning Interest” with James Marsden.  “People asked me if I caught the bug.  I said, ‘Nope!  I was terrified the whole time.’”

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster