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Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

“Where Hope Grows” star David DeSanctis talks about making movies and living with Down syndrome

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The heart of Hope. Last weekend, in a David vs. Goliath move, Roadside Attractions, Stealth Tiger Entertainment and Godspeed Pictures released the inspiring stereotype-shattering independent film Where Hope Grows (written and directed by Chris Dowling) in just 276 locations. Despite competition from studio-backed films like Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road the film, which I liked, and its limited release the film pulled in a solid 3-day weekend box office total of about $490,000. Not spectacular, but respectable. 

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Meanwhile, the film’s Facebook page continues to light up with audience endorsements. No doubt, if you count hearts touched rather than merely box office dollars, Hope comes out ahead. A big reason for that is David DeSanctis whose performance as Produce, the young grocery store employee  with Down syndrome who befriends struggling alcoholic/single father Calvin Campbell (Kristopher Poloha). I recently had the opportunity to speak with David and his parents (Bill DeSanctis and Julie Wallace) as they visited New York to promote the film which enters its second weekend of release tonight (5/22). I think you’ll agree, that David, who has Down syndrome himself, is an impressive guy.  His parents are too.

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JWK: Tell me your story. How’d you come to be in this movie?

DAVID DESANCTIS: They (held) an audition for the movie and somehow I beat out 30 other people for the role of Produce. They (said) they wanted somebody with the personality to promote the movie with the media.

JWK: Did you always want to be an actor?

DD:  Yes, I always dreamt of being an actor since I was eleven.

JWK: How old are you now?

DD:  I’m 22. I’m going to be 23 on the first of July.

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JWK: Well, I’ve seen the film and you are a good actor.

DD:  Thank you. I had been in a broadcasting show back in high school. I did my own cooking show every month. I made hamburgers, pizza…and a triple-layer chocolate cake.

JWK (to David): Do you have any brothers and sisters?

DD:  I have three sisters (and) one half brother who is my godfather. He is married and has three kids — one boy, two girls. One of them is hitting 10 on the second of July.

JWK: Where do fit in the family group — from oldest to youngest?

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DD:  I’m the youngest in the immediate family but I’m an uncle three times to my brother’s kids.

JWK: What was the audition for Where Hope Grows like?

DD:  At first I was nervous but then, after that, it improved a lot. It became magical.

JWK: Who did you audition with?

DD:  Actually, I auditioned on my own.

JWK: How long did the process take?

DD:  I did three DVDs (and) like six auditions.

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JWK: How long were you filming the movie?

DD:  24 days.

JWK: Was it fun?

DD:  It was an amazing time.

JWK: What was the thing that surprised you most about making a movie?

DD:  Well, I’ve learned a lot of new things — besides the things that I already knew (from) my broadcasting class in high school.

JWK: Did you get along well with the writer and director, Chris Dowling?

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DD:  Yes, I did. Chris Dowling is an amazing person. He and I bonded extremely well.

JWK: How about the other actors? Did you form good relationships with them?

DD:  Yeah.

JWK: Danica McKellar is in the film. Did you know her from The Wonder Years?

DD:  I never watched the show but I’ve heard of it and (from what I’ve heard) there were so many great things about that show.

JWK: What was the most fun thing about doing the movie?

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DD:  Just being part of the family of the cast and crew.

JWK: What do you hope people take from the film?

DD:  Faith, hope and love and also to…end the use of the “R” word and shatter the stereotypes. And I’ve shattered many of them.

JWK: What are your plans after this? More movies?

DD:  I know that I want to act for the rest of my life. I also want to become a director…There are (also other) things that I love to do, like pottery, sculpting, stone carving. Those kinds of things.

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JWK (to his parents): What was the process like for you guys?

BILL DESANCTIS: We were on the set almost every day he was…I’ll never look at a movie the same because once you see how they’re made — and how hard it is, how long the days are and how many times they have to reshoot scenes — every time I look at an actor or actress now (I’ll know) it’s so hard. It really is.

JWK: May I ask what you do for a living?

BD: I was a teacher all my life. I just retired last year. I was in the classroom for about 27 years.

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JWK (to his mother): What was the experience like for you?

