Heaven is For Real: Book and Movie Interviews

book editing and films

                                                

book editing and films

When book editing and films go hand in hand…

 

Well, let’s begin by bracing ourselves for an extremely lengthy post. I’m pondering the intersection of book editing and films, inspired by my interviews with author Todd Burpo. His book Heaven is For Real came out in 2010, followed by the  movie in 2014.

After all, a book begins with a premise. It then becomes a well-written and well-edited book. And later, if all the stars align, it becomes a major motion picture. Just ask Pastor Burpo, who achieved #1 New York Times Bestseller status. During our initial interview we discussed his son Colton’s near death experience,  and I learned that the boy’s journey to heaven impacted his family, his congregation and (now) the world. When the book was later adapted for the big screen by Sony Pictures starring Greg Kinnear, I wrote a follow up article.

The interviews, published by Katy Christian Magazine (KCM), appear in full below. But first, back to the theme of book editing and films.

Yes, there is a distinct relationship between book editing and films!

My interviews with Todd Burpo had me thinking about the symbiotic, but not wholly acknowledged, relationship between book editing and films, and in this case, films of faith. As a book editor and journalist, that notion has rolled around in my head for years… book editing and films, book editing and films. And then I personally experienced it when the movie Live For Today was being filmed…as I edited the book! Talk about an exciting adventure (more about that later)!

The bottom line is that book editing and films go hand-in-hand. Any book editor whose project became a book, and then a film, can testify to the collaborative effort between author and editor. It’s great when book editors become, at least in some sense, “behind the scenes” contributors (whether we are mentioned in the credits or not).

Interesting Examples of Book Editing and Films

Following are interviews I’ve had with filmmakers and producers of (mostly) faith-influenced movies. Many started from books or unique stories and built from there:

Okay, and now for my “book editing and films” interviews! Enjoy!

 

Heaven is for Real

book editing and films

Book editing and films — you can’t have one without the other!

Nearly ten years ago on March of 2003, a four-year-old boy suffered a burst appendix and nearly died due to a life-threatening infection. For his parents, it was a living nightmare. Emergency surgery was Colton’s only option. He barely survived, but lived to share his remarkable journey from unconsciousness to heaven.

The result is Heaven is for Real, the miraculous account of the Burpo family. Several months into recovery, Colton began talking about his experiences. He described the people he met in heaven, including a great grandfather who died 30 years earlier, a sister who was lost through a miscarriage, and Jesus, Himself. Glimpsing into heaven through the eyes of their young son was startling for Todd and Sonja Burpo. The family didn’t know what to believe, but soon the evidence was clear.

Though skeptical at first, they came to realize that more occurred during surgery than was ever expected. Colton began to accurately describe his parents praying for him in separate rooms at the hospital. It was at the hospital that the angels sang to him, and he described them, as well.

New York Times best-selling author Lynn Vincent collaborated with Todd to chronicle Colton’s story. Since its release in November of 2010, over seven million books have been printed and it reached the top position on many domestic best seller lists — New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, National Public Radio, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, as well as lists in Canada and Portugal. The Burpos have made countless television appearances, the most recent of which were the Katie Couric Show, NBC Today’s Show, and The Barbara Walter’s Special.

“It has been incredible to watch the contagious enthusiasm of readers drive the success of Heaven is for Real,” said Michael Hyatt, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers. “Colton’s story gives a wonderful glimpse into what lies ahead for believers, and encourages us to embrace our childlike faith.”

Todd Burpo is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan in Imperial, NE and a volunteer fireman. His wife Sonja is a children’s minister, busy pastor’s wife, and mom. Colton, now an active twelve-year-old, has an older sister Cassie and a younger brother Colby.

Todd recently spoke at a Faith West Academy sponsored evening at the Berry Center Arena. Katy Christian Magazine was honored to interview him, as follows:

KCM: What inspired you to share Colton’s story with the world?

Todd Burpo: Several things happened before we ever considered sharing Colton’s story. His surgery occurred several years before the book came out. When you officiate funerals, live in small town and have a four-year-old who talks about his experience, well, honestly, complete strangers came to our door saying, “God told me you need to write a book.”

KCM: How did the writing come together?

TB: After many years, God impressed upon me the importance of Colton’s story. You might say God brought the publishing world to me. My agent called me before I ever called anyone else. I was an unwilling partner and agreed to write the book to get it off my back.

KCM: How has life changed for your family since you went public?

