Pictured Top Left: David Nixon (Director); Top Right: Patrick Doughtie (Co-Director, writer and real life father of Tyler, the film’s main character); Pictured lower right: Tanner Maquire (Tyler Doherty – the film’s main character)
David Nixon begins the interview.
Sarah Adamson: What drew you to this project?
David Nixon: Well, I found it about three years ago. My friend sent me the screenplay and as soon as I read it I jumped on a plane and went up to Nashville and met with the father, Patrick Doughtie, who had written the original screenplay. I was just so taken by the story and the fact that it wasn’t just a typical cancer story. This component of the letters just took it to another level. I loved that we could get across a message in a very soft way…not really preach at you or hit you over the head with it but just the simple, little letters that this boy was writing would touch peoples’ hearts. I thought what a great idea to use for a movie!
SA: That’s fantastic. I can’t believe its based on a true story. It’s just incredible. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
DN: Well, you will be talking to Patrick here in a minute. He went through this with his son. He took the original story and changed it somewhat because it was very difficult for him, as you can imagine, writing about his own son. He took the core story and came up with this idea of the letters. We took it and made it into a movie last year and now it’s going to be coming out on April 9th.
SA: I can’t wait to see it, honestly. Is it along the same lines as Fireproof and those types of films?
DN: It is in that it’s a story about just a normal person. It doesn’t get into heavy CGI (computer generated imagery) or ‘into the world’ kind of stuff but it’s just a simple story. It’s a true story about people going through adversity, how they react and how God touches their lives. So, in that sense, yes, it is similar to Facing the Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008).
SA: How have the audiences reacted to this film?
DN: We’ve been blown away! We’ve shown the movie to about 5,000 people around the country as we’ve been screening it. Every night we have people come out and shake my hand and say, “thank you, thank you, thank you for making this movie.” Even cancer survivors and people going through cancer see the movie and they say, “thank you for making this because this shows my family what I’m going through and what I couldn’t explain to them.” They say, “This is so realistic this is exactly what I’m going through, thank you so much.” We were very careful to make the movie very realistic. In fact, we had Patrick on set with us everyday to make sure this was exactly what he had gone through. We wanted to portray this in a very real way, not in a manipulative way, not over the top, but in a very real way that we knew would touch people’s hearts and really start a dialogue about cancer. People just don’t know what to do when their friend or family is diagnosed with cancer. It seems that cancer touches everybody these days we’re only one degree of separation away from somebody we know that is touched by cancer. We knew this would have a universal appeal and touch everybody’s hearts.
SA: What message are you hoping that viewers will gain from the film?
DN: Well, the basic message of the movie is prayer. These simple, little letters that this boy is writing are basically prayers to his best friend, God. I loved that it got across that anybody can have a connection to God. A lot of people say to me, “ I don’t know how to pray. God is too big. What do you say to God?” But here is a simple letter that an eight-year-old boy, going through cancer, is just writing to his best friend. If he can do that going through cancer, then anybody can pray. So that’s really the main message of the movie.
SA: Let’s hope everyone goes out and sees this. Will it be playing in many theaters?
DN: Yes, in about 800 theaters nationwide so it should be just about everywhere.
SA: Great! Well, good luck with the project. I can’t wait to see the film!
SA: Hello Patrick, you’re on Hollywood 360. I’d like you to tell us a little about your role with this film. I know you’re the screenplay writer. I did not realize the personal connection you had with this film could you tell us a little bit about that?
PD: The story came about, obviously, when my son was going through cancer. He was diagnosed in 2003 and I came up with the title when he was recovering from his brain surgery. Originally, it was intended to be fictional about some other child with leukemia in Boston but after he passed away, I had to write it about him. Parents don’t think that their child’s going to make it through – there is that continual hope, especially as a believer, praying daily, feeling the prayers of hundreds of others…you just feel its going to be a great testimony when they’re finished. You don’t expect the worst to happen, but it did. Through Tyler’s life, the way he loved God and the way he lived his life – he was an inspiration to me and hopefully will be to others.
SA: I applaud you for even attempting to take on such a film while having such a close connection. This topic does affect so many of us.
