At the beginning, Micheal's older brother Chip pitched in to help get Walden Media off the ground. Less than a year after Walden's formation — and months before the first meeting with Anschutz — the elder Flaherty brother left his job as a prosecutor with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office to come aboard full-time at Walden Media, where he is now an executive vice president and general counsel.
"At its heart," Chip said, "I think the Walden Media mission made a lot of sense from a business standpoint and really filled a need that was out there. We all felt as if the family market was an underserved body out there — that there was a demand for the types of movies that the entire family could go to … (and) you could have those collective moments where after the movie you all talk about and extend the power of that story."
Asked to ascribe his brother's sustained success to a particular personality trait, Chip points to Micheal's generous nature — a genuine desire to put the needs of others before his own.
To illustrate the point, Chip recalls a Christmas in Boston more than a decade ago. The morning brought clear skies to Boston, but the deep freeze was in and all day long temperatures never rose above freezing.
Undeterred by the bone-chilling cold, Micheal showed up at Chip's house before daybreak to set up a train set. The youngest of three brothers, Micheal was still single at the time. But Chip already had a toddler daughter, Maggie, and for Christmas Micheal had purchased a train set for Maggie that she could sit on and ride.
"Mike's first inclination was to have bought some really nice presents, and come over early to set them up," Chip recalls. "It was just a generous way he could spend his time.
"I always think of that, because I always wonder if the shoes were reversed and I was a single guy, I don't know if I'd be hustling over at 6 a.m. to set things up. … He was just so generous with his time and everything else; it's kind of my favorite memory. Maggie is 14 now, and she still talks about that train set."
Living for One
There's no way to write about what Walden Media has become, and the unique place it occupies in Hollywood, without understanding the role faith plays in Flaherty's life. Flaherty was raised Catholic, but became a born-again Evangelical Christian in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings in 1999.
Survivor accounts quickly emerged that the shooters paused before pulling the trigger to ask two of the fatalities, Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, if they believed in God. The story goes that Scott and Bernall, at different locations and independent of each other, both answered in the affirmative before being shot and killed.
The portrayal of Scott and Bernall as something akin to contemporary martyrs who died because they would not deny their beliefs caused Flaherty to look deeply at his own faith.
"I saw that Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall — high school teenage girls — had the courage to look down the barrel of a gun and say that they believed in God," Flaherty said. "I realized that I didn't have that same level of courage and confidence and even belief. At that point my fiancée and I both decided that we were going to put God back in the center of our life and stop trying to do things by our own will and our own initiative, and try to get a better idea of what His plan and purpose was for our life."
In the weeks and months following the Columbine shootings, however, police investigators and national media questioned the veracity of the accounts about Scott and Bernall. Regardless of what really happened at Columbine that fateful day, it wrought a change in Flaherty's heart that continues strong to this day.
"(It's great) knowing that there's a lot that we don't have to figure out for ourselves," he said. "When you live and breathe for an audience of One, and you realize that if that relationship is solid all the other ones will take care of themselves, it's pretty liberating."
The most striking aspect of Flaherty's religiosity — and a central part of the way he approaches his films — is that he doesn't view faith as a mechanism for separating people along denominational lines, but rather sees it as an inclusive force that can unify via common beliefs.
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