TB: The book took off and suddenly we were in the media. A year ago, ABC Nightly news put Colton up against Stephen Hawking. Dianne Sawyer said, “Who are you going to believe, the scientist or the child?” I thought this was a profound question and loved it when she said, “We’ll go with the 12-year-old.”

KCM: How has Colton’s revelation affected you personally?

TB: So much of the book speaks to men. So many men have questions, doubts and fears. Colton met my granddad in heaven, who was killed in car wreck two days after giving his life to Christ. My mom didn’t know about this and spent 28 years worrying about his soul . . . that is, until Colton saw him in heaven. This impacted me deeply. I’m a wrestling coach, too, and not a soft-serve kind of Christian. This book gives all men a lot to think about. The message is, we all need to be upfront with our families. Some men pass on that, and I hope that the book helps them love their families enough to have that kind of open talk. The peace is incredible for everyone.

KCM: What is it about Colton’s story that touches readers so profoundly?

TB: For a Christian audience, Heaven is for Real is so impacting because of the raw innocence of a child.  When you read it, you know the kid wasn’t influenced by adults. After all, you don’t teach your child “what heaven looks like” at three years and 10 months.

KCM: It appears to be a book without borders. Have you received feedback from outside the United States?

TB: We had very scary time as we were about to lose our son, and that’s something any parent can relate to. It’s what Colton said afterwards that amazed me and many others, as well. I was on airplane from Atlanta to Denver, and a lady stared at me. She leaned over and said, “Did you write a book?” I responded, “Yes, did you like it?” She said, “I’m Palestinian, and I took the book back to Palestine. For the first time we talked about God and no one got in a fight.” It was a blessing that she shared that. Heaven is for Real has 37 translations and is going around the world to China, Russia, Africa, and as a matter of fact, someone from Norway mentioned they read it. It makes me think about Europe. The Christian population in Europe is so small, but a testimony from an innocent kid is making headway.

KCM: What lessons does the book teach?

TB: A mother told me once, “i had an abortion.” This was a mother who realized Colton had met his miscarried sister. There are unborn children in heaven. It never really dawned on me that some parents are scared to death to meet their kids in heaven. But the Lord finally spoke to me:  “This woman is gong to be presented blameless to my Father.” The world has hurts and pains, and heaven changes everything.

KCM: Speaking of “heaven changes everything,” we hear a sequel has been written.

TB: Yes, we just finished another book entitled exactly that — Heaven Changes Everything. It’s not so much about Colton’s story, which focused on his early years. The sequel has a richer vocabulary and the flow is different. My wife Sonja wrote a third of the book and shares her miscarriage to connect with others who have suffered loss. It is a devotional with forty-three small chapters with scripture verses.

KCM: Why do you think Sonja’s story resonates?

TB: First and foremost, Sonja miscarried our daughter and Colton met his sister in heaven. That’s huge. The sequel was published just this October and takes things to the next level. Already we have received feedback from readers. A lady wrote to us that she and her husband talked about their miscarriage for the first time after 17 years of silence. Another woman finally received emotional healing after 15 years. We knew Heaven Changes Everything would speak to women, but it also speaks to men.

KCM: What about the critics and skeptics?

TB: Heaven is for Real is a testimony. Testimony doesn’t replace scripture, but God does tell us to share our faith and our journey. It is touching many lives. Some may attack Colton because they don’t “need” us to tell them about heaven. I’ve been really disappointed in some pastors I used to respect who have lashed out without reaching out. They haven’t investigated, called us, or anything. It seems they have their theological positions to guard.

KCM: How does Colton handle the critics?

TB: i think God prepared him for it. He seems to accept it. “You can believe what you want,” he says. “But that doesn’t change what I saw.” From atheists and old-fashioned cynics to pharisees, he just takes it in stride. In fact, he is the inspiration behind Heaven is for Real for Kids — a book that asks the question, “What if a generation of kids grew up looking forward to heaven?” All three books share on different levels and become sources that make meaningful gifts.

KCM: What is your ultimate hope as you write your books?

TB: The whole world needs to know that heaven truly is for real. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit exist, and people need to have Jesus in their hearts to get there. Colton’s testimony is Biblically sound and causes people to ask themselves, “Can I make a difference in way I prepare for heaven while on earth?” Me, a simple kid from Nebraska, can’t make that happen. Only God can.

KCM: What’s next for the Burpo family?