JULIE WALLACE: I had a ball. We’re all flying around on David’s coattails right now. We’re enjoying life and getting see all kinds of new places and meeting great people. So, it’s been a pleasure for us. What’s good for my kids is good for us. If they’re happy, we’re happy. That’s the way it’s always been. I’m just glad that David’s getting this opportunity.

JWK: What do you think of the film?

JW: It’s a wonderfully told story with a heartwarming and redeeming kind of message for people’s lives. I just hope a lot of people go see this movie. It will make them feel good.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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UP seeks African-American series, “Signed” gets its perfect theme + Hallmark’s “Beach House” + “Risen” release date

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

UP TV  is partnering with the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) on a new initiative called “UP Flips the Script to Series: Remixing the Development Pipeline.” Designed to generate content as part of the network’s expansion of original scripted and unscripted series for multicultural audiences, the new initiative replaces the successful five-year run of the UP Faith & Family Screenplay Competition which generated five feature-length films for UP. Content creators with unique and original series concepts that entertain and uplift are invited to submit ideas. Submissions must be received by 11:59 PM (ET) on Wednesday, May 27th. Submission details can be found at www.abff.com

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Perfect together. Like a lost letter that his finally found its way to its intended recipient, Stevie Wonder classic hit Signed, Sealed, Delivered is now theme song of Martha Williamson’s enjoyable Hallmark Movies & Mysteries series of the same name. The next movie installment of Signed, Sealed, Delivered airs Saturday, June 6th. The episode, titled From Paris With Love guest stars Poppy Montgomery (Unforgettable)  as Holly, the estranged  wife of lead postal detective Oliver (Eric Mabius).

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For the Stevie Wonder version of the promo, check the show’s Facebook page here.

Mary Alice Monroe’s novel The Beach House is being adapted into a 2016 Hallmark Channel Original Movie starring and executive produced by three-time Golden Globenominee Andie MacDowell who currently heads the cast of Hallmark Channel’s Cedar Cove which returns for season three on Saturday, July 18. 

Coming Attraction:

Risen gets Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 release date. The film tells the story of a top Roman official ordered to prove Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax by finding His body. AFFIRM Films Senior V.P. Rich Peluso says “Christians know it was no hoax. But seeing a doubter, a skeptic, unravel the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection brings a new outsider’s perspective to the Gospel’s account of the most important event in human history.” Risen is produced by LD Entertainment and distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TriStar Pictures in association with AFFIRM Films which is known for faith-and-family films such as Soul Surfer, Courageous and When the Game Stands Tall.

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Quote of the Day: Give the world the best you have and the best will come back to you. – Madeline Bridges

And, as always,…Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

John W. Kennedy (john@jwkmedia.com) is a writer/media consultant.

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Thoughts on 2015 Christopher Awards + Movie Review: Could “Where Hope Grows” cop a 2016 Christopher?

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Awarding what matters. On Wednesday night I  attended the 2015 Christopher Awards. First presented in 1949, the prizes are intended, as Christopher founder Father James Keller said, to honor people and media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” The importance of doing so really hit home to me when I was on my home from the event and passed a magazine stand. Featured prominently was the current issue of Entertainment Weekly with words “Meanest, Grittiest, Deadliest” emblazoned across a cover celebrating Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Earlier in the day I also happened to catch sight of a poster promoting Fox’s upcoming fall TV entry Scream Queens which is yet another series about a serial killer, this one located on a college campus. The catchy slogan on the poster read “Pretty Evil. ” I bring this up because in a culture that are “mean” and “pretty evil,” it’s good to have some push back.

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As usual, this year’s award recipients were divided into four categories including Books for Adults, Books for Young People, Feature Films and Television/Cable. There was also the James Keller Award which is given to an individual who exemplifies the Christopher motto that “It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” Previous winners of that award have included the likes of Special Olympics founder Eunice Shriver. The night culminated in the presentation of the Christopher Spirit Award which is given for work of particular merit and excellence. With the exception of those latter two prizes, the recipients don’t give thank you speeches — making for a mercifully short presentation that ran about an hour and a half  or so.

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The event was hosted by veteran New York City anchorman Ernie Anastas. Presenters included CBS News producer Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson (60 Minutes), Newbery Medal-winning author Joan Baur, film producer Carolyn Jones (The American Nurse) and Fox News contributor/manager of SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel Father Jonathan Morris.

