EXCLUSIVE AND UPDATED, 10:22 AM: Samuel Goldwyn Films, which released the former faith-based film Fireproof to phenomenal box office success, has just acquired Giving Films’ 90 Minutes in Heaven and will distribute the film on September 11 in 800 theaters. Based on Don Piper’s New York Times best-selling autobiography of the same name, the Giving Films feature stars Christensen (Star Wars II and III) and Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns) as Don and Eva Piper. Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer) directs from his own script about Piper’s near-death experience after a horrific car crash.
90 Minutes in Heaven is the latest entry in a string of faith-based films in recent years. On a $500,000 budget raised by the Sherwood church, Goldwyn’s Fireproof ended up grossing $33.4M when they released the film in 2008. It was considered an anomaly at the time. However, Sherwood did it again in 2011, when on a $2M budget, TriStar released Courageous which opened to $9.1M and went onto make $34.5M. Since then, a number of faith-based films have found profit with God’s Not Dead from Freestyle releasing and Son of God from Fox. Where Hollywood sees money, it will go. Lionsgate is also gearing up for their own faith-based film — The Shack, based on the best selling Christian novel by William Paul Young.
Like 90 Minutes in Heaven, another faith-based film Heaven is for Real was based on a bestselling book. It was made into a movie with Randall Wallace co-scripting and directing and became one of the most profitable films for Sony when they released it last year; on a modest budget of $12M net after rebate the film grossed over $100M worldwide. Samuel Goldwyn also released Walden Media’s Amazing Grace with Benedict Cumberbatch, Albert Finney and Michael Gambon in 2006, which I heard was a pretty darn good film.
Rick Jackson, Randall Emmett, Dawn Olmstead, Michael Polish and George Furla produced 90 Minutes in Heaven. Executive producers are Wayne Marc Godfrey, Ted Fox, Trevor Drinkwater and Jason Netter. The book was actually written by Piper and Cecil Murphey.
Piper’s story begins on January 18, 1989, when a semi-tractor truck crushed him in his car. Declared dead by the first rescue workers to arrive on the scene of the collision, his body lay under a tarp for the next 90 minutes. At the moment he was hit, simultaneously, he was surrounded by a host of people who had preceded him in death (including his grandfather). He was also encompassed by white light, the most beautiful aromas and colors he had ever encountered, love, and joy beyond the human experience. “I was embraced by God. I felt His presence. I saw His angels,” Piper told Deadline. He was afraid to tell people what he experienced at first for fear he would be judged. “When you put yourself out there and start to talk about the experience you had, you become very vulnerable. And people will make fun of you, and ridicule you. I get that, but it did happen. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it didn’t happen to me.”
As he tells Deadline, “I waited 14 years to write the book. It was a sacred secret,” said Piper. “I reluctantly put it down on paper with the hope that I would be able to move on with the remainder of my life on earth. I was 38 when the truck hit me. I had 13 months of laying in a hospital bed.” When Piper eventually was revived, he experienced excruciating, debilitating pain and emotional turmoil.
“They told me I would never walk again. I was in a wheelchair for some time after that,” he said. He can walk again but one leg is longer than the other.
“I was so confused as I was on my way to church to Bible study when this happened. I thought, I came back (from death) to this?” said Piper. “But then I realized that after something like this (that which brings you to your knees), it’s about learning to embrace the new normal and that’s where people get hung up. People have to realize that you must turn your test into a testimony, and turn the pain into purpose.” He said that one point he was so angry at God that he made a fist and shook it at Him. He said he heard God at one point tell him “to take the fist you are shaking at Me and open it to extend as a hand to others.”
With the support and prayers of his wife Eva (Bosworth), their three children and friends near and far, Piper clung to his faith in God and fought to regain a semblance of his previous life.
“We formed Giving Films to tell quality faith-friendly stories with top production values,” said Giving Films founder Rick Jackson, one of the movie’s producers. “Samuel Goldwyn Films on distribution is a welcome extension of our drive for quality.” Giving Films funnels 100 percent of profits to charities.
“90 Minutes In Heaven is the story of a man holding on to what he knows to be true in the midst of great physical and emotional trials,” Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, said. “This is exactly the type of story Goldwyn wants to help tell.”