TB: We are working with Sony now to make a movie. The hope is that it will be released for the holidays in 2013. What an opportunity to talk about who is the God of heaven. God wants to take people to heaven. To have that discussion in movie theaters next year instead of just churches — wow! A lot of people want to know what we’ll write next. Personally, I want to take a break. We ask people to pray for us that this testimony translates correctly.

Heaven is for Real: The Movie

book editing and films

Another example of book editing and films of faith…some of the best movies are based on well-edited books!

Well over two years ago, we interviewed Todd Burpo about his book, Heaven is for Real. In March of 2003, this Nebraska pastor and father nearly lost his four-year-old son Colton to a life-threatening infection caused by a burst appendix. For Burpo and his wife Sonja, it was a living nightmare. Emergency surgery was Colton’s only option. He barely survived to share his remarkable journey from unconsciousness to heaven.

The Book

Burpo wrote about Colton’s experiences, including the boy’s meeting with a great grandfather who had died 30 years earlier. Colton also met the sister who was lost through a miscarriage (a revelation that is later shared in the movie)… and Jesus, Himself. Glimpsing into heaven through the eyes of their young son was startling for Colton’s parents. The family didn’t know what to believe, but soon the evidence was clear. 

Published in 2010, the book became a New York Times best-selling Christian book. It topped several domestic best seller lists such as USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, National Public Radio, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, and was also published for foreign audiences. “It has been incredible to watch the contagious enthusiasm of readers drive the success of Heaven is for Real,” said Michael Hyatt, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers. “Colton’s story gives a wonderful glimpse into what lies ahead for believers, and encourages us to embrace our childlike faith.”

By April 2012, over one million ebooks had been sold, and more sales are happening now with the advent of a major motion picture adaptation. 

book editing and films

The amazing Greg Kinnear

The Movie

When we asked Burpo, “How has life changed for your family since you went public with Colton’s story?” he answered, “The book took off and suddenly we were in the media. When ABC Nightly news put Colton up against Stephen Hawking, Dianne Sawyer said, ‘Who are you going to believe, the scientist or the child?’ I thought this was a profound question and loved it when she said, ‘We’ll go with the 12 year old.’” That interview occurred in 2011, setting the groundwork for even bigger media exposure — a movie based on Colton’s near death brush with heaven.

Today, Colton is a teenager and unwavering in his belief that he visited heaven. He simply learned things in heaven that he had no knowledge of on earth. The movie includes lines such as:

 

“Mommy…”

“Yes, Colton?”

“Did you know I have a sister?”

“You didn’t know that Cassie’s your sister?”

“No, I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”

“Honey, who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?”

“In heaven, this little girl came up to me. She told me she died in your tummy.”

This Easter weekend, many Katyites will flock to theaters and travel back in time to see Colton as the little boy with the amazing tale, reenacted on the big screen. The movie version is targeted to both skeptics and believers alike. Pastor Burpo notes the outreach opportunities that come with a Christian film, and that although friends may not go with you to church, they will go with you to this movie. “God just knew the world needed a kid to talk about heaven, and it’s only God who could come up with this, and He did,” he adds. 

This is an excellent family-friendly film that is uncompromising, but not preachy. It filled with riveting dialogue and scenes depicting Colton’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back.

Actors, Writers, Producers and Photographers

Sony Pictures acquired film rights, and producers T.D. Jakes, Joe Roth of  Roth Films, Screen Gems and TriStar Pictures collaborated on the movie. Randall Wallace (the award-winning creative force behind Braveheart, Pearl Harbor and Secretariet) directed the film.     

Starring Greg Kinnear, who is masterful in his role as Todd Burpo, the cast also includes Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo and Connor Corum as Colton Burpo. Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church also have roles. 

Watch and Be Blessed

This widely anticipated movie will be in theaters throughout the remainder of the school year and well into summer. Watch for showtimes at the AMC, Cinemark, Santikos Palladium and other local venues. Youth groups, church groups and families will be moved by the innocence of young Colton, the reaction of his parents, and the truth of the statement: “Heaven is for Real.”

The world needs more collaboration with book editing and films of faith projects, don’t you agree?

Who knows if your story will ever become a big screen hit, but it certainly can become a book! Contact me if you are interested in bringing your manuscript to life. I’d love to help you write your story! Check out my book editing services here, and my ghostwriting services here.

Contact Melanie@MelanieSaxtonMedia.com and let’s get started!

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