As usual Christophers Director of Communications Tony Rossi and his team selected very worthy nominees and put on a great presentation.

Here’s are some highlights of how it all went down, along with some of my thoughts. Click here to view trailers of the winning projects.

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Father Jonathan introduced Ernie Anastas who noted that he has hosted these showcases for several years now. He said that what he like about the Christopher Awards is how they remind us that individuals do have the power to make a positive difference in the world.

Books for Adults winners (presented by Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson)
Fully Alive (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux): Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver reveals why people with intellectual disabilities have been his greatest teachers in life, giving him a more meaningful way of seeing the world.
Haatchi & Little B (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books): Wendy Holden’s heartwarming story of A boy with a rare genetic disorder and a disabled Anatolian Shepherd puppy, who was abused and left for dead, transform each other’s lives.
The Invisible Front; Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War (Crown Publishers): Yochi Dreazen’s story of how combating the stigma of suicide and mental illness in both the Army and society becomes the primary mission for a decorated Army officer and his wife.
Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Harper One/Harper Collins Publishers): Jesuit priest James Martin chronicles his visit to the Holy Land and invites believers and non-believers to encounter the Christ of history and the Christ of faith.
A Long Way Home (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group): Author Saroo Brierley shares a personal story of getting lost on a train in India at age five, living on the streets for a year, being adopted by an Australian couple, and finally reconnecting with his Indian family 25 years later with help from Google Earth.
Mercy in the City (Loyola Press): Kerry Weber documents her commitment to living out the Corporal Works of Mercy, which led her to volunteer at New York City homeless shelters and breadlines and visit inmates at California’s San Quentin State Prison.

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Books for Young People winners (presented by Joan Bauer)

Bauer recalled some of the best advice she ever heard for storytellers: “Always aim at the heart when you tell a story. That’s the bull’s eye that you try to hit.”

I Forgive You (Preschool and up, Pauline Books and Media): Through fun rhymes and colorful illustrations, author Nicole Lataif and illustrator Katy Betz teach children to forgive others like God does and to channel their anger in a positive way.
Maddi’s Fridge (Kindergarten and up, Flashlight Press): When a young girl discovers that her friend’s family is struggling with hunger because they can’t afford food, she comes up with creative ways to rectify the situation. Written by Lois Brandt. Illustrated by Vin Vogel.
Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (ages 6 and up, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin): Lovable and comical second-grader Hank Zipzer affirms the intelligence and self-esteem of children struggling with dyslexia. By Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.
Hope Springs (ages 8 and up, Tundra Books/Random House): Though an orphan boy in drought-stricken Kenya is denied water by villagers who fear there won’t be enough for their own families, his kindness and generosity leads him to find a solution for everyone. Written by Eric Walters. Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes.
Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter (Ages 10 and up, Holiday House): With a history of not following through on her commitments, Eliza Bing, who has ADHD, needs to muster up all the determination and inner strength she has to prove to herself and her parents that she can finish a martial arts class. Written by Carmella Van Vleet.

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Comment: Note to producers, studios and networks seeking film/TV projects. You could do far worse than pulling from the above list. On the adult side, I personally think Along Way Home and Mercy in the City on the adult side lend themselves particularly well to film treatments. On on the kids’ side of the ledger, Maddie’s Fridge and Hope Springs would definitely seem to have film potential.  I could also envision family-friendly TV series based on Here’s Hank and Eliza Bing. Just sayin’.

The James Keller Award (presented by Father Jonathan Morris)
Recipient: Patrick Donahue
whose infant daughter’s brain injury led him to found the Sarah Jane Brain Project and its spinoff organization the International Academy of Hope (iHope), a New York City’s first school for children with brain injuries. Donahue spoke movingly of his faith, including his prayers to Mother Teresa whose intercession he is praying for regarding what he hopes will one day be the complete healing of Sarah Jane. His own advice for dealing with adversity: “Things work out best for those who make the best of how thing work out.”

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In his thank you speech, Donahue also cited the Christopher Prayer (aka The Prayer of St. Francis) as providing his guideposts for how to live a good life. The prayer, one of my favorites too, also provides some good insights for the sort of positive values that storytelling — at its best — can help promote.

