EXCLUSIVE: Family Christian Stores, the nation’s largest Christian retail chain, is getting into the movie business. Rick Jackson, the entrepreneur behind the chain, has formed Family Christian Entertainment. The company will produce two films per year, and gets underway by financing and teaming with Emmett Furla Oasis to produce 90 Minutes In Heaven. An adaptation of the bestselling book about a Baptist pastor who was pronounced dead after a devastating car accident — only to come out of it an hour and a half later fully recalling a vision of heaven — the film has been scripted and will be directed by Michael Polish. Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth will star.
Jackson said he has been a passive financier in six films with Randall Emmett and George Furla. He made his fortune founding Jackson Healthcare, the third-largest healthcare staffing company in the U.S. He also built a chain of 270 stores that sells books, DVDs and other products, giving away all of the profits to a fund primarily designed to benefit widows and orphans. He once considered becoming a missionary, but was told by some fellow company creators that he’d probably screw that up, and would be best off focusing on what he was good at — making and giving away money. He’ll put up the budget and P&A for a film that will likely cost $5 million or $6 million. His share of the profits will go to that same charity. That makes him an anomaly in Hollywood, where financiers shriek when the do not make a return on a movie.
The move into production came after Johnson discovered that good wholesome movies sell strongly — the Family Christian chain sold $4 million worth of The Blind Side DVDs, he said — but there just aren’t enough of those movies to go around.
90 Minutes In Heaven fits perfectly in that mold. The book was written by Don Piper, who in 1989 was on his way back from a minister’s conference when his car collided with a semi-truck that crossed into his lane. Thought to be dead, he lay covered with a tarp, but when a passing minister who’d been at the conference came to pray over Piper and sang to him, Piper recovered enough to sing along. His arm was severed, and his leg was hanging by a thread, and Piper endured a brutal recovery in which he didn’t get out of bed for 13 months. After experiencing a warm cozy dream where he felt he was going to heaven before being pulled back, Piper was flat out angry with his maker because he was compelled to return and endure all the pain he went through to regain any mobility. After suffering silently, he wrote the book and went on to become an accomplished speaker, describing what he saw. The book sold 7 million copies, in 46 languages.
Jackson said the movie will sketch in what happened to Piper as described in the book, and after. He thinks it will hold strong appeal to the niche Christian audience that is so familiar with the book.
Jackson will produce with Emmett, Furla and Dawn Olmstead (who acquired and developed the project). EFO’s Tim Sullivan will be co-producer. Polish and Bosworth are repped by CAA, Christensen by Paradigm and manager Matt Luber.
EFO is producing Silence, the Martin Scorsese-directed drama that is now in pre-production. Production starts January 26 in Atlanta on 90 Minutes In Heaven.