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2009 Conversations

Sara Groves

Keith and Kristyn Getty

Jesse Miranda

Heather Bland

Cathleen Lewis

Robert Leathers

Ravi Zacharias

Scotty Gibbons

George O. Wood

George O. Wood

G. Robert Cook Jr.

Michelle LaRowe Conover

Janet Boynes

Kirk Cameron

Laura Wilkinson

Melody Rossi

Randy Travis

Maylo Upton-Aames

Chuck Norris

Francis Xavier 'Chip' Flaherty Jr.

Ben Carson

Robert H. Spence

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

James K. Bridges

Manny Mill

Brock Gill

Robert Burt

Gerry Hindy

J.I. Packer

Stanley Horton

Linda Mintle

Joanna Weaver

Buck Taylor

Debra Risner

Bill Glass

Edward Gilbreath

Rob Seagears and Andy Casper

2007 Conversations

2006 Conversations

Conversation: Francis Xavier ‘Chip’ Flaherty Jr.

Tell it like it is

Francis Xavier ‘Chip’ Flaherty Jr. is bent on telling stories of reconciliation and getting children excited about reading. Doing so, he says, are cornerstones of Walden Media, where he serves as executive vice president and general counsel. Since the company was founded, it has cranked out hits such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Charlotte’s Web. This summer Walden releases Prince Caspian based on the second book of C. S. Lewis’ classic Narnia series. Recently Flaherty spoke with Kirk Noonan, managing editor.

tpe: How did you approach adapting C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian from a book into a movie?

FLAHERTY: A significant aspect of what we do at Walden Media is to make faithful film adaptations of beloved literature. In order to ensure that Prince Caspian would be as good or better than our film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we brought the same approach to the storytelling. We brought in the same talented director, actors and special effects team. In terms of top-notch Hollywood movies it can stand shoulder to shoulder, and I think above, any movie out there this summer.

tpe: What have you learned about C.S. Lewis by turning his books into movies?

FLAHERTY:  When you’re dealing with a storyteller with the God-given gifts that C.S. Lewis had, you need not do much. With Lewis, you always have a great story that you just need to get on screen.

tpe: What is Walden Media’s identity?

FLAHERTY: We’re a movie company that likes to tell stories of hope and redemption. How these themes affect people and what they decide to do with respect to these inspirational themes is up to them. At our heart we want to tell great stories for the whole family that will reach people on many positive levels.

tpe: Why is storytelling so significant?

FLAHERTY: Jesus taught with parables, and the great thing about storytelling is that it can reach everyone, no matter where they are on their spiritual walk. When Christ used parables it was like He was saying, “I want to reach the masses with a medium that everyone can gather around.”

Like any great storyteller, Walden wants to be as expansive as possible in terms of audience reach. We don’t want to self-select or marginalize an audience in any way. Telling stories that celebrate community by addressing themes and thoughts that we all share results in a collective, positive audience experience.  

tpe: Some people think of Hollywood as a spiritually devoid place. Does Walden try to be a light in the darkness?

FLAHERTY:  There is a role in society for well-thought-out critiques, but our gifts are in storytelling. By telling the right kind of stories, yes, we are lighting a candle.

tpe: To consistently make quality movies that are family-friendly must be tough. Is there room in Hollywood for more companies like Walden?

FLAHERTY: Our dream is to encourage like-minded companies and competitors to do what we’re doing. I would love to open the newspaper on a rainy Saturday morning when all the kids’ soccer games have been canceled and see five or six quality, family movies vying for my family’s attention.

We’re trying to lead the way in making movies that unify families by giving them a collective experience, a story that they can all share in and discuss because it is accessible and entertaining to each member of the family.

tpe: What is the formula that has helped Walden Media achieve the success it has?

FLAHERTY:  Our literacy mission is very near and dear to what we do. Early on we discovered that some of the most inspiring stories that resonated with people were ones they were first introduced to while in school. If a teacher tells us that a certain story reaches all the kids in his or her class, year after year, we know we have something that might work as a film. 

Once we have found a story and secured the film rights to it, we endeavor to make a faithful film adaptation. After all, if it’s a great story that has already connected with millions of readers, who are we to change it?

tpe: Have you made any movies that give the book it was adapted from a boost in the classroom?

FLAHERTY: Teachers have told us that our movies encourage a love for literacy among children because kids love to read a book after seeing the movie. Some people say that is a sad modern commentary — that a movie has to create buzz for a book.  But at Walden our thinking is let’s embrace the opportunity that exists and give teachers something to help their efforts to have students fall in love with reading and literature.

tpe: When you look at the movies you’ve made — what are some recurring themes?

FLAHERTY:  Reconciliation and hope. We’re all broken and we need to know that this condition need not produce despair, but rather the hopeful expectation that reconciliation and healing can happen. In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we see Edmund go on to become a great and wise leader despite having made a grave mistake. Edmund is broken, but he is put back together through the love and sacrifice of Aslan. These themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope are themes that everyone can identify with.

In a fallible world where we all make mistakes every day, these are important themes. We need our stories to remind us that things can get fixed and that we can be reconciled with others in our community. It is inspiring and renewing to be shown that it is not what has happened in the past that will define us, but what we do from this moment forward.

tpe: You used to be a litigator and now you’re helping influence culture through movies — is this what you were destined for?

FLAHERTY:  Wow — it is hard for me to place myself within the context of such a lofty question.  But it calls to mind a film — Amazing Grace — that we produced. I love that film because if you look at the life of William Wilberforce and at the history of the world as it has unfolded since his life, it is difficult not to conclude that Wilberforce was anointed and appointed for a special time in history.

I think that the best stories — especially ones that highlight great lives well lived like Amazing Grace — show how one person can make a difference. This is a concept that inspires, challenges and humbles all at once, and it is impossible to process unless considered within the context of a grand design that is in place.

In his youth, Wilberforce had all the secular trappings of success — political power, wealth and influence. But he felt empty until he had a conversion experience. From then on, Wilberforce’s faith informed everything he did. With this newfound faith informing his every action, Wilberforce found the wisdom, strength and perseverance to change the world.

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