Feature Films (presented by Joan Bauer)
The American Nurse (Carolyn Jones Productions): A moving, in-depth portrait of five nurses whose empathy and selflessness lead them to serve those dealing with miscarriage, aging, war, poverty, and prison life.
Selma (Paramount Pictures/Harpo Films): Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. faces violence and blackmail while leading peaceful protests to secure voting rights for African Americans.
St. Vincent (The Weinstein Company): A curmudgeonly senior (Bill Murray) who smokes, drinks, curses, and cavorts with a prostitute may not seem like a candidate for sainthood, but 12-year-old Oliver makes a solid case for his neighbor’s goodness.

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TV & Cable (presented by Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson)
48 Hours: The Whole Gritty City (CBS News): Documentary explores New Orleans music programs that channel students’ energies in a positive way so they don’t become participants in—or victims of—the violence that surrounds them in their neighborhoods.
The Flash: Pilot episode (The CW): Based on the DC Comics character, Barry Allen becomes the fastest man alive after a science experiment goes awry, allowing him to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a hero.
The Gabby Douglas Story (Lifetime): True story highlights the roles that faith, family, and perseverance played in the gold medal-winning gymnast’s journey to the 2012 Summer Olympics.
POV: When I Walk (PBS/WNET): Filmmaker Jason DaSilva chronicles his own debilitation after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 25 as the love of his wife Alice helps him endure.
Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler: Lourdes (PBS/WGBH):  Documentary follows members of the military injured during wartime who seek physical, emotional, and spiritual healing in the renowned French Catholic shrine.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries): From Martha Williamson, the creative producer/writer behind Touched by an Angel, comes the Christmas edition of her series about four heroic postal detectives who try to unite lost mail with their intended recipients. In this episode, they help answer a little girl’s letter to God while dealing with emotional wounds from their own pasts.

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Comment: The television prizes were more eclectic this year than 2014 (which included included impressive work but no scripted fare). This year’s winner included two scripted series — which are, hopefully, an indication that the door is opening a crack for mainstream television that tilts more toward idealistic, well-meaning protagonists. It’s unfortunate that the CW and the producer The Flash didn’t see fit to send a representative to receive the award. I, personally, like the show and, IMHO, a Christopher Award is better than an Emmy.

Michael Prupas and Joel S. Rice, two of the executive producers (along with series creator Martha Williamson) did show up though and I had a very good conversation with them. I had spoken with Rice before. It was during my days at the Catholic Channel when he was promoting his 2007 Hallmark Channel TV movie The Note.  I was impressed by how the former social worker deliberately chose projects that uplift rather demeaned. As readers of this blog know, I’m a fan of Signed, Sealed, Delivered.The show, which began it life as a weekly Hallmark Channel drama, currently airs as a series of TV movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. The next film (Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From Paris with Love) is scheduled to air on Saturday, June 6th at 9:00 PM (ET). I’m looking forward to it — while also kind of hoping that it resumes weekly production at some point (which, of course, wouldn’t preclude occasional two-hour movie-length episodes). (You can read my previous interview with Martha Williamson here.)

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The Christopher Spirit Award (presented by Carolyn Jones)
Recipient:
The ABC documentary series NY Med.
Executive Producer Terry Wrong spoke on behalf of those involved with the production which focuses on the compassionate work done by the medical staffs at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, Mt. Sinai Roosevelt Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and Newark University Hospital. He said he hopes the program helps inspire kindness and leads other compassionate people to enter the medical profession.

Final comment: It was, overall, a great night that brought deserved attention to the sort of quality projects that often go ignored as the media (as opposed to the audience) drumbeats for every edgier fare. How about a Christopher Network featuring Christopher-endorsed fare. That’s a channel I’d watch.

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Where Hope Grows opens in theaters tonight (5/15).

Synopsis (from the film’s website): Calvin Campbell is a former professional baseball player sent to an early retirement due to his panic attacks at the plate. Even though he had all the talent for the big leagues, he struggles with the curveballs life has thrown him. Today, he mindlessly sleepwalks through his days and the challenge of raising his teenager daughter. His life is in a slow downward spiral when it is suddenly awakened and invigorated by the most unlikely person – Produce, a young-man with Down syndrome who works at the local grocery store.

