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?
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
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?
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
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?
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
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
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?
— 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
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