PD: Yeah, you know I think too often people are too afraid to talk about death and cancer. But when you throw a child into the mix I think a lot of people just go through life with blinders on not wanting to look at the reality like I did. Prior to Tyler being diagnosed, I flipped 25 or 50 bucks to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and I didn’t even really know a thing about it. It’s like, here it is…I know its there just don’t tell me about it. (We have) the ability to put a spotlight on it, even if its temporarily, just to help raise awareness for childhood cancer so we can hopefully get more research funding and that equals cures, obviously.
SA: I see in the production notes that you were also co-director of the film. How did that work? Did you enjoy that?
PD: Yeah, it was a great time. I was very honored and privileged to be able to stand by David and to be able to watch him at work. It was a real honor. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was kind of an aspiration and to be able to stand by somebody who’s made some successful films like he has – it’s been an honor.
SA: Wonderful! Our host of Hollywood 360, Carl Amari, his son, CJ, was in the movie. He played Alex. Were you on set then? Do you remember him?
PD: Of course I was. Alex, (laughs) he was great. I didn’t realize that connection there! He did a wonderful job. Very good – yeah he made a great little bully (laughs). He was a sweet kid he did a really good job.
SA: Why should people go and see your film?
PD: In times like today, where everybody is looking for hope. Well, its not just today, you could have said this 10 years ago but it’s a real inspirational piece. It’s not just about cancer. It’s not just about death. It’s about hope that God offers though Jesus Christ. There are people going through treatment that have seen this that I was initially afraid for them to watch it but they thanked me and appreciated it. There is a different spotlight on different areas throughout the film, even the siblings. One family said, “thank you so much because that was exactly our family. The siblings tend to get forgotten.” To be able to know what their feelings and emotions are…I really hope that people can come away knowing that they can talk to God through writing letters or through prayer…words…whatever they want to do, just as long as they talk to God. And of course, the awareness of the cancer research, I hope that opens some eyes as well.
SA: Yes! Well, you have such a wonderful website as well. Do you want to talk about that so people know where to go to find out more?
PD: Yes, absolutely! It’s www.letterstogodthemovie.com and it’s got all kinds of resources there – movie clips and onset devotionals that we did each morning. Its turning into a really great website.
SA: Fantastic! Well, I wish you so much luck with this film. I have a really good feeling about it. As I said, I can’t wait to see it! Thank you again for speaking with us. Now we’re going to talk to Tanner.
SA: How old are you Tanner?
SA: How old were you when you played this character?
SA: Could you tell us a little bit about your character?
TM: My character, Tyler, he’s a kid who is going through brain cancer and he copes with it by writing letters to God, not about himself, but about the people around him.
SA: That is such an unselfish thing. You’d think the letters would be about him but that’s what really touched me about the film. He is writing these letters to help all these other people. I thought that was fantastic. What did you think about that?
TM: I thought it was amazing and very inspirational.
SA: Yes, very inspirational. Can you tell us any funny things that happened on set?
TM: Well, there were a lot of great times on set and many funny things. One time on set, Ralph Waite, who plays Mr. Perryfield, he was in the middle of a huge monologue – in all seriousness with the eyebrows and the mustache on and all the sudden half of his mustache just falls off of his face (laughs). And he just kept going and going. He didn’t even know it!
SA: I love those kinds of moments. I ask that particularly to children that work on movie sets because most of it is serious, especially in your movie. Its those funny moments that really break up the action and get you back to realty so thank you for sharing that.
SA: Do you appreciate your own health more after playing a child that is really struggling for their health and their life?
TM: Definitely. When I was first reading the script I was crying. How could a kid have to go though something like this? It really made me appreciate my health.
SA: What message do you hope your friends and others take away from this film? What are you hoping that they gain from it?
TM: Well, kids may get the message from this movie to be kind to others. Some kids, if they see someone that might be going through this they might be scared of them or they might show that through anger like Alex in the movie.
SA: Right, because kids will start to look different when they’re really sick. I think that’s great, Tyler. Don’t be afraid, be yourself, talk to them still. I like that, that’s great. Tyler, I want to wish you all the success in the world with your film, Letters to God, and I also want to thank you so much for speaking with us tonight!
Sarah Adamson © April 2010