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Calvin slowly loses the chip on his shoulder as he begins to experience the world through Produce’s eyes. Faith, work, purpose and most importantly family, blossom into Calvin’s life as their friendship develops. The unlikely pair becomes intertwined giving Calvin’s life new meaning and purpose, but unfortunately leads to tragedy due to single decision echoed from Calvin’s past. Cast: Kristoffer Polaha, David DeSanctis, Billy Zabka, Brooke Burns, McKaley Miller, Alan Powell, Danica McKellar, Kerr Smith and Mitchell Grant. Written and Directed by: Chris Dowling
Rated: PG-13

Review: At once a gritty and kind film that will speak to be teens and their parents.  Writer/director Chris Dowling does a great job of telling a meaningful story that doesn’t come across as more real than preachy.  As the headline for this post suggests, Where Hope Grows is a pretty good candidate for a 2016 Christopher Award.

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The performances in the film all understated and believable. Polaha, as ex-baseball player Calvin Campbell, makes for a sympathetic fallen hero struggling to rediscover his mojo while raising his teen daughter Katie (Miller). His alcoholism doesn’t help matters. Their relationship would have been interesting enough to build a movie on but the true heart of the film is found in the character of Produce (DeSanctis who is excellent in his film debut), a young grocery worker with Down syndrome, whose optimism and faith show helps open up Calvin’s eyes to begin seeing life with a fresh perspective.

While not flashy, Where Hope Grows is the kind of movie that stays with you after the theater lights come back on. It is a well-written, hopeful and intelligent that is Recommended.

Note: I’ll be posting an interview with David DeSanctis soon.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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How actress Shari Rigby (“October Baby”) new book was the start of a “Beautiful” friendship

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The positive power of “Yes.” I just finished reading Beautifully Flawed: Finding Your Radiance in the Imperfections of Your Life, the excellent, courageous and inspiring autobiography busy actress Shari Rigby wrote with TV writer Claire Yorita Lee (whose work includes scripts for NBC’s Medium and PBS’ Independent Lens). As fans of her 2011 Erwin Brothers film October Baby know, Shari’s past was a difficult one that included an emotionally painful abortion. In the movie, she played Cindy Hastings, a successful career woman who literally comes face to face with her past when she’s confronted with a young woman (Rachel Hendrix) who informs her that she’s the daughter she attempted to abort two decades earlier. The Erwin Brothers had no idea about Shari’s own past abortion when they cast her in the role but, in hindsight, it does seems as though a Larger Hand was at work.

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The film caused her to open up about her personal history and say “Yes” to bravely revealing her scars — as well as the healing she received from saying “Yes” to God’s forgiveness. I’ve interviewed Shari on the phone before and found her to be remarkably open and forthcoming about a past that also included a dysfunctional romantic relationships, divorce and drug abuse. And, of course, her story — and her courage in telling it — is inspirational. So, when her book tour brought her to New York City, I had to say “Yes” to the opportunity to meet her in person. We were joined by her co-author Claire Yorita Lee. Their story is a story in itself. Since the book brought them together, a friendship has blossomed that has paved the way for additional collaborations. “The Lord,” as the saying goes, “works in mysterious ways.”

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JWK: So, what kind of reaction have you been receiving from your book?

SHARI RIGBY: I think, as far as the emails and messages coming in, you always think that you’re just going to have just one demographic of people that are going to be reading your book but when you get a message (from one guy) who’s gotta be like 68 years old and another gentlemen that I know is 75, that have read the book…all in one night, I mean, that’s incredible! Or, you know, the young mom that reads it. It’s just an incredible thing to see how many people the book actually relates to on all these different levels — and actually the different pieces that they pull…and apply it to their lives….I think maybe the youngest so far that I’ve received a message from….was probably 14 years old. It was really great message to hear how she was going through the same thing as she was entering high school and just trying to figure her identity and who she was and how she should remain pure and know that she shouldn’t be entering into relationships that she shouldn’t be into.

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JWK: I guess that girl was probably the type of reader that you would expect to relate to your book — but it is interesting how our life stories can touch people we wouldn’t expect in ways that we wouldn’t expect. It’s like we’re all more alike than we may think.

