Interview with David Nixon director of “Letters to God”
How is your company related to the Church in Georgia?
About six years ago, we got a divine appointment with that church, Sherwood Baptist in Albany (Georgia) and they knew of my production company, I’ve been in production for about 30 years, doing secular productions; commercials, documentaries and things. They wanted to make Christian films and they called me and said, “Will you come and help us make our next movie, give us a Hollywood look that was “Facing the Giants”.
They made “Flywheel” themselves in the church, and they couldn’t get a Hollywood look and they called me, so I drove my crew from Orlando and we kind of elevated their production level to give them a Hollywood look, “At that point, we didn’t think they were going to get a theatrical deal. We didn’t think we could get that back then, but that was when “The Passion” was getting about $600 million”.
We were at the right place at the right time. And SONY picked it up, and put it in theatres and the rest is history”.
Where did you get the story for “Letters to God?”
About three years ago, we were putting a film deal together after we finished “Facing the Giants” and we were gearing up to make “Fireproof”, The distributor said, “can you do any more of these God films?”. I said the church can only do one about every three years, but Possibility Pictures can. That was SONY, who is the distributor. It’s an amazing thing that Hollywood wants these movies, and so I was looking for scripts., I have a friend in Orlando who is a writer, who said he was just working with the father of a little cancer boy up in Nashville who’s written this story “Letters to God”. He asked if I wanted to see it, and I said “definitely, and as soon as I read it, it just touched me and I got on a plane and I flew to Nashville, I met with Patrick Doughty the father, and I said, we got to make this movie, its just a wonderful sweet little story, and it has all the components of a great film. That was about three years ago, we went out and raised the money, made the film and here we are.
Sony originally said they would fund it, but I went back to Orlando, and I told my Christian friends, “Should we really let Hollywood pay for it?” and they said “no, no, we can raise the money, if Hollywood pays of it, they’ll control the content. And they’ll water down the message. Why don’t you let us raise the money here in Orlando, and we can make sure the content doesn’t get watered down, and the Christian message doesn’t get taken out of the movie. “
That really is the secret to the success.
And whether SONY realizes it or not, they still don’t know how to do Christian.
LaughsSo that’s really our model, my company, Possibility Pictures funds the movies.
What do you think sets this film apart from other films about sick children, like, “Extraordinary Measures”? What is the difference in perspective?
Well, really it’s the story. It’s a true story, and it goes beyond just the typical cancer idea, it’s the letters component. We wanted to make a movie with a lesson, but we didn’t want to be preachy, to hit you over the head. I loved this idea of a little eight year old, writing these simple letters to his best friend, God, putting them in the mail, because that’s a way to get across a message without it being overbearing, without it being preachy, and that’s what makes the difference. You’re so compelled by this little eight year old, and his faith and the characters portrayed up on screen, you become part of the family, that’s so real that it’s not hitting you over the head with the message, you get it.
The faith of this little boy changed all of the lives around him.
Yet it was the father who wrote the story, and there is no father in the story, why?
He changed the story because it was so difficult for him, after his son passed, he went through about two years of depression, he came out of that and God put it on his heart to write the story, but he had to change that because it was so close to him, he changed it to be a single mom instead of a single father, and he added a few characters, he changed it enough, so that it wasn’t so difficult for him when he was writing the story.
He wrote himself out of the story.
Was the mailman part of the original story? It’s very poignant his being an absentee father. So many kids are going through fatherlessness.
The mailman was fictional, but the father (Patrick Doughty) thought, ‘let’s add this guy who’s had his own demons, who’s going through his own struggles, being alcoholic and we can really see his character change, through the movie, and I thought Jess Johnson just played such a wonderful role, and really pulled that character off, You really feel for this guy.
I appreciate the fact that in the beginning, the audience is led to think, ‘what kind of a loser is this guy?’ then as the story unfolds, you begin to feel sympathy for him.
The screenplay came first, the book was written after the screenplay, the novelization was written after we’d actually made the movie. It was Patrick’s story of his little boy Tyler that he wrote into a screenplay, and that was the original idea. We took that screenplay and polished it. I had my writer, Sandy Thrift. She’s been my partner for about 20 years. She polished the script, added the magic, she added the characters which gave the neighborhood the wonderful charm, like magic.
Where did you find your actors?
We did a casting in LA and most of the actors were actors in LA who have done television and some movies, we just put the normal casting call out, we didn’t think we would get high caliber actors. This isn’t a high budget movie. We couldn’t offer them much in terms of compensation. We were amazed at how many actors came and said, “We love the screenplay, we don’t get enough of these kinds of screenplays, we would love to play this role. Especially Ralph Waite (Pa Walton in the Waltons). He blew us away when he came to the casting. He said to us in the casting, “you know, this movie is very close to my heart, I lost a child to cancer 30 years ago, so I wanted to play this role.“
What do you hope is the message that audiences take away from the film?
The bottom line is what Tyler says at the end of the movie, “I just want everybody to believe.” The reason why we make these movies is that we want people to know that you can have a connection with God. And if this little eight year old boy, going through the worst time of his life, can write these sweet little letters, to his best friend, to God, and he has this connection, then any of us can have that hope, and that connection and so, I hope that people will be inspired by the movie, and maybe they’ll start writing their own letters to God, but at least have some kind of connection with God that wants to be a part of their lives.
Did you use the words from Tyler’s original letters?
Exactly, that is true to life, that Patrick wrote down the same dialogue and the same things that happened with him and his son are true to life in the story.
What’s your next project?
We have two films we’re shooting this summer. One is a Christian comedy called “Saving Livingston” which is a wonderful little story we came up with, and another true life story about a girl in Orlando which is called, “To Write Love on Her Arm”. We’re shooting both of those this summer and they’ll be out next year in theatres.
You sound like you’re getting busier.
Oh yeah, it’s non-stop. While we’ve got this door open to theatrical release, we’re going to run right through that.
Our formula is in the three million dollar range, so we can have paid actors and paid crew in these movies, we’re staying to that formula, we’re not increasing it from movie to movie. We’ve gone out and raised enough money to make each one of these movies for about that, It works pretty well, you know the distributor has to make money, so you can’t be spending a hundred million dollars on a movie, in this genre, you’re not going to make your money back.
Do you have any romantic films coming? Is “To Write Love on her Arm “romantic?
Not really, “To Write Love on Her Arm” isn’t really romantic, it’s a true story about a teenage girl who went through depression became an alcoholic and became addicted to cutting.
That’s becoming a frighteningly common trend.
Terrible. That’s what that’s about; we wanted to tell that true story about a girl in Orlando who went through that. We wanted to tell that story to save some kids. There are kids who are committing suicide because of this. That’s a pretty heavy dramatic film. “Saving Livingston” is a comedy but it has a pretty romantic side to it. That will be a little lighter fare.
Can you do an anti-Twilight film?
Laughs. That’s the plan. Really, that’s “To Write on Her Arms” that’s the anti-Twilight film.
That’s a media trend which really disturbs me. Such a lack of self respect among young women.
Do you have any books as part of the film promotion?
Actually, there are seven, a children’s book, one on prayer, a novelization of the film, they’ve been out in bookstores for two weeks.
You did very well with “The Love Dare”, right?
That was phenomenal.
David Nixon was the producer of “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof” and is the director of “Letters to God” which is coming out Friday, April. 8.