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BYU film students can be Jimmers of animation, Hollywood, Walden Media president Micheal Flaherty says

Published: Wednesday, March 16 2011 10:26 a.m. MDT

Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media, speaks about the transformational power of stories at BYU on Tuesday. (Carolyn Carter) Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media, speaks about the transformational power of stories at BYU on Tuesday. (Carolyn Carter)

PROVO — Throughout his life, Jesus Christ was asked nearly 200 questions, yet answered only three directly. The rest, he answered with stories.

"'How should we treat our neighbors?' 'Let me tell you about the Good Samaritan.'

"'How do we heal a broken family?' 'I'll tell you about the Prodigal Son.' Twenty centuries later, these stories remain with us, and so do many of the questions," Walden Media president and co-founder Micheal Flaherty said Tuesday at BYU.

Realizing the power of such stories, Flaherty dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and to the creation of Walden Media — a film production and book publishing company that transforms compelling stories into powerful films with a goal to entertain as well as inspire and educate.

Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media, speaks about the transformational power of stories at BYU on Tuesday. (Carolyn Carter,) Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media, speaks about the transformational power of stories at BYU on Tuesday. (Carolyn Carter,)

"That's the ultimate power of a good story, it can help us find meaning," Flaherty told the students, faculty and community members in the Marriott Center. "They can help us become the people that God created us to be."

And such stories are found everywhere, he said, adding that Walden Media talks with experts that most Hollywood production films don't: librarians, teachers, parents and children.

In fact, the first books the company optioned into movies, "Charlotte's Web," "Bridge To Terabithia," "Holes" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," came off a 4th grade reading list.

"These were more than just kids' books," Flaherty said. "They spoke to the very definition of faith given to us by Paul: 'the substance of faith is a hope in the unseen.'"

Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media, speaks about the transformational power of stories at BYU on Tuesday. (Carolyn Carter,) Micheal Flaherty, founder of Walden Media, speaks about the transformational power of stories at BYU on Tuesday. (Carolyn Carter,)

Flaherty then showed a scene from "Charlotte's Web," where Fern's mother is concerned because Fern is spending so much time with her friends in the barn, who she says can talk to her.

Even in the face of laughter and derision, the moral imagination of children can remind viewers, especially followers of Jesus Christ, about the importance of faith in an increasingly cynical world, Flaherty said.

And BYU students are especially prepared to meet those challenges, Flaherty said.

"We have believers coming out of the animation department (at BYU) that in the animation world are the equivalent of Jimmer," he said. "The more folks like you who get out there (in Hollywood) and really start to look at it as a mission field, as a calling, that's what's making the huge difference."

Another big difference is in the way stories are being shared in the first place.

Flaherty compared their recent trailer release for "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which received over 800,000 views in one week to the viral "Old Spice" video spoof featuring the Harold B. Lee Library, which garnered 1 million views in the first three days and 2 million within a week.

"It was one of the most powerful illustrations I've ever seen about how quickly our media landscape is shifting," he said.

Hollywood no longer controls the storytelling, he said. Instead, a handful of students from Provo with a $500 budget can create a message that reaches far beyond million-dollar movies and professional marketing plans.

Those messages can also come in all different sizes, Flaherty explained. He then showed a short commercial from The Foundation for a Better Life, whose president, Gary Dixon, is a BYU alum.

The spot, which shows a mother patiently helping her son as he struggles to find his talent, is less than a minute long, but just as inspiring as a full-length film, Flaherty said.

"We started the foundation on the premise that people are basically good; all they need is a reminder," said Kindee Nielsen, vice president of operations for Foundation for a Better Life. "We have a unique opportunity to promote values without an agenda."

While the Foundation for a Better Life and Walden Media, both chaired and funded by the billionaire Philip Anschutz, have different business models, non-profit versus for-profit, Nielsen said their goals are the same — to promote positive media.

And in the end, that boils down to telling a good, compelling story.

"As we part today and go back to the hectic pace of day-to-day life, I hope you each will find time to enjoy some great stories," Flaherty said in closing, then referred back to the opening LDS hymn sung at at the beginning of the forum, "Come, Come Ye Saints":

"And just as William Clayton said, 'Soon, we'll all have a tale to tell, all is well, all is well.'"

email: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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