SR: Yeah, it was really cool! One of the gentlemen said “I think every young man should read this book so that they can understand…a young girl and (her) heart — and how they should how they should treat young women and what they go through and how they should be able to relate to that. Every dad should it so he can understand what it is like for a young woman to got through these trials and tribulations and (to make) sure that she’s able to go to her parents and speak to them about it.” So, I thought that was really cool to hear those different perspectives.

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JWK: It must have been cathartic for you write the book but, more than that, rewarding to hear from people who it has actually touched. I know you’re past is already healed — but this book, it would seem to, would add to that healing.

SR: I think healing probably isn’t the right (way to describe it). I think it’s more of a journey. I think after writing this story (that) it was more about the continuation of learning. I continued to learn new things about how I saw something in life. In fact, Claire and I were talking one time. You know, I had gone through this whole entire book and I thought I knew exactly what I was going to take away from it. Then, as we were getting ready to turn in the manuscript, (there) was the realization of “Wait a minute. God’s now just spoken to my heart again. This is really about Him being the Leading Man in my life and how I  identify with Him to enter into (that) relationship. That’s the overall message of this particular book to women…So, this is a continuation, I guess, of learning. Claire was standing in the kitchen with me and she said she had been in a study group…and one of the women asked “Why is Shari’s story any different? There are so many stories out there. So, what makes it different?” I think what it simply came down to is because I said “Yes.”…That’s the theme I hope that continues to be a message to people. All stories are worthy.

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JWK: How did you two meet?

CLAIRE YORITA LEE: We have a common friend, a Christian comedian named Kerrie Pomarolli. She had met Shari (through) Bill Reeves (of Working Title).  They had met just briefly and Shari had mentioned to Kerrie that she wanted write a book and that she needed a writer. She asked Kerrie if she knew of a writer. Kerrie and I had written together before. So, she mentioned me to Shari. She emailed me and goes “You need to meet this woman. She’s great! She’s just an amazing person and you really need to meet her! She wants help writing her book.” I just said “Kerrie, I don’t write books That’s not what I do.” She goes “Just meet with her.” She called me over to dinner at her house because Shari was going to be there. Shari and I just totally connected. It was like we already knew each other. We were chatting and laughing. Even her husband Matt was like “This is the first time you met?!” It felt like it was sort of like an open door, that God was giving me this opportunity and I said “Yes!” So, I guess that’s the theme!

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JWK: So, you wrote comedy?

CYL: I wrote television scripts. I had done a movie script but mostly just television. I thought it was going to be so much more difficult to write a book but really they’re very similar. You’re writing in chapters. You just write less dialogue — and you’re writing in someone else’s voice which is what television is. You’re writing in other people’s voices. So, it kind of was very natural for me to write a book with Shari.

JWK: Did you interview Shari and, basically, refine what she said?

CYL: No. We did it differently. Shari’s a very good writer herself. So, the way we did it was I just said “Shari just vomit on a page. Just write what ever you want and then I will go through it and we’ll work through it.” We would get together on Saturdays and work through it…I would try to interweave some paragraphs (into) themes and stuff like that but a lot of it started with Shari writing out her story and her life and just what she could remember. In the beginning it started more like maybe she was just writing the story out but, as she progressed (and) as the chapters went on, Shari’s writing got so good! She wrote much differently, I would say, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 12. She was thinking through everything and its was great.

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JWK: How long was the process?

SR: I had started the process in 2012 right after I started out on the road for October Baby press. I had done the proposal and I had already…highlighted what my chapters were going to be throughout and this book and what I wanted the end chapters to kind of feel like. So, that was done already and that probably took a couple months. Then, when I met Claire had put it all on the back burner because I was out traveling and speaking so much that I wasn’t able to do it. So, I think when we met in 2013, we talked (and) I sent her all the stuff I already had…I mean it was probably a good year and a half of work. For Claire and I (working together) it was probably a year. I would write, write, write and she’s so great at structure and really honing in on (the) story and asking really specific questions (about things) people would want to hear. Sometimes we forget about that because the story’s so locked in our head that we forget that “Wait a minute! That might not (be clear to) someone else.” So, she was really great with being able to walk through it.

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JWK: And it seems like an actual was formed out of the process. 

SR: Absolutely!

