A Letter to Dad began it’s life way back in the early ’90’s when Dan Donavan, a devoted Christian, was seeking a partner to produce his story. Dan had written a 27 page letter to his dad attempting to express his feelings over growing up without a father. Dan’s mother had met Johnny’s mother who recommended Dan talk to her son Johnny who was in the film business.
When Johnny read Dan’s letter to his dad, he knew he had to make this picture, he too had come from a broken home and could relate 100% to Dan’s story. So a partnership was born and Johnny set out to convert Dan’s letter into a feature-length screenplay.
Casting Dan’s father was a critical element in the film. The script was submitted to John Ashton, the perfect actor for the role. While he loved the script, he declined the role because he too was from a broken home and felt the role was just too close to his own life. After meeting with Johnny, who told Ashton “who better than you to play your own father?” he agreed to take the role.
While the budget was a then paltry $280,000.00 Ashton agreed to work on the cheap saying “there are things you do in Hollywood for money and there are things you do in
Hollywood for love and art and this is a love and art piece.” With an incredible crew and a cast of veteran actors unheard of at the time for such a low-budget feature, production went without a hitch!
The original film was completed in 1994, shot on 35mm film and released internationally as “In the Living Years”. Although it was made a decade before there was a “faith-based” film market, it quickly made back its original budget and even played theatrically in certain foreign countries.
In the midst of distribution, the films biggest blow occurred when it’s co-creator, Dan Donavan, unknowingly to those around him suffering from deep depression, took his own life. The film was abruptly shelved and never seen by anyone in the North American market.
Resurrecting the Past
Fast-forward to 2008... the faith-based market has exploded thanks to Mel Gibson’s Passion of The Christ. While the Hollywood machine can’t seem to get a handle on the market, filmmakers like the Kendrick brothers (Fireproof, Facing the Giants) the LaLonde’s (Left Behind) and David A.R. White (Hidden Secrets, The Moment After) among others are proving that not only is the market viable, but
movies with a message can actually have life-changing effects.
Johnny Remo was editing his latest feature with editor Lance Bachelder and mentioned his early faith-based film A Letter to Dad. While Lance, a Christian of 30 years, was less than optimistic based on the condition of the original, Johnny decided to send it off to Phil Botana, another devoted Christian and film distributor to get a second opinion.
Phil saw potential in the film and recommended that Johnny send it to the Dove Foundation to get their opinion. The initial review came back favorable! But there was a laundry list of changes that would have to be made before they could recommend the film. Johnny finally had Lance’s attention, maybe there was some hope, maybe this was meant to be?
Lance had radical suggestions to get the film into shape for todays market - re-transer the 35mm original to 1080p HD master, replace the score, attempt to get some top Christian bands to contribute songs to the movie (could this be possible?) and re-edit the show for the family market. Johnny was on board 1000% (inside joke) and A Letter to Dadwas reborn!
While in a late-night edit session, Lance asked Johnny
“Are any of these actors still around?” “Why?” asked Johnny. “Wouldn’t it be crazy to get some of the original cast members back after all these years to shoot a reunion?”. That was all it took for Johnny - a lot of prayers and phones calls later it was done! In an unprecedented move, a new ending was shot 14 years after the original film was completed!
It’s been a long road for this film, but it is obvious to everyone involved that this is meant to be. This is a movie with a powerful message for fathers, that must be seen and must be heeded! Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are older, they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6