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One on one with the producer of 'The Giver'

By Dave McCann

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 15 2014 7:20 a.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, Aug. 25 2014 4:09 p.m. MDT

Jeff Bridges and Brenton Thwaites star in "The Giver."

The Weinstein Company

Producer Micheal Flaherty has always had a keen interest in values-based films. Since he co-founded Walden Media from his apartment in 1999, the studio has produced films such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Flaherty's most recent production, "The Giver," based on the novel by Lois Lowry, opened Aug. 15.

Walden Media chooses to produce films that are “entertaining but also demonstrate the rewards of knowledge and virtue,” Flaherty told the Deseret News in 2011.

The Deseret News caught up with Flaherty at a recent conference in California to discuss the making of "The Giver" and the impact he hopes the film will have.

Deseret News: Why does the world need to see “The Giver”?

Micheal Flaherty: They’ve been reading it for almost a quarter of a century, so it has been around for a while and people have been playing it in their heads for a long time. I think there is a lot of curiosity. I also think a lot of times when you get out of films, there is nothing to talk about. This is one of the few where it is very provocative.

DN: The film takes an approach that has to do with agency, making choices and dealing with the consequences, and Hollywood doesn’t always like to get involved in that. What got you involved?

Flaherty: Like all of our favorite films — “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Charlotte’s Web” — people of faith right away are going to see all kinds of amazing things, but other folks are going to be equally captured by it.

This one wasn’t easy to get made. It got made because we are blessed to have a visionary investor, Philip Anschutz. It required somebody to step up and say, “I’ll do this.” On the other coast, we had another person who doesn’t make decisions by committee, Harvey Weinstein, who said, “My daughter read this book and I want to make this movie.” It is the fact of Phil’s leadership, optioning the book 14 years ago and sticking with it for over a decade, and Harvey stepping up and saying, “I know what it takes to make this film.”

DN: "The Giver" is also a reflection of your approach to the industry and a story that families can not only go see but also then talk about on the drive home.

Flaherty: In Hollywood, I think a lot of people impute this Pollyannaish aura to the American family. They don’t realize that in most families we want to hold on to our kids’ innocence as long as possible — we want to prolong their childhood — but at the same time, we know that we can’t protect them from the big bad world of ideas. Part of the fun of being a parent is having those conversations come up and getting an idea of how your kid ticks, the way God made them, and helping lead them through those conversations.

DN: From your perspective, why doesn’t Hollywood get that?

Flaherty: I think it is because everybody is so busy. When you look at how successful certain films are, you think it is such common sense: “Why don’t we make more movies like this?” But I think people are constantly going. In “The Screwtape Letters,” Wormwood’s instruction is “Always keep them distracted.” If there is a tidal wave, have them reaching for the fire hose. I think people are so busy and they don’t take time to really sit down and listen. I would not have known about “The Giver” if we weren’t constantly talking to teachers and librarians. That is how I found out about the book.

DN: You have a history in education, and there is a pattern in your films of entertaining and secretly educating at the same time. How have you pulled that off?

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