CYL: I think it started out that way. That’s why we even started to work together. I really like Shari.

SR: We like each other.

CYL: It was like “Let’s just do this! We can hang our more!”

JWK: We talked earlier about a potential movie coming out of this book. Have you two started working on the screenplay?

CYL: Yeah! We’re excited! We already on the plane, writing on post-its!…We were really like let’s use this time!

SR: It’s been really cool…We knew there was a whole lot more to the story as we could see it start to develop and then, as people started to come and share their stories with us, we could start to see how there was so much more that needed to be said.

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And then doing the book trailer for Beautifully Flawed, all of a sudden it ignited. Every question was “Is this a sneak peak into the movie?
and “When are we going to see the movie?” We kind of really just thought this is a great progression for us to go into writing a screenplay.

SR: So, we’re doing that and then also with Beautifully Flawed, we’re also working through a study guide.

JWK: A study guide?

SR: I guess, as this point, that’s what it’s labeled as. The study guide is really based around the chapters of the book. So, really what it does is — going back your question about this process or what have you learned — we’re going through the same thing right now with the study guide and the screenplay. As we continue this journey — and talking with people who have read (the book) — we’re finding out what actually resonates with them and what they actually need to come back and go “I need to bring this to the table and talk about this. I need to re-bond with this relationship. I need to know that I’m worthy. I need to know that I have a redeemer.” So, those are the things right now that we’re working on. Plus. we have another book that we’ll be writing.

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JWK: Is it a novel?

CYL: Yes — but based on Shari, also…It’s (about) what happens when you get married. You’re not just you anymore. You still have connections with your mom and you have a new mother-in-law. We’re going to tell it from three different points of view. We’re excited!

JWK: That sounds like it has movie potential too

SR: You know what it is. There’s nothing really on the market that deals with these relationships…I had an issue happen very early on in my marriage (where) I was so upset about my mother-in-law. I was having these emotional breakdowns over different things and it really wasn’t that — but, in my world, it was. And my poor husband had to suffer through it. (There was) this coffee shop that I worked at my church. I went in there and this guy, he’s back there — the chef — and he was working and doing his thing. I’m just a wreck and I got my baby on my hip and he looks at me and (asks) “What’s going on with you?” I said “Oh, my mother-in-law!” And he goes “Have you ever thought about reading The Book of Ruth.  And I went “Okay, well, that’s coming right straight from a guy.” But the fact of the matter was it was really true.

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JWK: So, what’s in The Book of Ruth that was so relevant to your situation?

SR: Well, it was really that understanding of commitment as a woman — and realizing how we are to love, follow and honor. I think the generational thing now that we see exploited through television and films and so many avenues is that there’s such a breakdown of relationships. There’s a negative connotation to a mother-in-law — or even…a mother. We forget the walk they had to go through certain generational things themselves. When they come into these relationships, they carry (their own) baggage. I think a lot of times, unfortunately, instead of building these relationships back up, we tear them down. And the people that suffer so much of the time are our husbands or our children that hear these generational issues, So, we’re gonna tackle this in a story and it’s gonna be really fun.

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JWK (to CYL): So, now you’re getting into books.

SYL: I know. It’s something I thought I’d never do!

JWK: It is a good way to get the movie process going though, isn’t it?

CYL: It is. It’s not like outlining but it’s, in a way, a first step.

JWK: What is the difference between writing a book and writing screenplay — in terms of process?

CYL: Good question!…The thing about a movie is its visual…(In the Beautifully Flawed screenplay) we really would like to tell it through flashback because a book is so much longer than a screenplay can be in terms of story…I won’t tell you too much but there’s a trial. So, were gonna do it in flashback through this trial (involving) Shari’s relationship Don, her first husband, the one that she married at 16 and had a baby with at 17 — at the same time while telling the story of Shari and (her current husband of many years) Matt — because at that same time they were building their relationship. So, that’s we’re going to tell it. It’s totally different (from) the book because the book is linear. That’s what’s fun about a movie. You can jump all around.

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JWK (to SR): You were just in India doing a film called The Journalist. Can you tell me about that?

SR: It’s a true story and it’s really another incredible story that I get to share with an audience about forgiveness. What I love though is that I get to become somebody completely different than who I am…But the beautiful thing is the universal message, again, of forgiveness, redemption and (the importance of) really loving people. That’s really what this story is about.

