Politics & Policy

Flaherty Will Get You to The Box Office

From Walden Pond to Narnia and back home to NRO.

One of Micheal Flaherty’s first job’s was at National Review, as it happens. The way he tells it, he would have been making me coffee. Now he’s making movies.

(You wish you left a tip for the Starbucks dude this morning, don’t you?)

Flaherty is president of Walden Media, which partnered with Disney to produce The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which opens this weekend.

I talked to Mike earlier this week about the movie, Lewis, and more. –KJL

Kathryn Jean Lopez: It’s opening weekend. Are you beaming with pride or worried sick?

Micheal Flaherty: Well, C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity that pride is one of the greatest sins, so since pride beaming is forbidden I guess I am just worried sick.

Lopez: In terms of numbers, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is probably going to have a not-too-bad weekend. Don’t tell me: If it meets your expectations you’re going to Disney World? Actually…What are your expectations?

Flaherty: We are not supposed to jinx things by predicting an actual number, so we are hoping for a strong opening weekend and then we hope to show some legs and have the movie play right through the New Year. I have seen the movie multiple times now and I truly enjoy it more every time. I think people will see the movie multiple times, and box-office pundits will be surprised both by its opening weekend as well as its longevity.

Lopez: Is working with the Disney company a boy’s dream or did you get a lot of grief from conservative friends? Aren’t we supposed to be suspicious of Disney? I forgot to pick up my Vast-Right Wing talking points today, so I’m not sure.

Flaherty: You can accuse me of being easily seduced, but going to the Disney lot never gets boring. There is a real excitement there, and even the squirrels are friendly. I keep telling Matthew Scully he needs to visit it with me just to check out the squirrels–it is like they leaped right out of one of their movies and they walk right up to you. Scully would be in heaven.

But even better than that, Disney has been great in understanding the importance of a faithful adaptation. And they have done a great job in keeping their cool in light of some of the controversies bored journalists tried to manufacture about this film, many of which have been covered in NRO.

They have been great partners.

Lopez: Did Walden still get to make big decisions once Disney stepped in? Did you become a tag-along? How hands-on could you be?

Flaherty: It was a full partnership in every sense of the word, but Walden did have final say on all creative matters with the film. Because of the shared vision, though, this never became an issue.

Lopez: Did you read a lot of Lewis long before you ever planned to do this movie?

Flaherty: Yup. Lewis is easily my favorite author. I was a fan of Narnia growing up but actually a much bigger fan of the apologetics. Mere C and Screwtape Letters are two of my favorite books. I remember my mother buying me Till We Had Faces for Valentine’s Day one year and then the Four Loves the following year. I had almost completely forgotten about Narnia until I volunteered to teach with a great group named Narnia in NYC that some NR friends introduced me to. It was then I started to dream about seeing a movie based on them.

Lopez: Do you have a favorite Narnia character?

Flaherty: Hands down my favorite character is Reepicheep. He is the uncommonly brave and heroic mouse in Voyage of the Dawn Treader who is a foot and a half of pure courage.

Lopez: What’s your favorite non-Narnia book by C. S. Lewis?

Flaherty: Screwtape.

Lopez: Could it be a movie?

Flaherty: I hope–there are some challenges in adapting it to the screen, but I would love to see it get made.

Lopez: There’s been a lot of attention on Philip Anschutz, your Mr. Moneybags. Tell me the truth. He’s really Karl Rove, isn’t he? You can reveal it here.

Flaherty: Never before has more attention been paid to somebody who could not be less interested in publicity. Hopefully some day a smart journalism professor will look over all of the ink that has been spilled in profiling Phil to show how lazy journalists have become. He never gives interviews, so for the past 20 years people keep recycyling and rehashing all of the same anecdotes and publishing it even though they have nothing new to say. It is easy to see what people find interesting in him though. He has amazing vision and he can see around corners.

Lopez: Seriously though. Are you part of some kind of cultural conspiracy? What’s Walden’s meaning in life?

Flaherty: We are an open book and our mission is completely transparent. We are a company named after Henry David Thoreau that wants to use media to get kids to ask the big questions so they can be independent thinkers and march to the beat of a different drummer. We get all of our project ideas from classroom teachers and librarians and we do our best to make first class productions accompanied by first class educational materials. We think that great stories have a power and ability not just to entertain, but also to educate, uplift, inspire –even transform. For this, some paranoid journalists like to impute an agenda on Walden and spin conspiracy theories about us and our sinister teacher and librarian friends.

Lopez: Is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a conservative movie? Is it for a religious audience? I notice there are guides to the movies circulating for religious audiences. Is that Walden’s intention?

Flaherty: The movie, like the book, is clearly for all audiences. And this is what galls some journalists. They like to neatly divide the country into two opposing sides that cannot agree on anything–especially entertainment. They have this Manichean view of the world where if people of faith enjoy something that somehow means that it cannot be enjoyed by everybody. Yet countless examples prove this wrong–musicals like Les Miserables and bands like U2 are enjoyed by people from all types of different backgrounds, interests, and philosophies, yet they both have magical and soul-stirring elements that are appreciated by people of faith.

Lopez: Is there any real sensible reason for this film to be at all controversial?

Flaherty: Nope.

Lopez: If C. S. Lewis had shown up at the premiere of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what would you say to him?

Flaherty: Oh, K-Lo, hitting me with the college-application essay question. Hmmmm. I guess I would quickly walk him over to see his stepson Douglas, whose affection for Jack has been a real honor to his memory. It would be fun to see that reunion.

Lopez: Not that this all is not enough, but what’s coming up next for you?

Flaherty: We are in London right now filming a movie called Amazing Grace, that tells the story of William Wilberforce, John Newton, Thomas Clarkson, Equiano, and all of the great people who abolished slavery 200 ago in Britain. We are going to release the movie in 2007 to coincide with the bicentenary of the abolition in the U.K. It is our hope that the film will remind people in this cynical age that great men and women can change the face of history, no matter how insurmountable the odds.

In addition to that, we have a number of literary adaptations that are nearing completion. The first is Hoot, the next is How to Eat Fried Worms, and next Christmas we are releasing a live-action version of Charlotte’s Web. I am downright giddy about that one. Soon we will start filming Bridge to Teribithea, another personal favorite. All of our projects are on our website at www.walden.com.

Lopez: If you’re going to do more Narnia movies, do you have to film them real fast while the child actors are still young?

Flaherty: Yup. I think Skandar–who plays Edmund–has grown almost a foot in the last year. So we are racing against the clock.

Lopez: Speaking of upcoming films: When does filming on “The Corner” movie start and who are you signing up to play me?

Flaherty: We see this as the next great political drama–lots of action and intrigue. It is going to begin with all of the faulty exit polls coming in on the last Election Day and the ensuing panic. I am actually casting the Jack Fowler role first, and we are out to a rising star of a Mexican telenovela to play the part of K-Lo.

Lopez: If the movie has a big opening weekend, how much of the credit will belong to National Review for promoting it on the cover?

Flaherty: An NR cover is money in the bank for opening weekend, but when the article is penned by John Miller you start to talk about an exponential increase.

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