One of the actors that I get to play opposite of is Sharmin Joshi. He is one of the top-rated Indian actors and he is absolutely amazing in this movie. You’re gonna want to watch the journey of this young man (who is) in his mid-thirties. His overall journey takes him from a place where it’s really about himself and trying to make a name for himself as a journalist to what happens in a tragedy that brings him around to actually to…finding Christ. That’s really the overall gist of it. That’s probably about all I can say except I loved India. It was quite the experience. I was there for three weeks and it was just another incredible opportunity to share a story.

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JWK: Besides you’re writing, you’re very busy as an actress these days.

SR:  All the time. I’m like, omigosh!, I’ve worked this entire year, I’ve done films back to back.

JWK: You also recently filmed a western film called Boonville Redemption, which, as the title suggests, also deals with subject of forgiveness. That theme runs through so much of your work.

SR: It does!…I think that’s one of the most beautiful about how the Lord has brought me into being a storyteller. I really get to pull so much from my own life and bring it to a character and build that character and allow that to resonate on the screen. Boonville Redemption is really about a woman who who, again, needed to find forgiveness. Wildflower (also due in 2015) again is about a woman who had gone through an incredible time in her life and at the end of the journey is her young daughter…(Th Journalist) is a film of redemption again. Filming in India, to see that, it was just such an incredible process because you get to share that on screen with primarily Hindu and Muslim people. Wow! I mean what God does in those moments! I’ve been so blessed!

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JWK: What movies have you seen that have personally inspired you?

SR: I think probably one of my favorites is…The Help. For some reason, I just absolutely fell in love with the story. From the acting to how beautifully it was shot, the story was so intact. I think that’s something that really always grabs me is how well the story is done. I love beautiful movies…

The Hundred-Foot Journey…was, again, beautiful story and unique. The shots were breathtaking. So, those are the kinds of movies I absolutely love and adore. There’s a beauty to them.

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JWK: So, you already told me that your working on another book with movie potential. Do you see this as an ongoing thing — the two of you developing projects?

CYL: Oh, yeah. I can’t imagine not working with Shari. We love working together — and I think we work really well together. We complement each other.

SR: We’re really motivated to see how we can tell great stories. I think I’m excited because I believe we’re putting this incredible team of women together. The DP for our Beautifully Flawed book trailer was Rachel Hendrix (October Baby). We had Anna Redmon as a stylist. Ruth Baldwin, Suzanne Niles — all these women that we’re pulling together that are really incredible women in media. They’re extremely talented and gifted. I’m really excited to see how we as women can bring some faith-based inspirational stories to the screen because it’s all guys right now. It’s like the brother game. I mean we have the Kendricks and the Erwins and all these great and talented men…I think that’s one thing people are going to really enjoy — to have women telling these stories. And I think the men are going to love it.

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I think we also will be able to cross the boundaries. We want to make those great movies — like The Help — that crossover, that are so beautifully told that people can’t not go.

JWK: I, personally, think the term “faith-based” is sometimes used to make it appear that films with these themes appeal only to a niche audience. In fact, some of the most-successful mainstream films in history have had faith themes — from It’s a Wonderful Life to The Avengers, which included a scene in which Captain America expresses a belief in God. I think, from a being a niche, the audience attracted to positive faith themes is huge.

SR: It is a huge audience — and I don’t think we’ve really tapped into that…We look at Angelina Jolie and what she did with Unbroken. That was such a spectacular movement forward for her — and women storytellers. (To be clear) I love men and they do great things but I think that there is definitely (room for) women out there to tell great stories.

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JWK: So, are you two thinking in terms of a development or production company? It’s seems as though you’ve put together a sort of nucleus for one.

CYL: I would definitely say that!

SR: Yeah, I think we are. As we go forward, I love directing so, at some point, I think that’s even a position that I’ll be able to move into. I think we’ve been so blessed because, like Claire said earlier, she never thought that she’d be writing a book but here we are in this position right now where (we’re) writing books and screenplays and directing and acting. It’s  beautiful thing to be able to do all of these things and just see the blessings from it. We’re being motivated by it.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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